RotorJackets, Georgia Tech’s drone racing team, captured their second straight national title, but their mission extends beyond winning championships.
Photo courtesy of RotorJackets
April was a month of national championships at Georgia Tech as Buzz was crowned the nation’s best mascot, and the RotorJackets took home their second straight Collegiate Drone Racing championship.
Tech’s team, comprised of four racers, narrowly emerged from the field of 15 schools and 52 individual pilots to take home the title following two days of competition at the Fayette Fliers Field in Tyrone, Georgia. While scores from the qualifying round and the previous races in the knockout round are compiled into a sum, it was RotorJackets’ vice president Tanner Beard who put his team in the lead in the final race of the competition. Beard also finished in second place in the individual competition, but it’s the team’s accomplishment that he’s proudest of.
Beard and outgoing team president Luke Lawver started flying first-person view (FPV) drones together in 2018 before officially founding RotorJackets in the fall of 2020. As Beard, a mechanical engineering student, and Lawver, an aerospace graduate student, get set to leave Tech, the pair couldn’t have imagined the success the group has achieved in a short time.
“I’m just very proud of how far it’s come. We started out practicing on fields with PVC pipes, and our gates and materials were falling apart. We didn’t really have anything, but we were able to build everything up, and we’ve practiced every single weekend for events like this,” Beard said.
The team learned the layout of the championship track just two weeks before the event, but practicing from first light to sundown was nothing new for the RotorJackets. The hard work and preparation continued up until the last minute as the team was forced to replace a drone the night before the competition. But the two senior members of the team were impressed by first-year computer engineering student Ian Boraks –– the incoming president –– and Dylan Wyckoff, in his first-ever drone race. Wyckoff is a third-year computer science major and will take over as the club’s treasurer.
Both relished the opportunity to fly alongside their experienced teammates and are now focused on continuing their legacy in pursuit of a three-peat.
Other than winning titles, the club also wants to expand the drone-flying community on campus. When the fall semester begins, monthly events will be held on Tech Green, where all students can learn how to fly. No experience is necessary, and all equipment will be provided. Not all club members are racers, and the benefits of learning the skill go well beyond the group.
“The cool thing about FPV as a hobby is that, especially as an engineering major or someone in any STEM field, it teaches you a ton of practical skills that are incredibly useful in your day-to-day job,” Lawver said. “We build all of our drones basically from scratch, so you can learn about electrical hardware design, mechanical hardware design, and software engineering and dive into whatever areas you want. Or, you can just treat it as a black box, and you’ll have fun with it.”
Using the skills they’ve acquired, the RotorJackets have expanded their footprint at Tech, using drones to enhance coverage of events like the iconic Mini-500 as well the Pi Mile, and they’ve assisted Athletics in creating digital content.
While not necessary to join the club and learn the ropes, obtaining your Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA is recommended if you’re interested in the more advanced stages of drone piloting, and the plan is to offer this certification through the club in the coming semesters.
For information on how to join the RotorJackets and the latest updates on upcoming events, join their Discord.