The freedom of flight: Drone Racing League kicks off 2019 season

At the sound of the buzzer, three drones shoot into the air and careen through an obstacle course at up to 80 mph. The unmanned flying machines buzz like angry bees as they swarm overhead, darting past one another behind a safety net.

Fans were at this exposition event in Brooklyn, New York, to get a flavor of the upcoming 2019 season of the Drone Racing League (DRL), which kicks off next month. The season kicks off on August 11 at 2 p.m. and will be carried on television and streamed live on Twitter.


One of more than 600 racing drones in the DRL fleet.

DRL, which was launched in 2015, is a global drone racing circuit for elite First Person View (FPV) drone pilots.

2016 and 2017 DRL Allianz World Champion Jordan “Jet” Temkin told ABC News that he feels an out-of-body experience when he’s piloting a drone in the first-person.


DRL pilots perform drone show at the start of the 2019 racing season.

(MORE: Drone Racing Takes Flight With Olympic-Size Ambitions)

“You get to transplant your mind, your consciousness, your entire being into a flying object, and you have 100 percent freedom,” he said. “You turn into a bird, an eagle that can just soar over mountains, over treetops, and it’s that freedom of exploration and just joy that I get from flying and that’s really what keeps me hooked.”


Professional DRL drone racer Jordan ‘JET’ Temkin mentally prepares to race his drone at speeds up to 80 miles per hour.

DRL pilots, some of whom train year-round, race their drones in four of six events with the goal of winning a spot in the championship.

Each of the drones in the league’s 600-drone fleet is illuminated with more than 200 LED lights in a specific color. Each pilot is assigned a color, and races one of the identical drones through an obstacle course, according to league rules.

(MORE: With FAA certification, Google’s drone company set to start deliveries in Virginia)


Professional DRL drone racer Paul ‘NURK’ Nurkkala cheers after capturing the 2018 DRL world championship.

In the exposition event, 2018 DRL Allianz World Champion Paul “Nurk” Nurkkala piloted his signature green drone to victory in the first heat. He told ABC News that his strategy is to “be one with the drone … and to work harder than everyone else.”

Although Nurk was able to unseat Jet for last year’s title, he did not win the exposition event in Brooklyn on July 12. Instead, the race went to newcomer Alex Vanover, just 19 years old.


DRL drones launch at the start of a race.

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DRL is one of several drone racing leagues along with MultiGP, DR1 Racing, and the Drone Champions League. Each uses its own formula to provide similar opportunities to drone racers.


Professional DRL drone racer Paul ‘NURK’ Nurkkala celebrates his 2018 world championship victory.

No matter what the league, pilots say they need to hone their hand-eye coordination, practice keeping calm under extreme pressure, and learn to trust their instincts.


A drone racing obstacle course as seen in the point of view of a drone.

Both Jet and Nurk told ABC News that the biggest challenge is to not get in your own head and not doubt yourself. Following Vanover’s win, Nurk told the young pilot: “DRL is a marathon, not a sprint.”


Professional DRL drone racer Jordan ‘JET’ Temkin throws his head back in disappointment after losing a race.

Then, with a quick smile, last year’s champion added, “It’s going to be a long battle, and it’s going to be a fun one to live.”


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