NEAR TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M. (KRQE) – The angry buzz of hordes of zipping drones is echoing across the desert in southern New Mexico.
Spaceport America is hosting its first annual Drone Summit, with 200 participants entered in races, aerial film making challenges and days of professional drone seminars.
“It’s all about bringing people from all walks of life to New Mexico and to the Spaceport,” said Tammara Anderton, Spaceport America vice-president of business development.
Anderton said the drone summit is now one of four annual events designed to give folks other than rocket scientists and astronauts the chance to experience the unique facility.
Among the attendees is new world champion drone racer Shaun Taylor of Albuquerque.
A former firefighter-EMT with the Bernalillo County Fire Department, Taylor converted a hobby into a full-time career as a professional drone racer, sponsored by Hobby King and other major drone companies.
“I am going to Korea here in a few weeks to race the guys overseas,” said Taylor.
He and other racers use virtual reality goggles to view cameras on-board their drones and maneuver the nimble aircraft in flight.
Speeds can exceed 100 miles per hour in the football-sized race course. Pilots must fly through narrow gates and around flags at blinding speeds to win.
He calls drone piloting the next best thing to flying a Star Wars fighter.
“They can perform maneuvers that a human being couldn’t perform inside of the same vehicle,” Taylor said.
“They can pull upwards of 60 to 80 G’s in a hairpin.”
Fellow racer Teng Ma of Albuquerque never played video games as a child, but she now travels monthly to races across America with other friends who enjoy the sport.
The sport provides universal rewards.
“The sportsmanship, the people and the traveling,” she said.
“This sport is more like a lifestyle, because we try to do this as often as we can,” she added.
In addition to races, the drone summit features a cinema challenge.
Co-sponsored by New Mexico Filmmakers Give Back, competitors work to capture scenes that help tell stories with high quality video cameras mounted on drones.
New Mexico film industry worker Mike Blatner is hoping to break into aerial film making with his drone.
“I just want to be part of the movement,” he said.
“Just about every other movie that I’ve worked on, they’re using drones left and right.”
FAA speakers cautioned drone enthusiasts to operate their drones safely and urged all drone pilots to check the “Know Before You Fly” website for drone safety rules and maps of hazardous airspace.
The US Forest Service echoed safety concerns.
They urged drone pilots to obey restricted airspace rules that mandate pilots must avoid flying anywhere near wildfires. The agency has been forced to ground fleets of air tankers at fires where drones are illegally flying.