Drone racing has been a growing sport over the last few years and you can find thrilling championship races televised on ESPN. Did you know that it also is a high school varsity sport? The GoDroneX Chicagoland Championships just crowned a handful of New Trier students champions in its third season. There are races for both varsity and junior varsity students so they can compete at different levels of complexity.
GoDroneX FPV Drone Racing
The GoDroneX Drone Clan Wars is more than just drone racing. It combines the building and coding of interactive course elements into the race. There are moving, interactive elements on the course to throw the racers off track and even shortcuts that appear and disappear. Think of Mario Kart while piloting a mini quad.
The rules are fairly simple. Drones must be under 60 grams (including the battery) and must have propeller guards. Pilots can choose their own batteries and can fly either brushed or brushless drones. Each round is 8 minutes. Typically teams will fly 5 rounds with the lowest round score being disregarded. Teams that complete the most laps win.
There is a varsity, junior varsity, and a “pro” round. Varsity pilots navigate the complex interactive course, whereas the junior varsity pilots handle few elements and a less challenging course. The “Pro” round is a shorter 4 minute round where teachers and coaches get a chance to fly the course with GoDroneX founder Gregg Novosad while the students charge their batteries.
As a teacher and coach, I had the opportunity to fly the course and I have to say it is an absolute blast. The interactive course elements are unlike anything I’ve flown before. The bright colors and moving obstacles are exciting yet challenging. It definitely beats flying through static gates.
What do the students fly?
For the most part, students purchase their own drones and equipment. Some schools have money in their budget for clubs, however, most do not. My team was lucky enough to find a corporate sponsor, Half Chrome Drones, that supplied them with drones and equipment for both practice and the races. Horizon Hobby, a US-based RC company, donated $2500 in prizes. Lucky students and schools will receive drones and equipment to help continue flying and recruit more pilots next season.
Students and schools fly a variety of different quads but due to the 60-gram weight limit there tend to be some commonality. Majority of the students fly Inductrix FPV or Inductrix FPV + quads. These quads can be purchased separately or as inexpensive all-in-one FPV kits from Horizon Hobby. The Inductrix FPV kit is $150 and includes a brushed Inductrix, basic remote and an FPV monitor. The FPV + is a more powerful version that also includes altitude hold.
The second most popular drone at these events is the Eachine M80. It is basically a clone of the Inductrix FPV + at a lower cost. Students flying these quads have to come with their own goggles. But like the FPV + it has 8.5 mm brushed motors and can be flown in angle mode, altitude hold mode or acro mode. There is a package deal on Amazon where you can get the M80 (called the S85) with a remote for $74 or you can get the drone by itself for only $63 from Banggood.
The third most popular quad was the Emax Tinyhawk. It is brushless micro and is both more powerful and more efficient than the brushed quads on the course. It takes a little more skill to command one of these quads, but unlike the previously mentioned quads, the flight characteristics can be tweaked for beginners up to advanced pilots using a program called Betaflight.
Having flown all three of these drones (and countless others) the Tinyhawk is the best beginner FPV quad you can buy. The drone itself is around $100 but Emax also sells an all-in-one kit for $165 that includes the drone, a remote, FPV goggles, and a carrying case. The only thing I would recommend you pick up, in addition, would be extra batteries and that is true for any of these little drones. The battery life when racing won’t be much (typically 3-5 minutes) and you’ll burn through a handful of packs at these races. I recommend slightly larger batteries like these 600 mAh that I use for a slightly longer flight time. Learn more about the Tinyhawk here.
The Educational Component
A lot of people ask about the educational component of these races and drone clubs in general. There is the obvious skill of building, tuning, and repairing of the drones themselves. However, the Exponent Challenge is another part of the Drone Clan Wars. Students design, build and program moving obstacles for the courses. Much like a robotics or a VEX competition.
The GoDroneX Drone Clan Wars is the brainchild of Gregg Novosad. He donates countless hours of his time and he brings his gear and obstacles to the races. During the races he DJs the event with music, lights and live views of the racers from multiple cameras on the track and the quads themselves. If you want more information check out www.godronex.com or you can email him directly at Gregg@godronex.com
If you want to learn more flying FPV we did three-part series on getting started. You can read more about that below. Thumbs up Goggles down. Let’s light it up.
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