Fort Collins drone enthusiasts raise world champion, promote competitive racing

Austin White

The world championship for drone racing was held in London, England last summer, but the two-time defending world champion crafted his skills by flying through the trees and landscapes of the Poudre River Canyon in Fort Collins.

person holds drone
Jordan “Jet” Temkin is a two-time defending world champion drone racer. Temkin mastered his skills in Fort Collins. (Photo courtesy of Drone Racing Leagu

Jordan “Jet” Temkin, the world’s fastest drone racer, won the last two Drone Racing League‘s championship series, which were televised on ESPN. He started drone racing in 2014 and moved to Fort Collins in 2012, where he joined a local group, The Fort Collins Drone Enthusiasts, to practice his craft. 

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“When I was a kid, I always wanted to be an airplane pilot,” Temkin said. “I’ve always been interested in flight, I’ve always had this need for speed.”

The Drone Racing League, started in 2015 to host the best racers in the world, allowed Temkin to travel around the world to compete in places he said he never thought would be possible. In 2017, the world championship was held in London, England where Temkin took home his second title. He will compete in the next world championship in Saudia Arabia in September. 

“Here and there I have had some people (recognize me),” Temkin said of his fame after winning the world championship. “A couple times in the airport they are just like, ‘Oh no way I’ve seen you on TV.’ It’s still kind of mind blowing to me that people around the world recognize me for the fun that I’ve had.”

The skill it took for Temkin to win in England did not all come naturally. He explained that his his unique training in Fort Collins influenced his style of flying since it required him to navigate nature’s obstacle courses. Rather than creating a course, he goes into nature and lets his path for the day take on whatever obstacles the terrain gives him.

Having that sort of freedom to be creative is important to Temkin who finds joy in being able to see places that no one else has seen. Drones are able to fly into airspace to record video from angles and see parts of the sky that humans were not capable of seeing before.

Temkin said that racing has given him an ability to cultivate a sense of calmness.

“Part of it is just being able to keep yourself together (during a race),” Temkin said. “It’s important to stay grounded and know when to breathe. People always go, ‘How do you stay so calm, you always look so calm when you’re racing?’ And I always say, ‘Don’t forget to breathe.’”

Recently “Jet” moved back to his home town of Seattle, Washington, but the Fort Collins Drone Enthusiasts remain engaged with the world of drone racing. 

Almost every warm Sunday, the enthusiasts can be found racing drones around a circuit they set up at McConnell Field in Laporte. They start to fly around 11 a.m. and wrap-up whenever they are all droned out.

The group started out meeting every week at Lincoln Middle School to share their enthusiasm and get to know each other. However, the club was kicked out due to a new principal at Lincoln believing drones were a potential security danger.

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In addition to racing larger DRL style drones on Sunday, the group also meets on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. at The Wild Game in Longmont, Colorado and Wednesdays at 7 p.m. at The Events Center in Fort Collins. The complete schedule is updated weekly and keeps racers up to date on events.

The races on Tuesday and Wednesday are indoors and feature smaller drones called “Tiny Whoops,” made locally in Loveland. The technology used to track the racers and record times was made by Dean Nicholson with Bright Blue Tech and features the race gates that drones fly through as well as the LED technology lining the race track.

Mark Mudron is a relatively new enthusiast who began competitive racing only a couple years ago and also flies with the bigger drones at McConnell.

The enthusiasts said flying drones is more complex than most people expect. Each pilot wears a set of goggles that are fed a stream from the camera located on the top of their drone. This allows for a fully immersed view of the flight path and gives the pilot the feeling that they are in a video game.

“If shooting guns is in the Olympics, that is just as much precision with your hands as drone racing. Physically, it still takes certain skills to be able to do.” Jordan Temkin, world champion drone racer

Right now, drone racing is labeled as an eSport due to the similar type of skills it takes to be successful at the event. eSports recently have been coming to the forefront of athletics, and drones may be leading the way for the sector. 

“If shooting guns is in the Olympics, that is just as much precision with your hands as drone racing,” Temkin said. “Physically, it still takes certain skills to be able to do.”

The eSport has become so popular that the Drone Racing League, founded in 2015 to host the best racers in the world, broadcasted the world competition on ESPN, helping the sport to gain credibility and increase participation. eSports video game titles like “League of Legends” have already proved the type of audience these events can achieve with over 100 million people viewing the 2017 LoL championship held in Bejing, China.

With more interest comes more competition. A new season for the DRL is about to get underway and Temkin is sure that the competition has improved quite a bit from last year. Now, “Jet” just hopes he is able to match their growth.

“There are more and more guys who are full-on dedicated 100 percent to racing,” Temkin said. “I know they’ve all progressed, but everyone’s growing and I’m just hoping I grew enough.”

Fort Collins Drone Enthusiasts has a group page on Facebook and meets every Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Wild Game in Longmont, Colorado and every Sunday at 11 a.m. at the McConnell Field.

Collegian sports reporter Austin White can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ajwrules44.