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Drone Team Gears Up for State Championships

Posted June 16, 2016, 02:22 PM HST Updated June 20, 2016, 01:15 PM HST
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200-class drone racer with Shendrone frame.

220 ShenDrones “Tweaker 5” using 2400 2600 “red bottom” Emax Motors with a Naze32 ver6 flight controller. Photo: Richard Molina

Hawaii Drone Racing, the Big Island’s local team, is preparing to compete in the Hawai‘i State FPV Championships in Olowalu on Maui on Saturday and Sunday, June 25 and 26.

“The team has been working hard for this since the start of the year,” said Richard Molina, drone pilot and Hawaii Drone Racing team leader. “We are expected to bring strong opposition to Neighbor Island racers competing for the top 10 slots in the Hawai‘i championship.”

The top 10 winning teams will go on to compete in the 2016 World Drone Racing Championships in October at Kuaola Ranch on O‘ahu, where Jurassic Park was filmed.

“This is our big chance to join the rest of the world and present Hawai‘i as a serious contender on the international drone racing circuit,” said HDR Drone Pilot Al Sanchez.

Hawaii Drone Racing members meet and practice weekly to hone their skills. The group is comprised of all ages and levels who fly a variety of drone shapes and forms.

Their goal is to compete on the drone racing circuit on national and international levels.

HDR’s membership exceeds 120 and is growing daily. Currently, six pilots are ready to compete.

“When most people think of drones, they think of camera or video drones, such as the DJI or Yuneec brands,” Molina explained. “They are white, four-armed beasts with a camera hanging under them.

HDR-234

Hawaii Drone Racing. Photo: Richard Molina

“Racing drones are much different,” said Molina. “They are not designed to go slow and take pictures. Racing drones are designed to move at breakneck speeds and do maneuvers that would make any seasoned jet pilot lose their lunch.”

These drones are custom-built, made-from-scratch machines that conform to the standards of the racing circuit, according to Molina.

“Reaching speeds in excess of 60 mph while zipping in and out of turns and obstacles, these drones are amazing to watch,” Molina said.

“Its even more amazing when you think about the pilot controlling it by watching the image from the drone’s camera while wearing goggles,” said Molina. “This allows pilots to fly as if they were actually inside the drone itself. This is called “first person view” or FPV.

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“The sensation is truly like you’re inside the drone flying,” said Molina.

Drone racing came about a few years ago and is becoming a mainstream sport very very quickly, Molina said. Just about every nation has races on all levels. The sport has gained so much attention that ESPN has announced that it will be covering drone racing as part of its racing curriculum.

Hawaii Drone Racer Aaron Kotaska. Photo: Richard Molina

Hawaii Drone Racer Aaron Kotaska. Photo: Richard Molina

Major sponsors are starting to sign racers for their teams.

“We see this sport as the next Formula One,” Molina said.

Prizes for these races are also increasing in value. Last month in Dubai, the winner was awarded $250,000, said Molina.

“This fueled the race community and has since exploded its memberships across the world,” said Molina.

“Drone racing may be a new, exciting sport,” said Molina, “but it can also be an expensive one. Drone crashes can cause damage that can be expensive to repair. And the sport is evolving so fast, its tough to keep up with the latest technology to stay in competition.

“The major stumble is travel,” said Molina. “As the team is on an island, its a huge expense to travel even to Neighbor Islands to compete. As such, donations and sponsorships are always welcome to help with these expenses.”

The team is looking for community help to get to Maui for the state championships.

drone race course

Hawaii Drone Racing course. Photo Richard Molina

“It’s very hard to explain to a potential sponsor what we’re doing, so sponsorships are hard to come
by right now,” said Molina. “I don’t see this as a problem in a year; the sport is growing so fast and gaining popularity worldwide.

But we truly feel this is the start of something big, and our group is on the cutting edge of this sport,” said Molina. “I am very confident that those in this sport right now are going to be the superstars of tomorrow. Wouldn’t it be interesting if one of our local members became famous? And it all starts here in Kona…”

To learn more about this sport or to help Hawai‘i Island’s local race team, contact Molina at (808) 331-8333 or hawaiidroneracing@gmail.com.

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