How and Why to Watch Drone Nationals

It's all about Team USA, baby. 

Getty Images / Dan Istitene

The first-ever National Drone Racing championships takes off this weekend, pitting the country’s best freestyle and racing pilots against each other for the chance to represent Team USA. That’s right, if the controversial Rio Olympics aren’t enough to stoke your nationalistic pride, you can root for Team USA at the World Drone Racing Championships in October.

First up, however, is America’s National Championships. Both competitions are run by the Drone Sports Association, which is part of the International Drone Racing Association, one of several organizations promoting competitive drone racing and flying around the world. ESPN has agreed to broadcast the IDRA’s National Championships, held on Governor’s Island in New York City as part of the International Drone Racing Championships.

Admission to the general spectator areas is free, or you can purchase trackside tickets for all three days of the event (August 5, 6, and 7) for $20.

Map of the event on Governor's Island


How to Watch From Home

The Drone Nationals will air as part of IDRA’s partnership with ESPN, so if you’re already a subscriber, you’re in luck. All of the races Saturday and Sunday will [live stream on ESPN 3, which you can also get via the ESPN 3 app. Coverage starts on Saturday at 1 p.m. Eastern.

What to Watch

The big event here, of course, is racing. The Championships will feature both individual and team racing events. Keep an eye on Brian “Brain Drain” Morris, who currently leads the DSA circuit in single-pilot racing.

However, there’s also a team racing event, where teams of pilots will compete in different divisions, like weight classes for drones.

What the Hell is Freestyle?

The IDRA competition also has a freestyle flying division. Racing drones are extremely nimble, which lets them perform all kinds of crazy acrobatics in the air. Some pilots specialize in this, and the Nationals will have a whole division, decided by judges, devoted to finding the best freestyle fliers.

Fuck Yeah, Wing Division

Most of the time, we think of racing drones as small quadcopters designed to be as light and fast as possible. But there are also fixed-wing racing drones — full on mini-airplanes that the IDRA has a whole division for.

Check out a freestyle drone pilot chasing a fixed wing flyer:

All of the drones are flown through first person view, or FPV cameras, so pilots have a direct view of where their craft is going. Usually, most consumer drones are helicopter-style flying machines, as fixed wings are more difficult to control, so the fixed wing division should be one to watch.