RIVERSIDE — The Air Force may be known for their drone pilots, but the guests at the National Museum of the US Air Force Saturday are renowned for driving aircraft that is much, much smaller. The museum will host 20 micro drone pilots today in a series of 2-minute indoor races, in which the tiny craft will maneuver over, under, and through historical planes, including the C-124 Globemaster.
These “Tiny Whoop” drones, barely four inches in length, travel up to 25 miles per hour along an indoor course comprised of glowing obstacles and historical aircraft.
The races will be conducted with four drones in each heat, throughout the day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Spectators will be able to watch the race along the course in the museum’s second building.
Pilots use virtual reality headsets to see through a tiny camera positioned on top of each drone. The resulting perspective is as if they are piloting their drone in first person. Spectators will also be able to see footage from the drone pilots’ point of view, which will be shown on a large screen during the race.
The pilots participating in the race are experienced, but visitors will also have opportunities to pilot their own drones as well. During museum hours, visitors can try their hand at flying a drone with computer-based simulators from the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), Sinclair College Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) program, the museum’s Education Division, and the Drone Racing League (DRL).
The Drone Racing League is a global, professional drone racing circuit for elite pilots with custom built racing drones traveling from 0-90 mph in under a second, according to the museum. Visitors can fly an actual drone in two designated areas courtesy of AFRL and the museum’s Education Division.
According to Kele Stanley, the event’s organizer, learning how to pilot a drone in a simulation, or sim, is an excellent way to learn how to pilot a micro drone in real life.
“Learning how to sim is 80 percent of it,” he said. “The transition from a simulation to real life is very close.”
Stanley calls himself “another drone guy,” but his skills with unmanned aerial vehicles have landed him opportunities unlike any other. Stanley is currently employed as an unmanned aircraft pilot with Asymmetric Technologies, LLC., headquartered in Columbus.
The DRL is open to pilots of all ages, and members range from age 60 to kids in their early teens. Particularly for young people, for whom Stanley says drone racing comes much easier, opportunities for job growth are growing.
“It’s really something that can turn a certain young person’s life into potentially a career, just racing toys,” Stanley said.
The Tiny Whoops used in the race cost between $100 to $150. The body is extremely lightweight. The four rotors holding it aloft are guarded with plastic, which protects it against the potential dings and scratches of piloting through a massive C-124 Globemaster.
“Crashes are inevitable,” Stanley said. “The beauty of it is, the less you crash, the more likely you are to win the race.”
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are still prohibited on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base external to the event. Stanley noted that the race is exclusively for fun, and visitors and spectators should not bring their own drones.