Californian Thi Van emerged as a star of the recent Lincoln County Drone Expo and Alamo Shootout Races.
The FPV racer delighted spectators with skillful, high-speed maneuvering of his quad-propeller drone during the two-day event that ran May 18-19 at Pahranagat Valley High School. Van made the 360-mile journey from Los Angeles with fellow racer and friend Phillip Chung. Even with other competitions taking place closer to home that weekend, they wanted to try something new in a town with less people than L.A. has in a single city block.
“It was trippy how everything was all together, the gas station, the restaurant, the grocery store,” Van said while reflecting on his visit to Alamo. “It was pretty cool, a lot of friendly people. The people were really nice.”
First-person view (FPV) drone competitions are growing in popularity all over the country. These events feature drone operators with first-person goggles connected to a camera mounted on their drones. They race by remote control through a track full of obstacles. Races are friendly but competitive, particularly when there is cash up for grabs.
The Lincoln County Authority of Tourism (LCAT) decided to tap into this interest. With funding from the Nevada Commission on Tourism and the County Room Tax Board, LCAT partnered with the Las Vegas Drone and FPV club to create the inaugural event. Racers were invited to enter the Alamo Shootout, which included micro “tiny whoop” races on Friday and larger quad races on Saturday, with various prizes and a $2,500 cash pool up for grabs.
Van’s skills were on full display as he took first in both racing events. Spectators were surprised at how fast his quad could go as it zipped around the outdoor course on the football field. The drone sounded like a large, angry bee as it flew through obstacles that took up most of the field and incorporated the goal posts as well.
After winning one of his heats, Van sent the drone hundreds of feet in the air. Then it nosedived back toward the earth, stopped almost instantly, just short of the ground, and softly rested on the grass.
Attendees learned first-hand how challenging such maneuvers can be. Individuals with or without drone experience got to try flying a drone themselves in the indoor Drone Zone. Experts were on hand to show them how, and once participants got the hang of it, they tested their new skills on the micro track.
Food, vendors, and information tables were also set up next to the flying area, and there was time allotted for open flying of non-racing drones. Three micro drones were also raffled off to attendees.
“[The event] drew a diverse crowd of drone enthusiasts with varying skill sets and levels,” said Las Vegas Drone and FPV Club president Chris Cernuto. “It was an enjoyable experience to be able to bring a drone race, training event, micro race, micro drone experience, and simulator to a crowd so eager to learn.”
In all, around 90 people participated in the event, including a number of pilots and out-of-county visitors, mostly from Las Vegas, but a few from other areas including Florida, Connecticut, and Guam. Locals from Alamo and other parts of the county rounded out attendance.
Overall, LCAT considers the event something that can be built on moving forward.
“This was a good start,” said LCAT president Marcia Hurd. “The racers enjoyed themselves, and participants enjoyed trying out the drones and watching the races. We look forward to building on it and making it a fun, annual weekend visitors and locals can all look forward to.”
The group is working to build a committee to help with the event planning and considering more activities to offer so attendees have more to see and do over the two days.
For those considering coming to next year’s Drone Expo, Van encourages them to go for it.
“I would totally tell them to come down,” he said. “I haven’t had an experience where I was able to fly the big quads and little quads at the same event. And having a facility like that, that was awesome.”