Racing drones takes off in Trumbull County

VIENNA — Telly Hamilton, a Brookfield High School senior, said over the months that he has been part of his school’s drone racing team, he has learned a greater appreciation for drone racing.

“Before I joined the drone racing team, I didn’t find racing drones interesting at all,” he said. “I was more interested in the commercial side of flying drones, getting my commercial license. But once I flew a drone — flying the drone quickly and having the delicacy and being accurate with your movements, that is kind of what drew me. I love it. If I could do it in college, I would.”

He plans to attend Mount Union University in the fall and study computer science, he said. It would be great to work as a software engineer for DJI, the world’s largest drone company, he said.

Hamilton was among the high school drone racers who competed Saturday morning in the Trumbull County Drone Racing League annual competition at the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics and Winner Aviation hangars at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.

He’s apparently not the only area student whose interest in drone racing has increased.

The third annual event has grown substantially since it started. It had six teams the first year, 10 last year and had 19 Trumbull County high school teams participating this year.

It is sponsored by the Trumbull County Educational Service Center, which provides services to school districts in the county, such as educational leadership and instruction, curriculum development, special education and technology and employs specialists such as therapists and psychologists.

Brookfield has six members on its drone team, and all are new this year from the team that had a very successful year last year, competing at the national tournament.

The Brookfield team practices in the high school gymnasium about once per week and also can practice with virtual drone racing software, said Tim Reinsel, the team’s coach. He said it is considered a sport, like NASCAR.

The season goes all year long, especially if the team wants to practice by competing online, Reinsel said. Hamilton was the pilot for the team that was fifth in the nation last fall in a virtual competition.

The event involves three types of competition. Two involve racing drones.

One is a Capture the Flag type of event, where the drone team directs its drone to fly close to each of 10 beacons set up the PIA building. The drone “hovers” over the beacons. When it is close enough, the beacon changes from red to green, and the drone can move on to the other beacons. The goal is to activate each of the beacons in the shortest amount of time.

That race demonstrates the pilot’s ability to control and maneuver the drone, which is a type of skill a drone pilot would use, for instance for bridge inspection or farming, said Ed Mackiewicz, curriculum and instruction supervisor for the TCESC, which organized the event.

The other racing event is a race course with several gates that the pilot maneuvers through as fast as he or she can with the amount of time they have.

In addition to flying the drones, the curriculum, which comes from the company Drones in School, teaches them how to 3D-print parts for the drone, Mackiewicz said.

The teams are also required to produce a display board about their team, a portfolio, a marketing video and do marketing and public relations for their team, such as creating a team T-shirt and logo.

“There are more aspects to it than just drone racing,” Mackiewicz said. “That’s the part that I loved about it. If I can’t do the drone flying, I could do the PR for the team. I could be the engineer and figure out how to fix the drone. I could learn how to 3D print something for the drone. That is why we loved this program so much.”

Have an interesting story? Email Ed Runyan at erunyan@vindy.com or erunyan@tribtoay.com.


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