Drone Racing In Solms Park

Drones are launched from the starting line during a practice session as drone racers from the area gather at Solms Park in New Braunfels, Texas for a competition qualifier on Saturday, Mar. 18, 2017

Five pilots crossed the grass field at Solms Park, each carrying an 8-inch drone and a controller in their hands. They lined the devices up on the grass, one by one, and walked back to take a seat in a folding chair behind a net covering. After adjusting their goggles, they gave a thumbs up to signal to the announcer they were locked in and ready to race.

” All right, we have an aggressive takeoff,” announcer and fellow drone pilot David Granc of San Antonio said into the mic as the flying objects rose into the sky and took off for the course, some reaching up to 45 mph as they zipped by flags and through air gates. “Well, one guy is taking it easy.”

About 30 drone pilots met in New Braunfels on Saturday to compete in a regional qualifier for the MultiGP drone-racing league. The top five pilots would move on to regional finals later this year, one step closer to national finals in Las Vegas. While many of the pilots in attendance Saturday started flying less than a year ago, they’ve quickly taken to the growing sport, searching for places to fly or races to compete in at least a couple of times every month.

The five who qualified were: Ivan “EnvyAstro” Rodriguez; Adam “Adma20” Kki; Mark “McGap” Braymer; Justin “Itwillbefun” Skinner; and Noah “Racer-X” Golly.

Steven Rodriguez from San Antonio started flying drones almost a year ago. The furniture technician flew radio-controlled planes for about seven years before taking up the new hobby, but prefers the view a drone can provide, courtesy of the goggles that carry a feed of what the drone is capturing.

” It seems like you’re in the aircraft itself,” Rodriguez, 40, said.

As the sport gains popularity, the equipment needed to build and maintain drones has also gotten easier to find, with some pieces available at regular hobby stores. Rodriguez said, you have to be a bit technical to repair your own craft, as they can easily get banged up during flight. At Saturday’s competition, each pilot came equipped with a few backup “quads” to fly, along with toolboxes full of spare parts.

” There we go, there’s a little fight going on there,” Granc, the announcer, said as two drones flew within inches of each other, then flew apart.

” No, there’s no fight going on,” he concluded.

Rodriguez ran half-marathons and used to bike ride, but said he prefers the drone community because he’s found fellow pilots have been more than willing to share materials or expertise. Also, with limited spaces to fly these objects, many enthusiasts have joined groups to regularly get access to open fields for practice.

” You have to have their equipment work,” he said. “If not, it’s boring.”

Mohamed Hannan, 41, has flown drones for about three years. The early adopter used to have to search online for parts to piece together his devices on his own. He’s found older pilots fond of radio-controlled airplanes may not always make the jump to drones, but younger people have taken a liking to the sport since they can fly rapidly.

” Before, it wasn’t affordable,” Hannan, an IT director in San Antonio, said. “What used to cost between $600 (and $700) now costs around $200 and you can buy it anywhere.”

Some competitors drove hundreds of miles to compete Saturday, including 11-year-old Angelo Rivera of The Woodlands, a suburb north of Houston, who was wearing a blue hoodie and blue Beats by Dre headphones.

Angelo’s father, James, said he used to dabble in drone photography, then found a video of a child in Dubai who won $250,000 in a drone competition. Why couldn’t Angelo do that, he wondered.

Angelo was the youngest competitor Saturday, something he says is typical at any competition he attends.

“It makes me feel kind of special,” he said, but he acknowledged he had “a lot to learn.” During practice, his drone fell off to the side of the course rather than making it to the designated landing spot. While his friends don’t understand the sport yet and think it’s related to virtual reality, Angelo said he believes it’ll become more popular in time.

As spectators and pilots got comfortable in folding chairs under pop-up tents, ready to stay in the park for several hours, Angelo wasn’t fully ready to commit. He said he expected to stay “most of the day,” but maybe not the entire day.

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