Drone fest highlights perks of drones, racing

Photos by Tegan Johnston/The Herald
Gary Roberts of Louisville raced his drone during the first Lincoln Land Drone Fest on Saturday at Jim Yellig Park in Santa Claus. The free fest invited families to watch pilots race their drones, enjoy hands-on demonstrations and learn about different laws involving drones.


SANTA CLAUS — This weekend, residents of Santa Claus may have looked into the sky and seen something rather unusual — drones.

Businesses and organizations teamed up Saturday at Jim Yellig Park in Santa Claus to host the first-ever Lincoln Land Drone Fest, an event designed to educate the public about the applicability of drones and the laws that regulate them.

Daniel Nowlin of Louisville prepared his drone for racing.

“What can we do to help the community understand drone laws and how drones are being used?” asked Aaron Begle, drone festival organizer and creative director of Hele Productions. Begle, a 2010 Heritage Hills graduate, uses drones to capture aerial photographs and video footage.

Companies such as Begle’s Hele Productions and locally-run Arrow Imagery, which uses drones and digital mapping technology to survey land, are actively seeking the extent in which drone technology can be utilized for business purposes. Their industry is new and uncharted and, if you ask them, pretty cool.

While local businesses discussed their strategies Saturday, drone racing pilots discussed how they planned on winning the first annual Santa Claus Cup. Hosted by Wai Lam, manager of the Louisville-based Team KORA FPV (first person view) racing team, the drone race was the headlining event.

According to Chris Turnbull (referred to as C-Turn by his fellow racers), slow and steady is the key to winning. A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Turnbull is a veteran racer.

Andrew Wiebold of Cincinnati prepared his drone for racing.

Racing drones is something of an art in itself. Not for technology novices, this sport demands knowledge of operating systems as well as an ability to fix and maintain hardware. According to Daniel Nowlin, a Louisville native who has been a part of the racing community for about six months, most of the racers come from an IT background.  Familiarity with technology allows the racers to customize and modify their drones, and numerous drones racing Saturday used a program created by Turnbull that played the famous Imperial March from Star Wars.

Racing drones require various pieces of equipment including remotes, goggles that transmit footage from the drone and the drones themselves. Nowlin estimates that the initial cost for someone trying to enter the world of drone racing rests right around $1,000, not including replacement parts that are inevitably necessary. One drone isn’t enough according to Nowlin, who warned with a laugh that owning and racing drones is an addicting hobby.

Event coordinator and Hele Productions creative director Aaron Begle helped Jackson Hedinger of Mariah Hill, 7, position a drone to drop a golf ball toward a target while 50 feet in the air.

The growing value of drones as a form of entertainment and as a business model is not lost on educators like John Hurley, an industrial technology teacher at South Spencer High School. Hurley works to prepare his students for occupations in technology, and sees drone racing as a possible way to introduce these machines into his curriculum.

“We have to get these students exposed to as many opportunities as we can,” Hurley said. “The drones would be a next step.”

Questions about how drones will be utilized locally remain unanswered until the technology gains popularity and proves its usefulness in the business world. For Begle, this event was a successful introduction of a seemingly limitless technology to a small community that could benefit from it.

“Something like this (festival) has never been done before,” Begle said. “So the fact that we were able to pull it off is kind of amazing.”

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