In competitions, the racers or pilots wear special goggles that allow them to see what the drone “sees” as it flies over, under and around obstacles on a racecourse. Racers control the position and speed of the drone with two joysticks.
Jake will test his skills this week in Florida at the MultiGP Drone Racing Championship. Based on his best time at qualifying races this year, he’s ranked fourth worldwide.
The teen’s rise in drone-racing ranks has been speedy, but his interest in drones developed gradually. Jake, who spent some of his early years in Washington, D.C., attending Lafayette Elementary School, was a kid who played baseball and “was always interested in airplanes.”
His parents bought him inexpensive remote control airplane kits as holiday “stocking stuffers.”
As Jake says, “I like to mess around with stuff.” Soon he was taking apart the machines and putting them back together. Now the high school freshman doesn’t just fly his drones, he builds them.
When he started racing drones near Detroit a couple of years ago, Jake was hardly a star.
“In the beginning, I was crashing all the time.” Now when he is racing, “I want to keep a good pace but be in control so I don’t crash.”
That pace, of course, is super fast. Pilots race around a course alone to qualify for races in which they race against as many as seven drones. Jake moved up the rankings just like he races: fast. When I asked him how he got better so quickly, Jake said, “practice.”
Jake practices three or four times a week at a nearby flying club or at a track he set up at his cousin’s house. The sessions are usually four to six hours.
Jake says he’s never bored during the long practices. “You are always trying to figure out something at the track,” he says. You’re trying to get the drone to go faster or “trying to find the tightest line” as the drone zips around the track.
The practicing pays off in the races, which Jake describes as “exhilarating” because “you can see the objects [on the course] go by faster and faster.”
When I asked Jake what he wants to do when he gets older, he said, “I am interested in being an aeronautical engineer.”
My guess is he won’t let any obstacles get in his way.