Drone eyes: MAI students take part in the biggest Russian competition


Moscow Aviation Institute (National Research University) acted as a technical partner of the largest Russian championship of drone racing Champions Cup HD. It was held in VDNKH Pavilion 75 from 29 November to 1 December. At stake there were substantial prizes from the contest partners as well as the title of the best rider of drones. Out of 64 participants of the qualifying round only 24 pilots reached the final. Three MAI teams (3 persons in each) took part in the competition; also three MAI students demonstrated their skills in individual championship.

Our colleagues of the online edition on technologies and trends "TJournal" Natalia Zotova and Evgeniy Feldman prepared a touching story about the participants of drone racing. The main characters were, of course, MAI students. Over to them...

"I entered MAI only because I learned about the club of model airсraft creators" — Alexander Kunashuk, the third-year student of the Moscow Aviation Institute, happily said. The club of drone racers occupies a room with no windows on the ground floor of one of the buildings of the institute. A pirate flag hangs on one wall, and an old smartphone is nailed by a screwdriver to another wall. Bunches of airplane models, gliders and separate wings hang everywhere.

One night’s left before the competition of drone racing. "Looks like I'm staying here overnight" — Ruslan Temnov grumbles. He’s a student of the Department “Aerodynamics of Aircraft”.

“The copter won’t fly, I have to disassemble it to a gadget and re-assemble again. Racing copters have to be assembled, you buy not a ready-made machine, but a set of parts. "Like in Formula 1 — the best racing cars are assembled for a particular pilot" — says Kirill Shchukin, Development Manager for drone racing in MAI.

There are three students in the club: Sasha likes to talk about himself, Gleb Boyarskiy is the eldest, he’s studying for a master degree and works in the drone club for kids in MAI Palace of Culture and Technology. He’s making jokes about his friend’s monologue. Ruslan is quietly picking his drone in the corner.

"And those are punished, we don't like them," the guys show abandoned "Phantoms" lying in the corner, factory copters for panoramic filming: the most mass, amateur models despised by the racers. "Even a kid can cope with them" — Sasha snorts.

Little wires stick out of the racing drones; the students poke them with soldering iron and don’t even think about the beauty of the lines, they think about speed only. Such drones are cheaper than "Phantoms", but still the sport is not cheap: to start flying you need to invest about a thousand dollars. Besides, something breaks all the time, you have to buy spares.

But it's still better than with airplane models — as a drone can be disassembled to a gadget, and it’s easier to fix it. "But when my wing crashed into the foundation of a house, I almost swept it with a brush into a plastic bag" — Alexander says.

Each drone has a small camera, and the pilot wears glasses or a helmet of virtual reality and literally sees with the copter’s eyes. Sasha is going to try just assembled drone and gives me extra glasses. "I won’t go outside – it’s cold. It’ll go alone" — Konashuk opens the window, puts the drone in the cold, closes up to avoid draft and pilots the machine out of sight.

I put the glasses on and find myself rushing in the air across the dark courtyard of the institute: I can see the snow, cars, rare light windows, and in one of them, far away I can see Sasha and myself. When you wear glasses you feel motion sickness, so there are seats for the pilots at completions.

Ruslan (the newcomer to the club) continues to struggle with a gutted copter. "Look you’ve got your brain rotated in a wrong way!" — Sasha yells, referring to the central processor of the copter.

"Sasha’s my coach" — Ruslan nods at the friend. And Sasha was taught to fly by Vladimir Meshcheryakov, the Russian drone racing star, participating in the international competitions. He also graduated from MAI and also went in for aeromodelling, but long ago when in school. Kunashuk talks about Meshcheryakov with a mixture of reverence and envy: "Unfamiliar route, and he flies like has no fear at all!"

Meshcheryakov also participates in the race Champions Cup. Every contest is important for strengthening of the young community, besides some competitions worth hundreds of trainings — it’s a completely different experience — the pilots say, — when the stakes are high, and your hands on control panel are trembling with excitement.

Out of 64 participants 24 pilots qualified. Among them there is a team from Gomel and even a Frenchman. Party is for men only, all pilots are dressed in white jumpsuits with the logos of sponsors — GLONASS, "Tricolor TV", Yota.

This is the first Russian tournament with wealthy sponsors, and the first one where the picture transmitted from the drone is not analog, like an old TV, but digital in HD quality. It is necessary to attract spectators to the sport: HD video can be displayed on the screen at the podium and shows the audience the race from the first person which was done by the Champions Cup. In addition, it was broadcast on the Internet.

Moreover, all participants can keep this expensive, recently introduced digital equipment. It’ll be easier for pilots to train together — the analog signals interrupt each other, glasses can catch the signal of another drone, and there are no such problems with the digital technology.

Drone racing is so young sport that even the best Russian racer Vladimir Mescheryakov started just two years ago. But the legends of the community are already there: all talk about the underground parking lot of the Aviapark shopping mall, where the first party of drone racers appeared.

At the awarding ceremony of the Cup of Champions HD the teams managed to spray each other with champagne — almost like at the Formula 1, but in a boyish manner — seeking to pour more over the opposing team and running away from each other right in front of the cameras.

MAI student Ruslan Temnov together with his teammates lifted the Cup standing on top of the podium.

TJournal
Natalia Zotova, Evgeniy Feldman

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