By: Dahlton Grover / @That_Robot_Girl
As featured in “RC Flight, Camera, Action Magazine” August 1, 2016
This year, on May 20 and 21, pilots from around North America trekked to the beautiful town of Covington, VA. Mountains filled the landscape covered in deep green trees and clear blue skies. While fixed wing pilots set up camp and flew their gear up on a sunny, grassy hill, over 30 quadcopter pilots descended into the bowels of an old mine for the multirotor race of the year. Thousands of feet of LED rope light illuminated the dark caverns and laid out the unique and intricate course pilots were to navigate. Over two days pilots came together to race at an incredible location, incorporate local community members, compete against their peers, forage new friendships and spelunk late night into the depths of the cave. This subterranean experience was known as the Riot in the Underground, sponsored by Thrust-UAV in honor of their newest, most-exciting ARF racing drone the Riot 250R Pro.
Hosted by Stone Blue Airlines (SBA), the Riot in the Underground was the multirotor portion of the third annual Flying Circus FPV Festival. In early 2016, SBA concocted the idea for a split location event, which led to the discovery of the unique abandoned mine tucked in the hillside of Covington, VA. It was a remarkable location with stone columns extending over 40 feet to a jagged rock ceiling, creating a natural course with dips, drops and dramatic turns. Natural light filled the cave during the day, but the multirotor races were purposefully held at night so the brilliance of the LED track could truly shine. Behind telephone poles covered in netting, spectators and competitors could easily watch the track as flashes of light passed by them, quad after quad after quad.
As darkness descended each night and pilots prepared for their heats, spectators from the local community joined the crowd intrigued to find out what was going on. Many of them had never seen a drone before, let alone a mini quad zipping through a difficult course! Pilots and vendors explained the event and how drones were revolutionizing the world of commerce, sports and more. Regional school board members and economic development representatives were quite excited with the possibility of bringing an event like this to their schools. In fact, Thrust-UAV is owned and operated under a STEM education company known as PCS Edventures. PCS Edventures and Thrust-UAV envision a similar drone racing league between high school students to inspire them to learn STEM, the intricacies of flight dynamics and prepare them for a variety of careers being created for UAV pilots. The Riot in the Underground set the stage for many other upcoming FPV opportunities, racing and beyond.
The Riot in the Underground was a MultiGP regional qualifier event for multirotor pilots, so they were competing for a coveted spot at MultiGP Nationals this coming September. Founder of MultiGP, Chris Thomas, kept the crowds entertained and the heats organized while toting around a loudspeaker that echoed through the cave. Both Friday and Saturday night races extended late into the night, often while the Virginia weather rained heavily. Luckily, the cave provided the perfect refuge for the FPV enthusiasts to keep their quads, LiPos and tools dry. Friday night Thrust-UAV hosted an official product launch for their flagship drone and provided food and swag for pilots all night long. Saturday night, as races were coming to a close and the fastest pilots began to emerge, a local band jammed inside the cave, helping to build the anticipation for results. Even AMA President, Bob Black, stopped by the covert event on Saturday to watch the action with his very own pair of FatShark googles.
Despite the variety of pilot skills, the Riot in the Underground was the perfect environment for everyone to forage new friendships and build camaraderie as quads crashed into rock walls, GoPros were put to rest, dozens of props changed and countless LiPos put to the test. After hours, pilots laughed and explored the deepest crevices of the cave. Tough competition, community involvement, new friendships, cave bonfires and lake night spelunking made for a perfect weekend of quad racing. At the Flying Circus FPV Festival topside location, fixed wing pilots enjoyed sunshine and wind, but the multirotor pilots became accustomed to the darkness of the cave and the ever luminescence of the LED rope light.
So, who claimed the top pilot slots? RacingSOUL (Andrey Rekk) snagged third with 29 points, Hazak (Chris Haskins) swooped in second with 32 points and Vango (Jason Glaze) stole first with a staggering 48 points! Top placing pilot gear included: RacingSOUL flew a Tweaker FPVA-RS 180-219mm with 4 cell, Hazak showed off Thrust-UAV’s Riot 250mm with 4 cell and Vango ran a Gremlin 220-249mm quad also with 4 cell. Points were calculated using two min racing heats testing total laps, speed and obstacle accuracy. As more and more night courses emerge in the world of FPV racing, the Riot in the Underground was one of the most unique tracks set up thus far, by eliminating the need for air regulations underground. Stay tuned to see Thrust-UAV as a sponsor rock IDRA Drone Nationals August 5-7 on Governors Island in NYC, as it is the first live televised drone racing event to be aired on ESPN!