WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — The National Museum of the United States Air Force will host a three-day series of micro drone races that kick off today and run through Sunday, February 27. As with entry into the museum itself, the event is free for patrons to come and observe the proceedings.
Coordinated by local drone pilot Kele Stanley, the event will begin with 48 pre-registered drone operators engaged in two-minute heats — four drones per heat — from 1-5 p.m. Friday. The two-minute heats will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. The final double-elimination bracket will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Spectators will be able to watch the races in-person and on a large screen. The screen will live stream the perspective of the drones themselves which are equipped with cameras. These cameras are in turn wirelessly connected to specialized VR goggles worn by the drone operators in order to assist in their piloting.
According to a museum press release, “visitors will also be able to experience flying a drone with computer-based simulators from the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), Sinclair College Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) program, and the museum’s Education Division. Visitors can then fly an actual drone in two designated areas courtesy of AFRL and the museum’s Education Division.”
“This event started as a lifelong dream,” said 39-year-old Stanley.
A native of Springfield, Stanley initially dove into his lengthy passion for drone piloting as a commercial venture. For the past 10 years, Stanley and his wife have run an independent business that utilizes camera-equipped flying drones to inspect difficult, inconvenient, or dangerous to reach infrastructures such as extremely tall electrical towers.
“After starting my career as a commercial pilot, I got involved with what we call FPV, or ‘first person view.’ That’s what we’re doing here at the museum with the races,” Stanley said. “It’s essentially like VR, where you see the camera view from the drone. This technology is still very new and has come a really long way over the last four years.”
It was over this four-year period that Stanley became involved with a large group of fellow drone pilots who formed a club called the Cincinnati Quad Racers. It’s through CQR’s “subgroup,” as Stanley calls it, known as Whoop Bros., that Stanley takes part in weekly area amateur races. The races are typically held on Sundays with 20 racers per meetup.
“This particular race at the museum is kind of the pinnacle of our season for indoor racing of ‘whoop’ drones, or the smaller drones we use, which runs from about November through April,” Stanley said.
An aspect of the “dream” that Stanley had been following to get to the point of running a whoop race at the museum is that he used to come to the historical facility as a child.
“I used to love coming here as a kid,” he said. “When I started getting into whoop racing, I kept thinking that doing a race at the museum would be a perfect combination. I landed a meeting with some representatives, and before I knew it, I was in front of the entire board. I was holding this little tiny drone and saying I wanted to fly it around the building. Luckily, they were very onboard with it.”
Bolstering Stanley’s long-held vision of a race at the museum, the flight enthusiast was able to wrangle in as special guest Jesse Perkins, the innovator behind the so-called “Tiny Whoop Revolution.” It was Perkins who first placed cameras on small drones and in so doing became something of a hero to Stanley and like-minded FPV drone pilots.
“It’s become an entire category of drone racing, and it was created by this one guy, Jesse, who I am so excited will be joining us for the races,” Stanley said.
It was also as a child that Stanley first saw ads for remote-control flying models such as planes and helicopters in the back of science-based magazines. In high school, he began flying his own mobile vehicles as well as cars and trucks. After marrying his wife, the duo decided to start a videography business. Stanley, not surprisingly, suggested that they have the ability to “fly” a camera as part of their offered services.
“I can’t believe I get paid to fly drones as a business, and now this event at the museum is a culmination of my personal and professional passions,” Stanley said. “I’m now heavily considering touring with the tiny whoop race concept and hope to one day make it across the country as far as the west coast to do it at venues that can provide similar facilities. The hard part is just the fact that when you call other places and say you want to fly drones around inside their building, they tell you you’re crazy. So, the fact that the museum is letting us do this is just incredible. I’m extremely grateful.”