Drone racing is a new sport airing its third season on ESPN, ESPN2, TSN, Sky Sports Mix for UK fans, and Prosieben Maxx for German enthusiasts. The sport made a stunning impact in the sports arena during its broadcast in 75 countries during the second season. Much of this success is due to technology ushering in professional drone racing pilots who have become popular in the league.
According to the Drone Racing League (DRL), skilled participants use quad-copter drones with speed of up to 120mph in three-dimensional courses. The four rotors give a drone more lifting power and better maneuverability. Pilots fly these drones, akin to the Red Bull Air Race, using the first-person-view (FVP) and steer through tight and challenging slalom courses at high speeds.
There are drone racing independent leagues and other competitions in the US and abroad, but the DRL remains a global phenomenon being the most prestigious and sought-after organization with highest-priced tournaments since its first race in 2015.
Drone racing is more than just a game for the pilots. Nicholas Horbaczewski, founder and CEO of DRL, explains that racers do not just race, but they also work on the hardware and develop their own drones.
It is a hobby and a profession, according to Horbaczewski that attracts a wide variety of participants, like these pilots:
- Gabriel Kocher (aka Gab707) from team Canada appears regularly on the DRL TV show. He has landed on top spots in both international and national competitions. Kocher is a Ph.D. candidate in Materials Modelling.
- World Champion Jordan Eiji Temkin (aka JET) tells everyone that he “likes getting paid to play with toys”. He used to work three jobs and left them all to do full-time drone racing.
- Nick Willard (aka Wild Willy) is another top DRL pilot. Aside from flying drones, he is a fourth year Aerospace Engineering student at Georgia Institute of Technology.
Becoming a full-time DRL pilot may be a coveted full-time job, but just like Formula 1 race drivers who are known to be the best in the world, the bar for drone pilots is purposely set too high. Contracts could go as high as $100,000 that is why some pilots have left their jobs to fly drones full time.
How Is The Drone Technology Ushering Pilots Into A New Era Of Flight?
Horbaczewski said, “We have incredible, highly agile devices that we can fill so many functions. And yet we’re waiting for this world of self-piloting, self-flying drones. What our technology enables us to focus on is a world where pilots are in control of these drones.” He further explains, “Think about something like a first response or drones dropping off defibrillator unit or responding to an accident. Or a firefighting drone going to inspect the fire before the trucks can get there. We can do that today with human controlled drones.”
The demand for drone pilots is increasing and it is creating a bold impact on different industries. According to the report “The Economic Impact of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the United States”, an estimate of 100,000 new jobs will be available through 2025.
Drone Pilot Schools Emerge
To prepare for the influx of jobs in this new drone industry, schools like the Phoenix-based Unmanned Vehicle University (UVU) focuses on training drone pilots where graduates take a drone pilot license called FAA 107. Paul Dragos, dean of the school, says that there is a huge number of jobs and the number is just .
Another aviation school that caters to drone training is the Global Drone Solution. The CASA-approved school provides drone pilots five hours of actual practical flying skill and teaches them aviation theories. The main function of CASA is to conduct safety regulation of civil air operations in Australia, and to provide safety education and training programs in cooperation with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
Industries that hire drone pilots include engineering firms, survey firms, real estate, social media companies, wildlife and nature projects, and emergency services.
One of the great things about drones is it gives everyone a chance to become a pilot. Anyone from beginners to skilled pilots all have a chance to develop careers with drones. Many people are learning to fly drones to expand their already existing careers. For instance, people from the creative industry are learning to become drone pilots to use them in creating more innovative .
A key question is, what is the potential earning potential as a drone pilot? As in any other industry, highly skilled drone pilots, who are willing to travel, according to UVAIR, will likely earn more than the others.
Mahmood Hussein, a drone trainer, and pilot, said, “The demand for drone use, in a wide variety of businesses, is absolutely skyrocketing. Drone are transforming industries such as plumbing, mining, trades, and even transport and delivery. For people pursuing a career as a drone pilot, the rewards are great. The average salary of a drone pilot is already around $100,000 with the top end nudging $150,000 a year.
In an estimate by Jordan Rising, Director of Flight and Technology at Flight Evolved, in other specialized drone pilot roles like survey and engineering firms may pay pilots $50,000 to $70,000. For drone pilots who can’t do it full time, there are weekend gigs that pay anything from $2,500 to $7,000.
The Incredible Evolution of Drones
Drones were first used in military services, and from there they have changed in so many ways – design and mechanism included — and are now are part of common services like in delivery and monitoring.
“I like to say we’re raising a generation of pilots. Everyone I know under the age of 15 has a drone or wants a drone. We’re creating a whole generation of people who know how to fly,” Horbaczewski said.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a national authority in the United States presented a report that in just a span of 15 months more than 770,000 drone registrations have been filed.
The mandate to register drones to FAA began in December of 2015, allowing them to control the growing industry of unmanned aerial vehicles. The National Authority for Civil Aviation is currently assessing different devices in order to identify drone operations that have not been authorized.
DRL is on the cutting edge of the Drone industry and pushing the limit on performance. The popularity of the sport is helping to raise interest in the sport as well as recruiting a new generation of pilots. This is a global phenomenon and expected to grow in the coming years as jobs are available across industries that now use drones as part of their services.
Contributing Writer: Frances Beldia