Racing sport of future thrives in DRONE WARS V

By Alan Fleck

Drone pilots from throughout Texas matched their skills in line of sight and first person view races during the DRONE WARS V competition hosted inside Cavanaugh Flight Museum’s Hangar 4 at Addison Airport on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 2-3.

Both small and large drones maneuvered through a marked course 80 foot x 60 foot enclosed track that included obstacles to avoid, hoops to fly through, and nets to avoid. Drones do not pair well with nets, as was evident when drone after drone fell victim to the nets used to protect spectators during the indoor racing.

Scott Slocum, marketing director of the Cavanaugh Museum, explained the drone competition could be held at an airport, when per FAA rules, drones usually cannot fly within five miles of an airport, because it is held inside. Another FAA rule for drones is they may not fly higher than 400 feet.

Line of sight (LOS) racing involves successfully completing the course using a controller while looking at the drone to complete the course. First person view (FPV) racing allows the pilot to view the course via a camera on the drone and see the course through special goggles from the view of the drone.

Practice runs and qualifying heats for the pilots took place on Friday and early Saturday with final races on Saturday afternoon. Before the final races, Slocum held a pilots’ meeting on the course and then walked the pilots through the course.

For the line of sight races, there were two drones flying at the same time on different portions of the course, which met at the middle, providing the potential for collisions.

For the first person view races, three pilots, sitting next to each other raced their drones for six laps.

Pilot Jesse Ultsch from Sherman has been flying drones for two years. He considers drone racing a sport, since it is covered by ESPN.

“The first person view provides a real adrenaline rush,” Ultsch said.

Unfortunately, Ultsch’s goggles were not receiving the transmission from the drone’s cameras, so he was limited to line of sight racing. He learned how to race drones by practicing on soccer fields.

Alex Vanover (18), a drone pilot from Roanoke, has been flying drones for eight years. In competition, he flies his drone as ‘Captain Vanover.’ Vanover designed and built his own drone with parts from sponsors, and he trains on a course he built in his backyard. Vanover won first place in the first person view races.

Vanover has won or placed in a number of professional drone competitions around the world and plans to compete in more races this year in Europe and other locations. A senior at Byron Nelson High School in Trophy Club, Vanover also has his pilot’s license and would like to become an aeronautical engineer and or airline pilot.

Vanover’s father, Lee, retired after a lengthy career at Braniff Airlines and has travelled to many of Alex’s races.

“I don’t know where Alex got this talent from,” Lee said.

Henry Stache (16), a pilot from Preston Hollow, has been flying drones for three years. Stache was the first place winner in the line of sight competition. Flying model airplanes lead to his interests in flying drones.