US Air Force leans into drone racing — here’s why

The U.S. Air Force is one of the biggest fans of drone racing. And while the in-person races and TV broadcasts are certainly entertaining, that’s not the reason why. The U.S. Air Force is seeking to support drone racing because — in turn — drone racing could likely support its recruiting efforts.

That’s why the U.S. Air Force today announced an expansion of its partnership with the Drone Racing League. The intent? The U.S. Air Force will support the Drone Racing League, which is seen as a key player in developing the skills of young drone pilots. And with a crop of skilled drone pilots, the Drone Racing League could be a funnel for which the Air Force might be able to recruit.

As part of the partnership, the Drone Racing League will launch a new set of programming in tandem with Military Appreciation Month. Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force will continue to educate and recruit the league’s Gen Z tech-obsessed, Techsetter fans as Airmen.

The news comes in line with the Air Force’s 75th Anniversary this September 2022, which is marking the milestone with a theme to “Innovate, Accelerate, and Thrive.” And the U.S. Air Force is all abut positioning itself as an innovator this year.

Photo courtesy of DRL.

And when it comes to drones, there’s no better company to innovate with. After all, earlier this year, the Drone Racing League was named by Fast Company as one of the publication’s World’s 10 Most Innovative Sports Companies for 2022.

According to a survey by the Drone Racing League, 60% of its fans reported that they viewed the brands and organizations that partnered with the league as more innovative” and “on-trend.” Other DRL partners (some past and some ongoing) include T-Mobile, insurance company Allianz, and blockchain platform Algorand.

“For the past 75 years, the spirit of innovation has driven the U.S. Air Force and enabled our Airmen to Fly, Fight and Win. As we celebrate our historic milestone, we are proud to expand our partnership with the Drone Racing League, a sport that shares our passion around technology, speed and precision, and
inspires their young fans to aim high,” said Lt. Col. Jason Wyche, chief of the national events branch at Air Force Recruiting Service, in a prepared statement.

Here’s what you can expect as part of the partnership:

  • Co-branded broadcast integrations
  • A digital series aimed to teach aspiring FPV (First Person View) drone pilots how to fly
  • U.S. Air Force Boneyard maps and drone skins in the DRL SIM.
  • New content, course gate and pilot spotlights throughout the 2022-23 DRL Algorand World Championship season.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Casey Tidgewell (L) and Senior Airman William Swain operate an MQ-9 Reaper from a ground control station in 2007 at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada. The Reaper, which is 36 feet long with a 66-foot wingspan, was the Air Force’s first “hunter-killer” unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), designed to engage time-sensitive targets on the battlefield as well as provide intelligence and surveillance. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The use of drones in the U.S. Air Force as it seeks to hire drone pilots

The U.S. Air Force is currently actively recruiting. This year, the Air Force Recruiting Service said it is hiring over 26,000 new Airmen, with an emphasis on recruiting people with no prior military service.

And with Air Force money coming in, the DRL could grow and reach wider audiences — and compel the next generation to explore a career as a drone pilot.

That said, the idea of a career as a drone pilot for the U.S. Air Force has been somewhat controversial, especially as of late. Many advocates of drone use in the military have suggest that they can be an effective tool to degrade terrorist threats, reduce risks to U.S. troops, and better protect innocent civilians. But not everyone agrees Last month, the New York Times published an investigation into the mental trauma that such a career can impose on drone pilots in the U.S. Air Force. That report was followed up by an episode on the newspaper’s podcast, The Daily.

For what it’s worth, more than half of Americans have voiced their support for using drones as a foreign policy tool. A February 2013 Gallup poll showed that 65 percent of Americans agreed with the U.S. government’s decision to launch drone strikes against terrorists overseas. Meanwhile, 75 percent of respondents to a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll approved of the U.S. military’s use of drones to carry out attacks overseas on targets deemed a “threat to the United States,” as noted in a report from the Center for a New American Security.

Meanwhile, other consumer-focused drone companies have recently tried to distance themselves from any sorts of military connotations. Just last month, DJI issued a blunt statement that it opposes military use of its products.

A U.S. Air Force pilot (L), and a censor operator (R), prepare to launch a MQ-1B Predator UAV, from a ground control station at a secret air base in the Persian Gulf region on January 7, 2016. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Armed Forces Day and Military Appreciation Month

The news also comes just ahead of Armed Forces Day, which is this Saturday, May 21. As part of the day, DRL will honor Cathyrine “Lilo” Armandie, Lt Col of the U.S. Air Force for its #WomenTakingOff series that highlights women leaders in tech, sports and aviation.

“As the nation pays tribute to military members this month, we are thrilled to extend our partnership with
the U.S. Air Force as they celebrate their 75th Anniversary,” said DRL President Rachel Jacobson, in a prepared statement. “We have a young, global fanbase that follows the U.S. Air Force and loves to discover new career opportunities within technology, innovation and aviation through our sport. We’re excited to take our partnership to the next level, and empower the next generation of pilots to serve our country,”

And as part of the broader Military Appreciation Month, DRL will host a special tournament on its Drone Racing Arcade mobile game for iOS and Android. In that tournament, the top 75 leaderboard winners will receive special prizes to commemorate the U.S. Air Force’s 75 years of being a separate service from its roots as the Army Air Corps. Time trials for the annual DRL SIM Tryouts open on Thursday, May 19.

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