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Drone Sports Flying High

27 Jun, 2018

By: Michael Popke
With Diverse Venues and an Ever-Multiplying Number of Events, FPV Drone Sports Continue their Groundswell of Popularity

Soccer isn’t the only sport with a World Cup this month. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) Drone Racing World Cup 2018 began in April and includes more than 20 events around the world — including five in June in Portugal, Germany, Slovakia and France. The debut of the FAI Drone Racing World Championships will cap off the year in November at China’s Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre, a 60,000-seat stadium. The facility’s 18,000-seat arena will serve as a practice facility for competitors.

The four-day event will feature world-class drone pilots selected by their country or the FAI, and it willinclude multiple pilot classifications such as female and junior.

“This is a truly historical moment for FAI, the world governing body for drones,” says Frits Brink, the association’s president. “As the first of their kind, the first FAI World Drone Racing Championships will be an incredible opportunity to showcase this booming new sport to the world. FAI members endorsed the event at the General Conference, attended by International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Dr. Thomas Bach. A global FAI Qualifying Series will further support the Championships [beginning in] 2019.”

Not sure what drone racing is all about? The FAI created a seven-step guide to understanding the sport here.

Demand for drone racing is increasing in the United States, too — driven in part by the Pro Aerial League, an arena-based and team-focused drone racing league that is fastest growing professional organization of its kind in the United States. Recognized by the International Drone Racing Association as its “Startup of the Year,” Pro Aerial League offers racing consisting of four 20-minute periods in a spectator friendly environment that also often includes liftoff flight simulators, virtual reality bays and meet-the-pilot sessions.

Meanwhile, participants in the Drone Racing League compete in an array of venues — from NFL stadiums to emergency response and disaster training centers to abandoned malls.

Other venues and events are finding ways to introduce drones, too. The opening ceremonies of the Virginia Commonwealth Games at Liberty University in late July will feature a drone racing show, and wing racing will be one of six new events at this year’s Games.

Drone racing holds particular appeal to injured racers from other sports. For example, Darrin Devine, a member of the Fargo-Moorhead Quad Squad club of drone enthusiasts from Minnesota and North Dakota, broke his neck in a motocross accident and is now a quadriplegic.

“Racing has always been something I enjoy doing a lot, and [drone racing is] absolutely like being racing again,” Devine recently told the Associated Press. “You get the same type of adrenaline rush. It’s the two minutes out of the wheelchair, having fun being just another racer.”

While drones pose an escape for Devine and for the many others who simply enjoy the rush of the race, they are a struggle for others. In May, officials for famous Isle of Man TT motorcycle races banned drones within 1,000 meters of the British Isles race course whenever roads were closed for the races. Any drone pilots breaching the no-fly zone faced up to $3,300 in fines.

“Drones can pose a serious distraction to riders, and race marshals are informed to immediately report any drones to race control and the police which may result in the practice or race being halted,” Civil Aviation Administration director Colin Gill told Autosport.com. “The airspace above the TT course can get busy with emergency and filming activity by helicopters before, during and after racing or practicing takes place. The Southern 100 course is also located within three miles distance of Isle of Man Airport within which drones should not be flown due to the dangers they could pose to an aircraft taking off or landing at the airport.”

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