Regional drone competition lands in Kennewick

Dozens of drones will take part in a racing competition at Columbia Park this weekend. (Photo: KONA)

There’s a buzz in the air, and you can’t help but feel like you need duck as small, plastic contraptions whizz by you.

The drones, some the size of a hockey puck, others the size of a wheelbarrow tire, probably won’t hit you– because they’re being piloted by competitive drone racers.

As a sport, competitive drone racing is only about two years old.

“We mastered the ability to control the aircraft with precision, and as soon as we started doing that, people wanted to start race them,” said Ed Greutert with FPV Racing Seattle. “Really in the last two years as the cost of the equipment came down and the technology capability has continued to increase, it’s really kind of exploded.”

FPV Racing Seattle hosts the MultiGP Great Northwest Regional Finals at Columbia Park in Kennewick this weekend. Trials are happening Friday afternoon and evening, with the races starting at 10:00 AM Saturday.

Justin Schrack makes some adjustments to his drone ahead of qualifying trials at a drone racing competition at Columbia Park on Friday. (Photo: KONA)

“I can see what the drone sees, and I can control the drone,” said Justin Shrack, a teacher at Kamiakin High School and drone enthusiast. He operates the drone while looking at a laptop monitor that receives a video feed from the small drone that whips around the legs of pop-up tents and hovers over tables loaded down with batteries, wires, and other gadgets. “I fly these in my classroom and the kids think it looks easy. Then I give them the controls and they usually crash and burn. It’s a lot harder than it looks, but it doesn’t take much to get hooked.”

This is Shrack’s first time competing, and he’s joined by several other members of the Atomic City Drone Club who will try to qualify for Saturday’s races.

Organizers say there will be a few dozen pilots who make it to Saturday’s competition.

“We’ve got a series of gates and flags that people need to go around and through,” Greutert said. ” It’s a very specific course that they need to follow.” And it isn’t easy. He said this weekend’s course is one of the more difficult.

The pilots come from Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming, and that made the Tri-Cities a good central location to hold event, and they might come back for next year’s competition.

” I don’t know how you could have a better venue for doing what we do,” Gruetert said. ” This is awesome. The city of Kennewick, the parks department has been so accommodating and made us feel so welcome. We’ll see how things go on Sunday afternoon, but Kennewick’s high on my list.”

The competition is open to spectators