Many of the world’s top professional drone pilots will gather at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee beginning later this month in a competition that is taking flight through the efforts of students at Milwaukee Montessori School.
“Drones are very popular right now, and they’ve helped our students embrace technology, creativity and teamwork, resulting in winning first place in one of the world’s most competitive international drone racing contests,” Head of Milwaukee Montessori School Monica Van Aken said. “We thought, if the students love this, wouldn’t it be great if Wisconsin had a unique professional drone racing competition where everyone could watch the pros race and also be inspired.”
The school has partnered with MultiGP, the world’s largest professional drone racing league, to host the Ice Storm Drone Racing Competition from April 29-May 1. Some of the most celebrated professional pilots will race their drones over the ice at the Pettit Center while competing for $25,000 in cash prizes.
“Thousands of drone racing competitions are held each year, but less than 5% are indoors, and this one will be especially unique stretched over two indoor rinks,” MultiGP spokesman Roger Bess said. “Spectators will have a chance to see thrilling professional racing as drones crush speeds from 90 to 120 mph over the ice.”
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Drone racing has gained widespread popularity with young people because it combines thrill of flight with precise eye-hand coordination, quick thinking and creativity to maneuver hairpin turns, he added.
“It will literally be entertainment at a mile a minute,” Bess said.
Students at Milwaukee Montessori School, 345 N 95th St., have had a growing interesting in drone technology as part of an overall exposure to cutting-edge technology though their education, Van Aken said.
“Milwaukee Montessori School has always been proud of our technology use and how our students have been super creative in crafting projects we’ve had,” she said. “Our thought was what if we got professional drone pilots to come to Wisconsin and race and where spectators could all come and watch. Our idea literally took off when we secured a partnership with the host facility, the Pettit National Ice Center, and with MultiGP, the world’s leading drone race provider.”
The Pettit Center setup offers a novel and challenging course with a unique set of elements that drone pilots crave, Van Aken said.
More than 50 pilots have already entered the competition, with upwards of 65 eventually expected to take part, and will be traveling to Milwaukee from across the United States, Canada and Southeast Asia.
Among those expected to compete are Evan Turner, Alex Vanover, Mason Lively and MinChan Kim, an 18-year-old from South Korea.
The drone pilots control their aircraft by wearing head-mounted first-person view goggles. Since most first-person view goggles also support an audience mode, spectators and judges can also view the pilot’s footage in real-time.
“To be a professional drone racer, you need to have fast reflexes on the sticks, be ready to fly every day possible and practice all types of courses,” professional drone pilot Brian Melton, a resident of Brookfield, said.
Melton took part in a drone racing demonstration at the Pettit Center on Wednesday.
“The space is perfect as pilots have designated workspace to repair the equipment that we will inevitably break, or crash, during our races,” Melton said. “With all of the world-famous pilots attending, we’ll be able to see all of the latest new drone technology and, of course, spend a lot of time studying the competition to know their strengths and weaknesses.”
Video setup at the Pettit Center will allow spectators to see exactly what pilots are viewing through their googles, Melton noted.
“I’m thoroughly excited about it and I think the other pilots are also,” Melton said of the competition. “We hope people from the local community will come and support us.”
Viewing areas will be situated along the course and the races will also be projected on the Pettit Center’s large viewing screens.
Tickets to the competition are priced at $10 per day or $25 for three-day pass. Children ages 5 and under get in free.
Sponsors for the event include We Energies Foundation, Marshall Auto Body, S3Aero Defense, Drone Zone, the Warren Community College drone team and the Kubiak and Shafer families.