teen to compete in drone racing championship

teen to compete  in drone racing championship

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Fourteen-year-old Spencer Cannizzaro of New Philadelphia will hop aboard a plane bound for Citrus Springs, Florida. He won’t be going on vacation, though. Instead, he will be one of the top-150 pro-class drone pilots in the world vying for the top prize in the Multi Gran Prix drone racing league championship Nov. 2-6.

It will be the first championship race for the teen, who only started racing in March of this year and has only been in the pro class since June.

“I started out flying what’s called freestyle, just as a hobby,” Cannizzaro said. “I swore an oath to myself to never race because racing is the most boring thing ever. Then we had a local race where someone resigned, which left a slot open, so I said to myself I would try it and then never do it again. After the first three rounds, I was hooked.”

Cannizzaro, who hopes to make drone racing a career, now builds his own race “quad” copter drones and has built a new one for the Florida competition. Racing drones have four propellers and measure about 5 inches in diameter from prop to prop.

From toys to racing drones

Cannizzaro said he received a toy drone for his 10th birthday and then came across a video posted on the YouTube Flight Test channel promoting an upcoming event.

“We went to that event, and I found out the drones I had were not good,” Cannizzaro said. “They were toy grade, not hobby grade.”

Cannizzaro was the youngest competitor at the event. Clare Cannizzaro, Spencer’s mother, said the older members took him under their wing and showed the youngster exactly what to do to start flying real drones.

The racer’s edge

Clare Cannizzaro said her son had an early advantage. “My father was a pilot of small aircraft,” she said. “He and Spencer would spend hours in the hay field just hovering with the drone, and my dad would teach him to fly very slowly and cautiously. When Spencer started flying into the better quality drones, he knew better how to fly it because my dad had instilled in him that, even if it’s a toy, you fly it with purpose.”

She also credited Magic Hobbies in Strasburg for educating her son. “They have been so supportive of Spencer, giving him advice, technical support and parts. They are just wonderful people.”

Spencer races with an employee of Magic Hobbies, Corey Finnegan, who encouraged him to use the shop about a year ago. Monica Farnsworth, office manager, said Spencer is the shop’s first sponsored pilot.

“When we choose the people we sponsor, we typically look for the younger kids because they are the up-and-coming players in the hobby world,” Farnsworth said. “You can tell the ones who have the heart and are really into it, and Spencer is a super good kid.”

A year-round sport

During the winter drone racers compete indoors with tiny, hobby-grade drones measuring 65 millimeters by 65 millimeters and having a top speed of 5-10 mph. The Spire Olympic Training Center in Geneva allows members of local drone chapters to fly on their indoor soccer fields.

Cannizzaro also uses the Velocidrone simulator when the weather is bad. “It’s on my computer, and I just plug a cable into the transmitter I use to fly the drones,” he said.

Some competitions also post their championship tracks to the simulator so he can practice on them.

Cannizzaro said he has competed in about 35 local and regional races. The biggest race he has participated in was the International Open in Indianapolis, where he placed 77th out of the 250 pilots who competed. His best finish to date was placing second in a race in Cleveland. Perhaps he will do even better in Florida.