What do you need to know to get into drone racing? Regina's racers offer tips

For enthusiasts, drone racing has an appeal that goes back to memories of watching Star Wars or videos of fighter pilots. But they have some suggestions to make people's entry into drone racing a little smoother.

Regina recently got its own chapter of the MultiGP Drone Racing League

Whoop drones like this one can reach speeds of 40 to 50 kilometres an hour. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

Here's the first thing to know about drone racing: watching these tiny mosquitoes glide through a room, emitting a buzzing noise as they whiz smoothly through LED gates, you realize you're looking at the super cool and sleek future.

Here at the gym of the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre, a group of five drone racers put their Whoop drones through their paces, in timed races.

Nick Oleynick recently began the Regina chapter of the MultiGP Drone Racing League, a global league that governs and manages racing and offers sanctioned events.    

He got into drones a few years ago, seduced by the glamour of YouTube videos depicting racing.

"They're whipping through the trees and everything, and it just looks so cool. It's kind of like they're fighter pilots."

Jamie Clark demonstrates how to fly a drone, using First Person View (FPV) goggles that show the drone's perspective as it whizzes through the air. (CBC News)

Part of his motivation for starting a chapter is to find other people interested in racing, but also in the hopes of competing — and qualifying — for national or international events.

Whoop a nice start

But what if you're a first-timer wanting to get into drone racing? What do you need to know?

The first thing Oleynick recommends, based on his own experience, is to start small.

"I did have a rude awakening when I got mine because I went all in with a 250 class," he said.

The problem with racing the big ones is if you crash into the ground at 80 kilometres an hour, 100 kilometres an hour, you're going to break something.- Nick Oleynick 

But this can be stressful and costly.

"The problem with racing the big ones is if you crash into the ground at 80 kilometres an hour, 100 kilometres an hour, you're going to break something," he said. "I went through props like candy, and all of this costs money."

The Whoop drone, instead, is roughly fist-sized. It's small but durable and cheap.

Regina recently got its own chapter of the MultiGP Drone Racing League 2:20

They don't fly as quickly, but he points out one that runs a two cell battery, which gives it double the prop speed and capable of racing up to 40 or 50 km/h.

The Whoop drone can get tossed around by wind outdoors, but Oleynick describes it as perfect to fly inside, or race inside a venue like a gym.

Nick Oleynick checks his computer as he sets up heats for drone racing at the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre in Regina. Oleynick recently started up a Regina chapter of the MultiGP drone racing league. (CBC News)

"You can set up tracks like this, and you can just go nuts with it, and you don't have to worry about wrecking things," Oleynick pointed out.

Chapter members say a person can get a decent setup for about $250, which would include a basic Whoop, transmitter and headset.

About that headset…

The First Person View (FPV) goggles make it easier to fly the Whoop, adjusting to avoid hitting the ceiling or the ground, and steering for the gate.

But some people may experience vertigo or motion sickness using these goggles, particularly in the learning phase when the drone is harder to control.

Some may get over this hump, but the drone racers here say others simply won't.

Destin Martin is a member of Regina's chapter of the worldwide, MultiGP drone racing league. His drone involved some of his own handiwork, with soldering and tinkering part of the appeal for some drone racers. (CBC News)

Oleynick said his hope is to offer free flies, where members give the public a chance to try their gear, using line of sight and FPV goggle to see if it's a fit.  

His bet is it will hook in a next generation of drone racers, living out the fighter pilot or Star Wars dream, and building the sport in Saskatchewan.  

"We're kind of on the verge," he said. "As far as the prairies are concerned, it's just catching on."