By: Joseph Nelson
Tearing a remote control drone around a series of obstacles in a race against the best pilots in the nation can be pretty nerve-wracking. Now imagine those obstacles are the accumulated Golden Gloves, Cy Youngs, and Silver Sluggers of the two-time World Series Champion Minnesota Twins.
That was the scene May 1st, 2022, at Truly On Deck – the elite clubhouse fan space at the Twins’ Target Field. Drone racing. At a baseball stadium?
The Youth Drone Sports Championships was pleased to have the Twins host their second annual National Championships, featuring 19 of the nation’s most elite drone pilots, under the age of 18, facing off head to head. It is a brand new sport taking shape and making history amid the trophies of one of our nation’s oldest.
These young pilots came from all across America to fly against the best of the best with their drones. Nationals was the place to be to make a name for yourself in this very young and growing sport, with everyone flying for the title of 2022 National Champion.
But how did we get here? How did this young sport come to be? And how do you race drones?
First-person-view (FPV) drone racing is the child of video gaming. Pilots put on goggles that connect to a camera centered on the drone allowing them to see what their drone sees. These drones aren’t bigger than a deck of cards and weigh no more than one ounce, making them agile enough to rip around race courses like a hummingbird. Imagine getting to be one of the pilots in ‘Star Wars’ attacking the Death Star, but doing so safely indoors without fear of injury.
Apple Valley hosted the first ever YDSC event in 2019 (before it was called the YDSC). The home flyers faced St. Louis Park in the first ever Minnesota State High School Drone Racing Tournament, which saw tiny drones built by students pushed to their limits on a course through Apple Valley High School’s expansive atrium. St. Louis Park soared to the first ever state team title, while Apple Valley 11th grader Andrew Martin (pilot name “AND E”) was crowned the first individual state champion.
Continuing to pivot with the pandemic, the YDSC added pilots around the country all competing online in the simulator. When vaccines made in-real-life (IRL) racing possible again, they held their first National Championship event at the Mall of America in June of 2021 where Apple Valley sophomore Cody “Viper” Anderson narrowly beat senior Haven “Vanadium” Gurka from Phoenix, Arizona to become the YDSC’s first national individual champion.
Fast forward to Spring 2022 with new stars emerging in a combined season of simulator and IRL racing. Apple Valley senior Brock “BRO F” Martin won the simulator individual crown and then followed in his older brother Andrew’s flight path, taking the latest Minnesota State individual title, racing through the big gym at Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield.
YDSC 2022 Nationals Story
That set up the YDSC’s return to Target Field for their 2nd Annual National Championships event, again made possible by the innovators at NCAT who support all of the STEM skill building happening in this exciting new tech sport.
At the end of the bracket, four pilots remained, Reigning National Champion Cody “Viper” Anderson (11th grade), his Apple Valley teammate Brock “BRO F” Martin (12th grade), Lakeville North’s Jack “Happy” Postlewaite (9th grade) and Joe “Boomer” Nelson from St. Paul Highland Park (10th grade).
When the rotors stopped turning, Viper retained his YDSC national title, outflying Happy who finished strong in second. Boomer followed close behind in third, and BRO F was fourth after experiencing technical difficulties that drone pilots know all too well.
Viper will be flying to keep the national crown, only he has worn, for one more year before he is bumped up to the collegiate level. That’s where his teammate BRO F is headed to fly with his brother AND E. Meanwhile, Boomer and Happy and a cast of other contenders will be aiming for Viper like Vader chasing Skywalker.