The 2016 Drone Nationals: Day 2

Drone Nationals Jumping Gate
Credit: Facebook @dronesaregood


Day 2 of Drone Nationals opened with the rain clouds far out in the distance. Over the island, the sun shone down strong and heavy as pilot crews tossed fixed wing aircrafts into the air. Colloquially shortened to Wing, these large aircraft are not normally seen at a drone racing event. They’ve been a staple of RC flying for years but have gone through a new renaissance thanks to the development of FPV flight.

#espn #winglaunching #vango #governorsisland #stoneblueairlines #drone #dronenationals

A video posted by Todd Gregory (@tagaerialmedia) on

Quadcopter, or drone, pilots weren’t exactly thrilled to share their time and field with their winged cousins. They were hoping to have a chance to start the time-based qualifiers early in the day. Instead, drones didn’t take off from the start line until after 1PM, after the ESPN feed started. Good for TV maybe, but not good for the pilots.

After a brief pilot meeting, where they were informed that the course they practiced yesterday now had a new gate and a slightly re-positioned old gate, the grand opening ceremony began. Race host and director Joe Scully, a Canadian native, gave a speech about the glories of America that a presidential speechwriter would have a hard time outdoing. Then the national anthem was sung and the drone races officially began. It was, at the very least, better than NBC’s coverage of the Olympic opening ceremonies.

The ESPN livestream audience might not agree. The first hour of the livestream was plagued by audio and bandwidth issues. An ESPN support representative stated they had received numerous calls about the stream and were working to fix it. At the event, the message was pushed hard to put devices into airplane mode or simply turn off WiFi. When the stream was working, the audience was underwhelmed by the double chase cams and lack of direct FPV feeds from the racing drones.
2016 Drone Nationals ESPN difficulties
Over the course of the day the stream improved, both technically and creatively with the addition of FPV feeds. Rotor Riot members, including Charpu (Carlos Puertolas) and Mr. Steele (Steele Davis), also took over the stream as hosts for brief periods to add more color to the broadcast.

The ESPN livestream, and the real life audience, were watching the single elimination qualifiers today. Pilots were to fly three laps as fast as they could, with 7 pilots flying in a heat. The 32 pilots with the top times would move on to the semi-finals. If you crashed, tough luck. Ideally, every pilot would have the opportunity to fly at least three rounds and their top time out of those rounds would be what counted.

The cycles (the time between each heat) kept a good pace with little downtime for the audience to get bored by. Joe Scully filled the air with both good and bad jokes, and an odd fascination with going barefoot on the grass, “BanniUK style”. Later in the afternoon freestyle performances, not judged for now, were slotted in between heat. There were famous pilots like Charpu and Ummagawd (Tommy Tibajia), but also hot newcomers like HiFlite (Ethan Gulnac) and JohnnyFPV (Johnny Schaer).

But whether the cycles still weren’t fast enough or because the day started too late by the time the rain clouds hit the island around 4PM EST there was only one round of heats flown. The list of pilots with the top qualifying times didn’t look anything like people expected.

Two of the unarguably fastest pilots in the United States, Nytfury (Shaun Taylor) and Brain Drain (Brian Morris), had crashed before completing the three laps needed. They were joined by 33 other pilots in their misfortune, hitting gates, the ground, or crashing into the protective netting (where they hung until volunteers could whack them down with long poles).

At the top of the list was Spook (Rafael Paiva) with a total time of 1:33.497, plus the fastest lap time of 29.231 seconds.
Drone Nationals Qualifiers Round 1
Some of the pilots who crashed complained of video interference – they weren’t able to get the video signal from their drone to the FPV goggles they wore. One re-race was run with 5 pilots, from different heats, who all suffered noticeable problems.

The rain passed after a 30 minute downpour and the call was made to lengthen the day and fly a second round of qualifiers. The second round stretched into the late evening. Nytfury got back on the board in fifth place, and Spook dropped down to ninth. But some pilots had already left the island without flying again. They’ll have their chance tomorrow morning on Day 3, and the last day, of Drone Nationals.

I have qualified 12th for the United States drone nationals.

A video posted by Paul Nurkkala (@bulbufet) on

The agenda tomorrow is packed. Organizers will need to finish the Wing competition, finish the quadcopter qualifiers, fly the judged freestyle competition, fly the Team Relay Race, and fly the finals of the drone race everyone wants to see.


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