On a calm and serene morning in New Hampshire’s forests, a young man named Nate McCarvill is flying his drone. He looks at a screen that shows him a video feed from a camera carried by the drone, and he holds a radio with twin joysticks that control the speed, direction, yaw, pitch, and the attitude of the aircraft. He sets the drone on the gravel driveway that wound through his wide-spreading lawns and under the interlacing boughs of tall maples. He pushes the joysticks inward. The four green propellers began to rotate, and soon the morning tranquility is pierced by the whine of the motors. He lifts the sticks and the drone leaps above the tree’s tall spire in an instant and soaring over the forests. At eighty miles an hour, the drone flashes across the driveway and left the leaves of mountain maples in a breeze.
The battery onboard can power the drone for about eight minutes. Nate navigates the drone back to the driveway before time is up. The drone lands smoothly on the gravel. Nate calls it a quadcopter. It has four plastic propellers, each located at the corners of an X shaped carbon fiber frame. Nate built the drone from scratch using parts he bought online. It took him about a month for it to take off and hover around his house. The drone looks like a prototype for science experiments, with bare cables and flashing lights with antennas. In fact, the entire drive is the result of advancement in science and technology. Years of progress in material science and electronics converge on this small, science fiction looking aircraft.
Only seventeen years old, Nate has the sweet manner of a modest, not spoiled kid. He is six feet tall, blond hair, wearing a faintly green hoodie, black sweatpants, and white running shoes. He was born into a family where his father became a computer engineer. As a child, he was always working on different DIY projects with his father. He would rip out the parts in discarded machines and build them into working computers. “I enjoyed creating stuff,” he recalls. In 2016, when he was a sophomore in high school, he got a summer job at a local restaurant. He used his first paycheck to buy parts for a quadcopter.
It took Nate about a month to get his first drone to work. Building drones is nothing like building computers, it demands a high level of engineering skill. “It was definitely harder than building computers, but I put it together and just started flying.” Nate got the idea of drone racing from YouTube videos. Drones are just like cars, flying them gives you the fast-paced racing action like Formula 1 and NASCAR. Those small machines are capable of doing 80 miles per hour up and down in the air. Top drone racers upload their video to showcase their skills. Puertolas, better known by his pilot name, Charpu, steers his drone at its maximum speed through an abandoned building in his youtube video “Left Behind.” “I saw the video, I tried it, I loved it, but I crashed all the time like a noob.” There were some crashes, but Nate is very talented. He picked up the skills very fast and soon he was earning his wings.
Drone racing is nothing like other sport. Nothing compares to the thrill of watching drone diving straight down towards the ground at a heart-stopping speed. However, it also has the DIY feel of skateboarding and the techy nature of e-sports. Nate has converted the basement of his house into his drone workshop: airframes, batteries, control boards, and all kinds of tools were all over the place. “What I do is more than just flying the drones. It is also about designing drones and improve my hardware.” Indeed, drone racing is more than the bleeding off speed, it is also about the art of engineering, and that is where Nate lives.
As Nate picked up the still flashing drone on the ground, the midday New Hampshire sun finally penetrated the cloud. A faint wind sighed through the maple trees, and the kaleidoscope-like reds, golds, and oranges stirred and whispered. “Isn’t this beautiful?” He turns around and continues: “You push the sticks and watch the screen, suddenly you are connected to the world in front of you. I was racing drones just for fun, but I realized later it is so much more. It is really the fusion of art and technology, and I am proud to be part of it.”