Muncie hosts biggest drone racing event in sport's history

Drones sit ready to start another race in Muncie Thursday.
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MUNCIE, Ind. (WTHR) – The Academy of Model Aeronautics in Muncie is hosting the biggest drone racing event ever this week. 350 pilots from around the world are racing on eight courses spread throughout the 1,200-acre grounds. The MultiGP International Open runs through Sunday.

Eleven-year-old Ashton Gamble from Los Angeles calls himself "Drobot Racer." While he sits in a chair under a tent wearing first person view (FPV) goggles, his father Rand stands behind him looking at a handheld monitor. The screen shows Rand the same camera shot from the drone that Ashton sees to pilot his quad drone through a series of gates on the course located about 30 yards from the tent. The quads twist and turn through the air at about 60 miles an hour.

"In the race, you don't go that fast, because if you're going 100 miles an hour you can't control it," said Ashton, who will begin sixth grade later this month. "But these can go 100 and something easily."

Ashton sits in line of eight pilots under the edge of the tent, all wearing goggles and holding a remote control with two joysticks to maneuver their quads.

"A lot of my friends are mind blown about it," said Ashton. "They're like, 'You can see what the drone sees?' It's really cool when you put on the goggles. It's just really awesome. It's like virtual reality, basically."

Shawn Taylor, a 37-year-old pilot who goes by "Nyt Fury," quit his job as a firefighter in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to pursue drone racing as a career.

"You mix two things," said Taylor, "flying, which human beings are fascinated by and always have been, and racing. It doesn't matter what it is - whether it's cars, trucks, skates - doesn't matter. We want to race. You mix flying and racing, it's addictive for just about everybody."

The pilots guide their quads through a series of gates for two minutes per heat trying to turn the fastest lap. Frequent crashes often require a few minor repairs between races, usually to replace a plastic propeller.

The sport is about three years old, with MultiGP Drone Racing clubs and races popping up all over the world.

"If there's someone you know who is spending way too much of their life on video games, this is the cure for that problem," said MultiGP founder Chris Thomas. "It requires that gamer - they get the same level of excitement - but they have to leave their home, put on pants, socialize with other people. It helps to build great life skills."

The fastest 64 pilots this weekend compete for $3,000 in prizes.

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