'It's like flying a dragonfly': Manitoba drone racers compete for spot at nationals
The high-speed sport of drone racing is taking off in Manitoba.
That's according to officials with the local drone-racing league, Winnipeg FPV, which held a regional qualifier Saturday where local pilots raced for a chance to compete nationally.
"It's like flying a dragonfly," explained Wally Kroeker, 42, one of Winnipeg FPV's organizers.
"It's manoeuvrable, you can stop on a dime and turn the other direction.
"And I can do all that, and do risky things, without actually risking my body."
This weekend's competition, held at a baseball field in Steinbach, Man., saw 10 pilots compete for three spots at the first ever MultiGP Canada Championships in Ottawa Sept. 29-30.
The top contender, Louis Plett, also won airfare and paid accommodations during the event.
Racers competed in quick, two-minute races that saw pilots fly an obstacle course laid out around the field.
The drones have cameras that send back what the machine sees in front of it to special goggles worn by pilots during the race, making it like a real-life video game for those controlling the devices through the course, said Kroeker.
"It's like you're in the cockpit and so that for me, it's like I'm flying."
MultiGP is the largest professional drone racing league in the world, with more than 20,000 registered pilots and 500 active chapters worldwide, according to its website.
Kroeker says this is the first year the international organization is holding sanctioned events in Canada.
He says it's a sign the sport is hitting new heights in this country and here in Manitoba, where a growing and tight-knit group of pilots meet regularly to fly their drones and talk shop.
"If someone is having trouble with a flight controller, or somebody has a problem getting their motors working properly, they'll ask questions in there and we're all willing to answer questions and help," he said.
"We're a bunch of friends talking about technology, talking about how it works."
Kroeker, who lives in Elie, Man. and used to build and fly radio controlled airplanes with his father, says he was drawn to try drone racing after his dad died five years ago.
"I always wanted to get back into it and this was an opportunity to do something that I remember my dad with," said Kroeker, who works in IT when he's not piloting the flying machines.
"And the drones themselves, they're electronics, they're problem solving — all the things I enjoy.
"It seemed like a good fit, it's been a lot of fun, and the community has kind of grown up over that time."