Drone racing blends technology and speed in mid-air

- It's described as feeling like a fighter pilot, as pushing the limits of technology and, if you're not careful, a little nauseating at first.

"There's really that element of risk and fear," said Kevin Bandy from Atlanta. "It's like you're in the thing, it really is."

Bandy and several dozen other pilots took part in a drone racing competition last weekend at the Cobb County RC Club in Acworth. Pilots take their drones -- similar to ones you might have seen being flown around a park or over an event -- and maneuver them above, below and around obstacles as fast as they can. While the drones most people see floating above the ground are pretty peaceful, these gadgets can move.

"We were maybe maxing out at 50, 60 miles an hour over a year ago, now we're at 80, 100 miles per hour," said Todd Wahl with the Drone Racing Club, the Atlanta-based group that put on the race. "No kidding.

To add another layer of difficulty, pilots are all wearing video goggles while flying which show them what is being seen by the drone's camera. That's why racers feel like they're actually in the cockpit. The goggles block out everything else and make the experience almost like being in a real-life video game.

"The first time it's disorienting. you'll get sick to your stomach," said Jonathan Sims from Carrollton.

In addition to racing, and getting used to the different perspective, many pilots are also the designers of their own crafts. Wahl estimates about half the pilots at his competition built their own drones from scratch. Just about everyone also ends up doing maintenance work on their drone after crashes during the race. It's like being a NASCAR driver and your own pit crew.

"I didn't know how to solder the first time I flew a drone," said Sims. "You teach yourself, because when you crash, you break something, you've got to fix it."

If you want to get involved in drone racing, Wahl says the best way is to find a local club that races near you. They can provide advice, resources and are the ones who set up the courses for larger races. Here is the link to the Atlanta-based club that put on Saturday's event in Acworth: https://1drc.com/

Here is a link to find similar clubs around the country: http://www.multigp.com/chapters

The hobby can get expensive for the most competitive racers, though Wahl says there are kits that include video goggles and all the other equipment that can get someone started for under $500.

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