Fort Collins man hopes to defend drone racing championship title for $100,000 prize

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DENVER — A Fort Collins man is hoping to defend his title as the Drone Racing League world champion.

Jordan “Jet” Temkin won the first two editions held in 2016 and 2017.

After winning the inaugural championship, the 26-year-old Colorado native earned a $100,000 contract to become the world’s first professional drone pilot.

In drone racing, the machines travel from 0-80 mph in less than a second, their pilots need laser-sharp focus and rapid reflexes to navigate complex courses.

“It’s just about being able to keep your act together,” Temkin said. “Be calm, relaxed, as well as just having fast reactions.”

Two-time defending champions JET wears a custom headset which allows him to fly the drone from the perspective of a mounted camera.

That is easier said than done with the added pressure of 3,000 screaming fans packed into the arena in the King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia, for the 2018 Drone Racing League grand finale.

Millions more will have tuned in on television with this year’s edition being broadcast in 90 countries around the world, on channels such as ESPN, Sky Sports and FOX Sports Asia.

The DRL estimate they reached more than 50 million global broadcast viewers in their first two seasons, but it’s online where the league is really taking off.

Now with more than 115 million online views, it’s there that Saudi Arabia’s budding hopefuls were first captivated.

“I used to watch a lot of YouTube videos and I saw a lot of these drones being put into racing styles,” Saudi pilot Abdulhadi Azouz said. “And I said: ‘Man, I need to get into this.'”

The pilots steer using joysticks while wearing specialized headsets which allow them to view the course from the cameras mounted on the drones.

Maneuvering through several colorfully lit gates on the course at over 80 mph is hard enough in itself, but it’s even more challenging with four other drones flying in close proximity. Crashes, unsurprisingly, happen.

The hope now is that the spectacle of the grand finale can inspire Saudi prospects to take the step up and become world champions.

“In Saudi Arabia it’s a growing sport,” says Nouf Al-Rakan, the CEO of the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones.

“To help increase the demand and at the same time teach our Saudi pilots, we thought of bringing this championship to Saudi Arabia.”

With $100,000 up for grabs again in 2018, the pressure is on.

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