Though the popularity of drone racing is on a downward slide, pilots are finding new ways to keep the sport going.
Drone Racing Association Malaysia chairman Adam Lokman says the hype surrounding drone racing might have died down, but membership continues to grow. In fact, new chapters have opened in Johor and Sarawak, which continue to organise races and activities.
Adam, who is also the race and operations director of MultiGP Malaysia – a competitive drone racing organisation for first-person view (FPV) radio-controlled aircraft – says sponsorship is diminishing, limiting the number of races with prize money.
“Sponsors want to be associated with something new, so after a few years of hype things have mellowed down,” he says.
However, membership still continues to grow because price of drone parts have dropped. For instance, a radio controller, FPV goggles and drone which used to cost RM5,000 now goes for RM2,000.
Racing drones are custom made, usually with a carbon fibre frame and custom motor.
“Anything off the shelf is a toy drone, not considered pro by the community,” says Adam.
Thanks to Facebook pages and Whatsapp groups on drone, there is a thriving second-hand market for parts.
“Newbies should try to find some buddies in the community to help them out. Don’t order blindly based on what you read online or you might end up spending a lot. Also, do be careful when buying stuff that’s too cheap as they usually don’t work,” he says.
Though the community is still mostly made up of working class guys in their late 20s to mid 40s, the champion racers are usually half the age.
Mohamaad Danish Zahin Zainal, a 13-year-old, raced his way to first place at the Johor Drone MotorGP race end of last year.
“FPV racing is very much like videogaming, you need good reflexes and teens are much faster than guys double their age,” says Adam.
Instead of getting trounced by teenagers, some older racers have chosen to retire and do free style aerial acrobatics by flying around obstacles like buildings and trees.
“For people trying these stunts, the probability of crashing is quite high so please don’t do it in public areas,” warns Adam.
He recommends stunt pilots to keep to quiet fields and areas with abandoned buildings, where they won’t endanger others or cause too much noise. “Drones are very high pitched, they’re scarily loud,” he said.
Most racers who turn free stylers often already have the flying skill and equipment to get an online following. One such drone acrobat is Mafitri Mafaudzil, who is known as Trinco on social media channels, where he managed to garner enough attention to get sponsorship from China drone manufacturer DongYang Smart Technology Co Ltd.
“I saw a video by an Australian pilot where he was flying through this jungle like a scene from Star Wars, and I wanted to do that too,” says Mafitri, explaining how he got into the sport in 2012. He adds that free style flying predates drone racing.
Though he got into drone racing back in 2016, he admits it wasn’t his strong suit. “In racing, kids always dominate,” he laughs.
Never one to miss an opportunity, Mafitri takes his drone whenever he travels. He has taken it to most of Malaysia and trips to Singapore, and Bali and Lombok in Indonesia.
He says the drone kit is lighter than stock DJI drones at around 5kg to 10kg.