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Pilot perspective: Balloon museum hosts first-person view drone racing

Drone pilots will get to show off their skills during the Balloon Museum Pod Race X on Saturday, April 20.

A drone pilot guides a drone through an obstacle course during a pod race at the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum. (Courtesy of The Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum)

The event at the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum will showcase quad copters that will be flown by pilots using first-person view, or FPV, drone racing. There are between 18 to 25 pilots who participate. The pilots are from Albuquerque and Nevada, Arizona, Texas and Colorado.

“A course is designed with a series of gates and obstacles throughout the north grounds of the museum,” said Linda Hubley, operations and events supervisor at the balloon museum. “We typically have four pilots race at a time, and it’s pretty much the fastest pilot to complete a certain number of laps of the course successfully. And so basically, they have their quad copter. They wear these goggles, and they fly the drones through that first-person view, through those goggles. What they see is what the camera on the drone is seeing, and that’s what they refer to as first-person view, so it’s almost like being in your own virtual reality game. You’re on that quad copter flying through these gates, and in all reality, they’re just sitting in these chairs with goggles on and they use transmitters to control the drone.”

There will be a spectator viewing area in the middle of the course for watching the drones as they fly and loop overhead at high speeds of about 60 to 70 mph.

There are also TV monitors inside the museum that will broadcast from each of the drones flying.

“It is a lot of fun,” Hubley said. “In addition to being able to watch the racing, we do offer other activities inside the museum for people to experience the races.”

Spectators can also get the experience of being a pilot through simulators that are similar to a virtual drone flying game. The simulator is set up on a computer monitor, and guests can practice flying the drone through a course that is designed like the course that the pilots are flying at the event.

“If people come and they’re, like, ‘Oh, that’s something I would be interested in,’ we do have a program, which is called the Balloon Museum Pod Pass program,” Hubley said. “People can register for that, and it allows them certain benefits. The best benefits, I guess, is they’re allowed to come to the balloon museum and fly and practice for free during certain scheduled hours. It also gives them an opportunity to learn from other pilots with varying skill levels. We have a beginner recreation class, and we also have one for the more experienced pilots.”

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