A drone pilot's equipment is pretty simple: a headset shows a first person point-of-view video stream from their drone. The pilot uses the video stream to steer and maneuver the drone through turns and gates on the race course.
We attended the California Drone Speed Challenge at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco to get some insight on what it means to be a drone pilot.
This is what a pilot sees during a race.
Here's part of the race course. Rope lights indicate the path. In the middle is a rectangular cage where the drone pilots sit while they compete against each other.
Two pilots compete head-to-head during a qualifying heat.
A pilot places his drone on the starting block.
A drone on its starting block ready to launch.
The two small upright black rectangles on the bottom of the photo are the starting blocks. The blurry colorful streaks are the drones taking off at the start of a race.
Two drones take off and race through the course.
The only citations issued were accolades for how fast the drones were flying. The officer clocked one drone flying 103 miles-per-hour.
Racer Tony Thompson readies his drone for a qualifying heat. There are few actual restrictions about the drones. For this race, propellors had to be less than 6-inches in diameter and batteries had to be under a certain power rating.
Racing drones can take quite a beating (which can be fun to watch as a spectator). But this also means pilots need to be able to quickly repair their drones between heats.
All racing drones have an LED lights which makes them easier to follow as they speed through the course.
Two drones hang on the safety netting that surround the pilots' pit area. You do not want to get hit by a drone going 103 miles-per-hour.
Pilots in the Xfinity California Drone Speed Challenge compete for part of a $10,000 prize. But they all get these sweet red jackets.