The Peoria Sports Complex played host to the Arizona Desert Hawks and the Phoenix Falcons on last Saturday as they battled it out in Major League Drone Racing’s (MLDR) first live preseason event. MLDR is a new competitive sport that sees professional pilots go head-to-head, racing drones at high speeds through different obstacles while accumulating points throughout 10 heats.
MLDR founder and CEO Richard Tulloch said, “It (MLDR) is built just like the NFL. Thirty-two teams, two conferences – Eastern and Western; eight divisions, and there will be a Super Bowl at the end of the season.”
Each drone is controlled by a skilled pilot with radio transmitter-type controllers and FVP-style goggles that allow them to see from the drone’s viewpoint. A small crowd of about 20 fans watched video feeds of onboard drone cameras on the jumbotron as each heat began.
The drones used in Saturday’s race were newly built. Chris “Sturmy” Sturm, Chief Technology Officer, and pilot for the Desert Hawks said, “I actually built all 60 drones out there tonight. Takes about three hours per drone. I drove them down from Sedona this morning. I haven’t slept in so long.”
Developing MLDR has not been an easy task, and there is still much work to be done ahead of its first official season. Ideally, MLDR would like each team to have at least one or three preseason races under their belt before the regular season, but many teams are still in development.
Before MLDR started, many of the pilots found themselves gathering in nearby public spaces to race or fly for fun. However, drone racing is more than a fun, competitive sport; it also opens up opportunities for aspiring pilots. Many hope the league will help them become better pilots and gain confidence. But for others, it’s a way to help get their lives on a better path.
Tulloch explained, “They (pilots) have been doing this for a while – for years, most of them. (They) would fly around the park … I saw them and thought it (MLDR) was a great idea.” The league currently has 11-12 teams built, with a few female pilots in the league, but it is mostly male-dominant. MLDR hopes to encourage more females to join in the future.
Before officially kicking off its inaugural regular season in 2025, MLDR will continue to stage preseason races during 2023 and 2024.