A Guide to the 2016 Drone Nationals

By Kathleen Hickey

What a difference a year makes. The 2015 National Drone Racing Championships took place in Sacramento CA. It was the first large scale race of its time, bringing pilots from all around the world to compete. If you missed the race last year, here is a great video from Tested. 

The winner of last year's race was Chad Nowak (FinalGlideAus), from Brisbane, Australia. The 2016 Drone Nationals will take place August 5-7 at Governors Island in NYC, New York.

The venue is not the only change, ESPN 3 will broadcast live streaming of the event. There are also huge sponsors, including GoPro, and AIG. The Drone Nationals is produced by The Drone Sports Association (DSA), which was formerly RotorSports. Earlier in the year, RotorSports and IDRA had joined, but recently IDRA announced a separation from RotorSports, and with that came the newly formed DSA. Also joining this year is a personal favorite of SLD, Joe Scully, and the rest of the FPV Racing Events team. 

The 2016 Nationals will have four race categories; Individual, Team, Wings, and Freestyle. With the growth of technology, popularity, and accessibility, the level of talent from the competing pilots is really incredible. So who's going to win? Here are the top picks from SLD in Individual, and Freestyle. 

Individual

  • Chad Nowak (FinalGlideAus) is the reining champion from the 2015 Drone Nationals. 
  • Brian Morris (Brain Drain) is ranked #1 in the DSA national rankings, leading the next pilot by over 1K points, and #2 in the world. 
  • Zachry Thayer (A_Nub) is currently ranked #2 in the DSA national rankings, and #5 in the world. 
  • Shaun Taylor (Nytfury) is ranked #4 in the DSA national rankings, and #12 in the world. My nn

My pilots to look out for - Andrew Meyer (MayMayDay) the current Canadian National Champion and Rich Howarth.

FreeStyle

The freestyle competition was by invitation only, and every pilot that's competing is extremely talented.

Steele Davis (Mr. Steele)

Carlos Puertolas (Charpu)

Tommy Tibajia (Ummagawd)

Chad Nowak (FinalGlideAus)

all from Rotor Riot will be competing.

Zoe Stumbaugh (Zoe FPV), is the only female competing in both Individual and Freestyle, not to mention she's a freestyle badass that can also do her tricks inverted.

The competition also includes a couple of notable newcomers in Johnny Schaer (JohnnyFPV)

and Ethan Gulnac (HiFlite). 

 

If you're planning on watching the live stream on ESPN 3, be sure to check out the website before the big race. There may be an App or media player required to view. Also, be sure to take a look at the official 2016 Drone Nationals Schedule. If you're lucky enough to be in NYC this weekend, here's the ticket information. The US winner from the Nationals will be qualified to race at the Drone Worlds, in Hawaii this October. It's impossible to know who's going to walk away the winner, but I must say from attending qualifiers, and seeing many of these pilots race in person, it's going to be an amazing race. Enjoy the 2016 Drone Nationals, and until then...

Happy Flying!

 

FPV Racing: From Hobby to Money Maker

By: Kathleen Hickey

A New Era in FPV Racing

Anyone in the UAV, or drone community will notice one particular area that is on a steady rise; FPV Racing. In recent months FPV Racing has been riding a wave of attention, and growth that is seemingly unstoppable. Local races and meet-ups in parks have turned into large multi-day events, in incredible locations, all around the world. Companies like ESPN, Mountain Dew, and GoPro are all testing the waters to see if FPV Racing can be a viable source of marketing, and income. There is talk of introducing gambling to the sport. But with growth, and money come higher stakes for people involved, and leaves one to wonder what will become of a growing sport if put in the hands of people that want to monetize it. 

Racing With The Big Boys (and Girls)

This year alone has seen a number of incredible races. In January XDC had it's second race at the Zappos HQ in Las Vegas, which took place the same week as CES. 

The Track for XDC2 was more proximity, and show. There were large screens to show live feed, and share social media pictures. For the final, there was an audience of 500 people in attendance, which were able to participate in the race by voting by applause for the the freestyle pilot they enjoyed watching the most. It also ushered in one of the hottest course trends in FPV, the glowing gates created by FPV LighTrax, which is admittedly a stunning visual for any audience. 

At the end of January, I attended Flight Night, a race presented by ThunderDrone Racing. Although it was a single night event, it was full of production value not usually seen in FPV Racing. 

Then of course, came the announcement of an international race that claimed it would change the sport of FPV; The World Drone Prix in Dubai. 

Following the World Drone Prix were races in caves, multi-day FPV LighTrax courses for nationals qualifiers, and the integration of two prominant FPV organizations, IDRA and the Drone Worlds - Drone Nationals by Rotor Sports. This year the Drone Nationals will be held in New York City in August, at Governors Island and will be broadcasted live on ESPN, which is a huge change from last years race in Sacramento, CA. The Drone Worlds will take place in Hawaii in October, on Kualoa Ranch. 

The Mountain Dew sponsored DR1 Race was held at the end of June, bringing household brands to FPV Racing. 

The race was an invitational, which included twelve top FPV pilots, and was shot for release on a cable network. 

In recent months, FPV has captured the attention of major media outlets, such as 60 Minutes Sports. 

There was also a CorridorDigital You Tube video that features the flying talents of FPV pilots Chad Nowak and Steele Davis, through their show Rotor Riot. The video has gained nearly 2 Million views. 

Do I need to mention that it's just July....

Who is Actually Winning

Like many things that experience rapid growth, there are also some growing pains. The Drone World Prix which initially sent the FPV world a flutter with a one million dollar prize went through several race, and prize restructures. It went from an invitational, to a race with a video entry qualifier, something that had not been done before in FPV racing. The one million dollar prize turned to a 250K prize for the winner, with smaller prizes spread out to ranking pilots in the race, and freestyle competitions. The World Drone Prix also required pilots come in teams, so most pilots split their prize, which left winning pilots with much much less than what the promotional videos had touted. 

Instead of all teams having their accommodations paid for when it was an invitational, teams in the top 20 would have their travel expenses reimbursed. Four months later, some of those top 20 teams have still not received checks from the World Drone Prix for what they had to pay out of pocket for hotel, and travel costs. With pilots receiving less than a months notice that they had qualified for the race, for most teams travel was booked at a premium. People looking in may assume that pilots are being taken care of by large race organizations, and pilots are not ones to speak out publicly against an organization if they have not been compensated, which leaves an illusion of a grand race.

 For other big events, pilots are given prize money if they place, or (in one known case), an appearance fee, which pilots had to use to put towards their accommodations, which left some of them with less money then when they came. Some pilots have their travel paid for by sponsors, but the pilots that don't have those types of sponsorships have to attend the larger races on their own dime to compete with the best, and with the hope that a win may open doors to more lucrative opportunities. There have been instances where prize money has taken over six months or more to make it to the pilots. 

So with a growing industry that includes big RC manufactures, corporate sponsorships, and pilot sponsorships, who is walking away with the best deal. Although the number is growing, it is very rare to find a pilot that is able to make a living from racing alone, with no other source of income. As races get larger, and destinations get further away, who is making sure that the heart of FPV, the pilots, are receiving fair treatment for what they are giving? With no managers or agents, pilots are left to negotiate their own terms. The current group of elite pilots, may at some point need to set the standard for how pilots are paid for their work, including use of their footage, to consultation and appearance fees, and travel costs. In time, sponsorships may include money, and not just free products.

As it transitions from park meet-ups and fun flys, to a lucrative money making sport, it will be interesting to see the people and companies that will come out on top as the true money makers. Will FPV race organizers see the profit? Will the product manufactures see the most reward? Will the pilots see their fair share of the pie? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, regardless of what happens, we can only hope that the fun, community, spirit, and innovation of the FPV community is never overshadowed by the money. 

 

Happy Flying!

 

 

Do You Like to F.......Part 3

By Kathleen Hickey

When it comes to FPV Racing, there was so much to talk about, I decided to separate the blog into three parts. "Do You Like to F.......Part 1" contained a little about the history of FPV racing, the You Tube videos that helped create the fan base, and basic flying information.  "Do You Like to F.......Part 2"  focused on the anatomy of the quad, including a video from Tested on how to build your own, and the basic materials and parts you will need to race. "Do You Like to F...Part 3" is all about the pilots, race structure, and events to look forward to in 2016. 

I again have to give a big thank you to Joe Scully, Race Director of FPV Racing Events for giving me a full history and breakdown of FPV racing. FPV Racing Events hosts premier racing events in Canada, and the United States. Information on their upcoming events can be found by following the link to their website. Another thank you AJ Goin, aka Awkbots, team pilot for Ready Made RC (RMRC). And because Part 3 is pilot focused, I will also be sharing videos from Paul Baur, aka SkinlabFPVCobra Motors sponsored pilot and team pilot for Horizon

To help with some terms, I have included a glossary at the end of the blog. Because it's not fun if you don't understand what people are saying!

The Pilots

There are many components to racing, but without a doubt, the pilots themselves are the heart of FPV. It is their passion, daring, and dedication that has inspired people from all around the world to get out and fly. From racing to freestyle, pilots have been a driving force in the growth and innovation of FPV racing. 

When learning about FPV, and meeting people that fly, it's clear that some pilots share a strong bond, and have great relationships with each other. They are in a competitive setting, but because it's so new, most pilots are happy to help each other. Joe Scully spoke to the willingness of pilots to help one another, especially if there is a new pilot that may not be familiar with adjusting their equipment to accommodate race requirements. "The thing with multirotor is it’s a new industry, it’s a new organization, or family, and everyone is so helpful that if you show up at a race...we provide a VTX for most of our racers, and so people show up and they’ll only have a boscam which means they are going to have to solder a special wiring hookup so that they can accommodate it. A lot of these people will say no problem, and others might say this is a kit I bought at a hobby shop, and I’ve flown it in a park, and I don’t know what to do to it. And usually someone just grabs it, and they say here, and they solder the three solder points on there, and you’re good to go. So everyone is really, really friendly, and that has been everywhere we go." 

AJ Goin (Awkbots), is relatively new to FPV racing, and comes from a motocross background. He started flying about six months ago, and has been racing for about three. We spoke a bit about the relationships pilots have with each other, and his experience so far. "This hobby doesn't seem to be as extreme contrast of the type of groups in something, like motocross. We are all kind of nerds in a sense, and you have to be a little bit of a unique person to have had the patience to research and build these quads. For me personally I really enjoy meeting everyone and hanging out, and treating it how it should be, FUN!" 

To get a taste of the fun AJ, and other pilots have at large events, take a look at his video, one of my personal favorites from F3Expo, which took place in November at the Georgia Dome. 

Most FPV pilots, and generally all professional pilots, will post racing or freestyle videos on You Tube. Here is a selection of videos from pilot Paul Baur (SkinlabFPV). 

There are many talented pilots that will post videos not only on You Tube, but on their Instagram, or Twitter feeds. FPV gained popularity through social media, and following your favorite pilot is a great way to keep up to date on the latest videos, products, and events they will be racing in.  

You may see pilots sponsored by a particular brand. Generally they represent the brand when they are racing as individuals. Pilots can also be part of a team. For example, Awkbots is a team pilot for RMRC, and SkinlabFPV is a team pilot for Horizon. When they attend a race, they can race with their team, as individuals, or both. 

The Race

Because FPV Racing is still relatively new, there can be variations in the structure of each race, depending on the league or group that is hosting the event. Currently, there is not an umbrella organization, league, or association for FPV Racing as a whole, like the NBA, BFL, or NBA. There is also no standard way to rank pilots outside of each individual or team race, per event. The International Drone Racing Association (IDRA) had created a ranking system, based on results from select racing events, but the ranking is not used as an industry standard.

To enter a race, pilots will usually pay a race fee. Unless a race is part of an expo, or trade show, entry for spectators is usually free. Very few races are by invitation only, which means that non sponsored or beginner pilots can have a chance to enter into practice or qualifying rounds in professional races. Depending on each event, there can be one, or several classes that pilots may race in. A class is usually based on a build element of the quad. For example, one class may be based on the wheel base, or measurement of the frame (250mm or under/251mm or over). Some classes are based on prop size (4", 5" 6"). Classes can also be determined by lipo cell count. If you are interested in racing, it's important to look at the race website for racing and class guidelines, so you know if your quad would be eligible to race. Professional pilots build a number of racing quads, so they can enter various classes. Joe Scully broke down the class structure for FPV Racing Events. "As a local, you’ll see that race flyer out there, and it will take you to a website, and from there you’re going to know if you have what it takes to fly, you’ll know if you have the right craft, and if you’re fortunate enough to go to one of the events that we have, or one similar, we have 4-5 different classes can you build one for every class so the average person, they’re going to try and build as many as they can race as much time  get as much flight time in as possible." 

The structure of each race, and how to move through, or qualify can vary per event. Joe described the structure that FPV Racing Events uses for their races. "We usually do a practice round and...we do it in organized heats, so it’s just like a race because we use the VTX and the raceband signal separation, we can go with upwards of 8 as long as all of our signals work, so we do actual heats of 8 so your practice session is just like a race. It’s three minutes in duration. You get to do as many laps as you want in that three minutes. You get a tone start just like in a race and that’s your practice heat.  At other events they do a synchronous, … but we have found that at the locations and venues we’ve been at it’s not as safe, so we do it in controlled heats. Then we’ll go into a qualifier, and the qualifying round. We try to do as many qualifiers, as possible. Most of my events are two rounds, so with our new format that I’ve developed, at F3Expo...and this is where we rely on the software for it, so again you have three minutes, we do a tone start, you take off, and depending on the course you may, and your skill you may do 7, you may do 10 laps within that three minutes, and we take your fastest 5 consecutive laps out of that, and that’s your qualifying time. And if we are able to have more than one round of qualifying, it depends on our format during the day...we’ll try to do two rounds of qualifying. And from there, this is where everyone is different around the world it seems." 

Joe goes on to explain a structure in which the qualifying time is used to separate pilots, if there were approximately 30 pilots in a race.  "They would take your best qualifying time and you’d take the top 16, they would race, you take your top 8, and they would race, and then your top 4 at the finale. My style is the RC way, so regardless if you qualify first, or you qualify last you are seated into a main, and we would go up the order so we would do 23rd – 30th, they would race first, whoever won out of that group of 8 would advance into the next group, so they would be in that 16-22nd group, and so you can actually go from the bottom of the pack right up into our final 8 A main. It’s a very forgiving format...you can work your way from the bottom to the top."

If you're a pilot just starting out, MultiGP is the perfect league to get into. They welcome pilots of all skill levels, and you can join a chapter that's close to you. There are race events, meetups, and forums, and it's a group Joe Scully recommends. "Someone who buys a craft, and wants to get into racing, even if it’s a going out to that first race and watching , Multi GP is the only way to go." 

Events

One of the last, big races of the season this year was at F3Expo in Atlanta, where FPV Racing Events introduced the Thunderdrone 500, which was a team based relay competition, something race fans can look forward to more of in 2016. 

Below is the live feed from F3Expo. The video is two hours, and gives an feel of the structure of an event. There is also a lot of great information from Joe Scully, and quick pilot interviews where they may talk about how much flight time they are getting in, and the equipment they are using. The race pace is faster as it gets closer to the end, and the final pilots.

In a few weeks, we will be in the New Year, and with that comes a number of exciting events. There are too many leagues and events all over the world to list them all, and some leagues are still planning their events. Here are a few events with confirmed dates that you can plan for in 2016. 

XDC_2 - Extreme Drone Circuit FPV Race At Zappos HQ, Las Vegas NV - January 7-9 2016

Taking place during the same time as CES in Las Vegas, this race is going to kick the season off in a huge way. I'll be taking in a day or two myself, and i can't wait!

 2016 Winter Barnburner Drone Racing Series Presented by ReadyMadeRC 

There are six races making up this series in Canada. The Season Opener begins at the end of January, and the final event is in the beginning of May. 

World Drone Prix

Taking place in Dubai this spring, World Drone Prix is offering a million dollars in prizes. 

Drone Worlds

Drone Worlds will take place in Hawaii from October 17-22, 2016 at Kualoa Ranch, on the Island of Oahu. Top pilots will qualify for worlds through their countries Drone Nationals. 

There are many more amazing races and events to see throughout the year! Attending a race, or registering as a pilot is a great way to support the FPV community. 

Learning about FPV racing has truly been such an amazing experience for me. I can say that although most people I've had the pleasure of meeting in the industry are very giving, and welcoming, the FPV community, and pilots I've had the honor of speaking with, have been incredibly generous with their time, and patient teachers. Thank you again to everyone that helped make this three part blog possible! Be safe, have fun, thread the needle, and as always....

Happy Flying! 

Glossary

  • ARF: Almost Ready to Fly - a drone that requires some assembly before flight. 
  • Boscam: A type of transmitter and receiver 
  • CES: Consumer Electronics Show; A large electronics trade show. 
  • Fixed Wing: Usually referring to hobby planes, which have wings, and not removable propellers, or props. 
  • FPV: First Person View - a method used to control a UAV from the viewpoint of the pilot. The UAV is piloted from a first person perspective by an on-board camera, which is fed with wireless technology to a video monitor, or FPV goggles. 
  • Line of Sight: When a looking at a drone, or quad without using FPV technology. Line of sight video in terms of racing would mean a video of the actual race, and not from the pilots first person view through the quad camera. 
  • Lipo: Lithium Polymer Batteries 
  • Multi-Rotor: Another name for multicopters, or quadcopters. 
  • Prop: Propeller 
  • Quad: Another name for a drone. 
  • RC: Remote-Control
  • RPV: Remote Person View - another term for FPV
  • RTF: Ready To Fly - No assembly required before flight.
  • Tone Start: In FPV racing, there are a series of tones used as a countdown to take off. 
  • Threading the Needle - Basically bad ass flying. 
  • Video Piloting: An alternate term for FPV and/or RPV
  • VTX: Video Transmitter System