Aviation enthusiasts across Australia are gathering in derelict warehouses to race custom-built drones in a new sport that is flying under the strict laws that regulate the aircraft.
At an abandoned warehouse in Melbourne’s west, about 30 drone racers have gathered for a high-speed showdown.
They have spent hours custom building their multi-rotor machines and fitting them with onboard cameras.
Known as FPV racing – or first person view – the racers use special goggles, some held together with gaffer tape, giving them a drone’s-eye view as they manoeuvre around the course.
Clocking speeds of more than 60 kilometres an hour, Darren French loves the adrenaline rush.
“It’s addictive. It’s like playing a video game. It’s fast. The more you do it the more you want to fly.Darren French
High-speed crashes and collisions are inevitable and add to the pre-race nerves for the competitors. But Chad Nowak says it is all part of the action. “Anyone who’s not crashing as far as I’m concerned isn’t trying hard enough. That’s half the fun.”
Chad Nowak is one competitor to watch if FPV racing becomes a fully fledged sport in Australia.
“I fly full size aircraft and I like being up there but there’s no way you would catch me in my glider flying between two trees because if I get it wrong I’m going to end up in a coffin.
But with something like this, I can go out there and do it, and if I get it wrong, the worst thing that happens is that I have to rebuild the frame.
It gives you this freedom. That boyhood dream of just doing crazy things. You can do it now in a fun and safe way.”Chad Nowak
Mr Nowak’s fast and furious moves have earned him a trip to California, where he is being sponsored to compete in the US National Drone Championships in July.
The competition is the first of its kind in the US and is approved by America’s largest model aircraft sporting body.
Plus Mr Nowak says there is a $10,000 prize.
I’m going over there to have fun, to meet friends that I know on forums. If I do well then it’s a bonus. It’s an experience of a lifetime for me.Chad Nowak
The larger, more-established FPV groups meet regularly in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania.
Lateline tracked them down through a network of drone hobbyists on the internet.
There are strict regulations for operating drones in open airspace, governed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
But the drone racers can fly indoors, outside of CASA’s jurisdiction.
Before the event began, race organiser Dale Pearce set down his own rules for flying safely.
If you see people that aren’t part of us or anyone out there, just call out ‘people on the field’, let the pilots know they’re out and about so we can slow down and just not hit them.
We have a lot of graffiti artists that come walking out suddenly and not give two poos about what we’re doing.Dale Pearce
Mr Pearce is pushing for a more formal competition in Australia.
Darren French believes it is only a matter of time before drone racing hits the mainstream.
It’s definitely becoming a sport as we start to race more. It’s becoming worldwide, people want to race and go faster and try to compete against each other. Like any sport it evolves, so [I’m] looking forward to it becoming more professional.