News Local

National drone event takes flight near Collingwood

By JT McVeigh, The Enterprise-Bulletin

The future of racing sounds like a mosquito.

Bygone Days Heritage Museum provided the perfect contrast as First Person View (FPV) drones race past the miniature historical village.

Enthusiasts from all over North America recently converged on the encampment on the outskirts of Collingwood to take part in the second Canadian Nationals race for FPVs.

So, what is an FPV? 

Think drone, a derogatory term in these racers’ lexicon, about the size of a dinner plate, with four propellers and probably more technology built inside than most have in their houses.
Each propellor is driven by its own brushless electric motor, it has stabilizers on all four corners, a sophisticated GPS in some and a camera at the front.
In the art of racing, the camera is the game changer according to David French, of Meaford, and organizers of the event.

“What this hobby is, is an offshoot of RC (Remote Control). We had gas engines, everything now has brushless motors, gyros to keep everything stabilized and instead of having to be a really good pilot to fly the old helicopters, with all of the electronics it lets a whole lot more people try it,” said French.

When a person flew either an RC plane or helicopter, it was all about line of sight, now with the introduction of monitors or flight googles, you are in the craft.
French should know a thing or two about this, his brother, Gregory, develops a line of video googles with the trade name Fat Shark.

“So the camera on the front of the ‘copter broadcasts a signal to the googles,” said French. “This is the game-changer for this sport.” 

”Now you are in it, you are completely immersed, so that whole adrenaline rush, you see guys pass you, the ground whipping by you, the experience of that,” said French.

Not surprisingly the sport has taken off in the States where just last month a $10,000 purse was up for grabs. According to one of the judges at the event the stress was so great on a number of the pilots ‘that their hands were shaking so badly they couldn’t hold onto the controller.”

A number of concerns have arisen since the introduction of recreational flying, namely privacy and the use of radio frequencies. French doesn’t see this racing as playing into that concern.

The race is held in a controlled environment with predetermined radio frequencies, and in terms of video images, their flights are restricted to the race course.

Every bit of technology seems to be being wrung out of this event. Along with a professional announcer calling the races, large monitors let spectators see the pilot’s view during the race. And if you can’t make it to the race site, organizers are live-streaming the event, again showing the pilot’s perspective.

As French mentioned, a fairly diverse crowd arrived in Collingwood. Vendors and pilots from Michigan, Ohio, racers from British Columbia, two guys from Australia who are touring North America in an old Winnebago, and Ben Davis from St. John’s, N.L.

“For me I have been flying for about 15 years, I signed up with the local flying back home and started on trainers and stuff,” said Davis.

“I only started with FPV about three years ago and this mini-copter racer is new to me.”

Although this form of racing is new to Davis, adventure flying is not. Last year he released a video of a flight with his copter going around and through a hole in an iceberg just off the coast of Newfoundland in the Spring.

“Listen, this sport is going to get huge,” said French. “More sponsors are putting money into it, the purses are getting larger and events like this will bring people from all over the world.”


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