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Written by Matt Ruddick
The next big thing
Feature
As seen in the December 2018 issue of
Model Aviation.



Photo Gallery

X Class Drone Racing - Model Aviation magazines


The 2018 MultiGP International Open was an event designed to build upon the successful 2017 inaugural event. Tracks were added, expanded, and made more challenging for the hundreds of competitors who traveled from around the world to attend.

The two World Cup tracks kept many pilots satiated throughout the week, with many never even leaving the flightline in hopes of getting in as many practice runs as they could before Saturday night’s main event competition. However, before the Top 64 pilots took to the air for the World Cup finals, a different event captured the attention of nearly every pilot in attendance: X Class Drone Racing.




Matthew Tickel prepares to set his aircraft down on the starting pad.



What Is X Class Drone Racing?

Aside from having a catchy name, X Class Drone Racing is a jaw-dropping sight. The thing that one immediately notices is that these drones are four to five times larger than the standard mini quads that are being flown by thousands of drone racing pilots around the world. Aircraft measuring between 800 mm and 1,200 mm diagonally, from motor to motor, and sporting propellers up to 15 inches in diameter rumble through the sky at speeds that can reach 100 mph.




Although too big to easily fly through standard-size gates, the X Class drones fly more traditional racing lines around flags.


X Class features two types of races: open races and circuit races. Circuit racing within X Class is strict concerning who can participate and what procedures must be followed. They are held at auto racing tracks with fans sitting in typical spectator stands, and pilots are required to hold an FAA Part 107 license.

In open races, such as the one held at this year’s MultiGP International Open, any pilot with an AMA membership and an X Class Drone Racing-compliant aircraft can participate. These races are held at traditional flying fields and are designed for pilots to build their skills so that they can eventually become a circuit pilot.




Colby Curtola shows off his calm nerves before competing in a heat race.



What Makes X Class Special?

What is it that makes this new class of racing so enticing for pilots? After all, the barrier to entry is much higher because of the larger size of the aircraft and its higher cost (the cost of an X Class drone can be nearly $2,000). Colby Curtola, one of the most successful X Class pilots, described it this way: “... the adrenaline rush from flying something so big, loud, and also expensive is really exhilarating. It’s a whole different kind of rush.”

It was easy to see where he was coming from. Watching these drones was like watching something from another world invade our sky. The high-pitched whine from the mini quads gave way to a guttural rumble as the pack took the first corner. Figuring out how something so large and industrial could be so fast and nimble was enough to keep my mind perplexed for hours, but I couldn’t turn my eyes away from it. It felt like this was what spectator-driven drone racing should be.




Jon Gaiser adjusts his rig in between heats.



X Class in the Future

Of course, that’s the goal of the series and of X Class Drone Racing CEO Noah Furhman. After conducting typical field-style racing throughout early 2017, Noah teamed up with local auto racing tracks on the West Coast and held X Class drone racing as part of the Saturday night motorsports activities, exposing hundreds of race fans to drone racing.




Reiner Weber puts the finishing touches on a rig in time for a heat race.


With an overwhelming response, both the track organizers and X Class officials realized that there is truly a place for drone racing within the spectator auto racing world. Although the series has been primarily based on the West Coast, Noah and his team are slowly opening up to having chapters created across the country to expand the series, while still keeping a local feel to the competition, as well as keeping it sustainable by not letting it grow too fast. At the time I’m writing this, nine chapters have been chartered by X Class Drone Racing, including one in the United Kingdom and another in Australia.

One of the biggest things holding giant drone racing back is the availability of hardware. Although there are a couple of manufacturers producing parts for these behemoths, more widespread adoption is needed to bring prices down and add value for the competitors.




Colby shows off two of his signature giant drones for a photo opportunity.


According to Noah, more companies are showing interest in their products all of the time. Motor manufacturers such as T-Motor and frame companies like Armattan have already shown interest in how they can meet the needs of pilots in X Class. With the announcement of a partnership between X Class and GetFPV made during the MultiGP International Open race, it’s likely that even more interest will be shown in the future.




The large size of X Class drones allows spectators to easily follow the action.



MultiGP International Open

At the MultiGP International Open, 19 pilots competed in the second open race of the 2018 X Class season, and had nearly the entire pilot roster cheering from behind the flightline. Pilots such as Evan Turner and Kele Stanley, known for their mini quad piloting skills, stepped in to take a shot.




Kele Stanley inspects the damage done to his drone following a crash.


Kele built his rig the night before using parts from a local hardware store just so that he could be part of the excitement. Zoe Stumbaugh, who helped pioneer X Class, also attended, but because of a hardware failure, she was unable to qualify for the finals. Colby, who has dominated X Class competition, also saw an equipment failure end his day early and keep him from starting the final race. In the end, the crowd witnessed Jon Gaiser take his first win, followed by Lucas Dearborn and Jay Day rounding out the podium.

It was apparent from the reaction of the crowd that not only was the race a roaring success, but that the interests of many pilots were captured by these giant racing drones. Many wanted to know what it would take to build one on the spot. Even two-time Drone Racing League champion Jordan Tempkin jumped in and flew a prototype rig after the race to see what it was like.




Podium finishers of the MultiGP International Open X Class final: (L-R) Lucas Dearborn, Jon Gaiser, Jay Day, and Colby Curtola.


X Class Drone Racing has a bright future in the world of model aviation. It can be argued that it might be the way for drone racing to gain real traction among spectators. It might even be said that these giant racing drones are truly the next big thing.

—Matt Ruddick
mattr@modelaircraft.org


Sources:

MultiGP
www.multigp.com
X Class Drone Racing
www.xclass.racing






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