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Drone racing takes flight in Pelham

By Dave Johnson, Tribune Staff

Ever since he was a young child, Abbey Solomon wanted to fly.

“Whether it was balloons or paper airplanes, I loved them,” he said from Fonthill Lions’ Gordon L. Klager Park.

Two years ago, Solomon’s wife gave him the gift of flight when she gave him a toy drone as a Christmas present.

“She regrets it now,” said Solomon, who runs Niagara FPV Squad with fellow drone enthusiast Trevor Christensen. “Everything else is on the back burner.”

Solomon said racing drones is the “craziest rush you are ever going to have.”

“You can do barrel rolls, back flips, fly backwards, stop dead … all sorts of manoeuvres you couldn’t do in a plane.”

Niagara FPV Squad, both Solomon and Christensen said, is made up of people who love to fly and race drones. Their Facebook group has 220 members, and growing, and the Multi GP Niagara group they run has 55 members who race drones. Multi GP is a worldwide group that promotes and runs drone racing with chapters across the globe.

“We run the Niagara chapter, and we’re the only Tier 1 chapter in Canada,” said Solomon.

“To be Tier 1, the requirement is you hold so many races, have so many members and mentor other chapters. The more you do, the more you move up.”

Part of Multi GP Niagara’s Tier 1 status is Niagara FPV Squad’s recent connection with E.L. Crossley Secondary School. There are 16 students that now form an FPV — first-person view — high school racing team, with Niagara FPV Squad members teaching students how to build, fly and race drones. With four students on each team, they’ll be able to work on various components of the drones.

“We started the program with the high school last week, they’re the only high school team in Ontario,” said Solomon.

Niagara FPV Squad members recently held a drone building class at Lookout Point Golf Course, showing prospective members drone regulations, how to properly fly and how to build the small, four-rotor racing drones, which can achieve speeds up to 140 km/h. The fastest racing drone has been clocked at 220 km/h.

“You can buy ready-to-fly drones, but we suggest you build your own. You are going to crash and break your drones, and you’ll want to learn to repair your own.”

Solomon said he learned to build his own by watching YouTube videos, adding he had no one to teach him how to do it.

Niagara FPV Squad member Miko Beaudry said starting off with a flying simulator — you can crash a drone over and over, and not have to worry about breaking or replacing equipment — is a good route to go.

He said there are very small drones people can use to race, and if they crash and break, they’re easily repairable.

To build your own drone, Solomon said, could cost up to $1,200, depending on components purchased.

“A radio costs around $220, a quad around $300, and between $100 and $700 for a set of goggles.”

All three men said using goggles is the best way to go when racing, giving the drone flyer a complete immersive experience.

“It gives you the feeling of being in a cockpit … a first-person view,” said Solomon. “You really don’t want to use a screen and fly line-of-sight.”

The three men said Niagara FPV Squad recently reached an agreement with Fonthill Lions to use Gordon L. Klager Park as its home field. It will hold its second annual Multi GP time trial race on Saturday, April 23.

Beaudry said because Multi GP tracks are set up the same across the globe, participants in the local race can see how they stack up against others worldwide.

With the home field, Solomon and Christensen said they expect to see more people coming out and joining Niagara FPV Squad.

“The sport has grown so much already … two years ago it was just me and Abbey,” said Christensen.

For more information on Niagara FPV Squad, check its website at www.niagarafpvsquad.com.

dajohnson@postmedia.com
Twitter: @DaveJTheTrib