Drone team recognized statewide

State championship adapted for COVID-19


Photo illustration by Emily Ziessman

After the traditional state championship for drone racing was cancelled due to COVID-19, Hydra FPV transitioned to a virtual event. Senior Rafe Covin and junior Clayton Horstman placed first in the team competition May 17 and senior William Schwietering and junior Marcos Tapia Vizcarra finished in fifth, according to drone team advisor Mark Miller.

Marta Hill

While the pandemic forced most end-of-year competitions to be canceled, including all Minnesota State High School League events, Park’s drone team was still able to compete in the state championship. Junior Clayton Horstman Olson, who placed first in the team race with senior Rafe Covin, said it was an exciting, but odd opportunity.

“It was really crazy, it felt really awesome obviously but it was kind of strange the fact that I won a state championship from my bedroom, pretty much,” Horstman Olson said. “It was broadcasted on TV but there’s not like all the fans around us, you are not being cheered on except by your family. And so it just kind of felt weird.”

When it became clear that an in-person state tournament was not an option, the Hydra FPV team transitioned to using VelociDrone, which the Park drone team had already been using to practice, according to drone team adviser Mark Miller.

“(Hydra FPV) sat down and decided ‘we’re not going to end the season, we’re going to see if we can go virtual,’” Miller said. “They just had to sit down and figure out a way to get all of the pilots access to the simulator and then find a platform to organize the races. So they did that literally overnight.”

Horstman Olson said he was happy he was able to finish the season despite the pandemic.

“The fact that we were able to continue with our season when pretty much no other sports did was really enjoyable and kind of a cool experience. I’m looking forward to flying more in the future,” Horstman Olson said.

The state championship had two parts: an individual race and a team race. Senior Will Schwietering, Covin and Horstman Olson participated in the individual races May 16. Covin placed second overall and Horstman Olson finished third overall. 

For the team races May 17, Schwietering, Covin and Horstman Olson were joined by junior Marcos Tapia Vizcarra. Covin and Horstman Olson competed together and finished in first place and Schwietering and Tapia Vizcarra finished in fifth, according to Miller. 

“I wasn’t surprised at the results because they were so committed to and really enjoyed that drone team,” Miller said. “I was super super proud that they were able to stay committed to it and keep practicing. It’s amazing how easy they make it look, and if you ever pick up a controller and try it’s unbelievably hard, and they make it look so easy.”

Transitioning to a virtual setting for drone racing after several months of flying real drones was a challenge, according to Horstman Olson, but with some practice he got the hang of it. 

“We originally had been practicing and flying in real life on drones that we had built for a long time and then the coronavirus came and we quickly had to switch and adapt,” Horstman Olson said. “We got on the simulator and we started flying and practicing. The mechanics of flying the drone are very similar, but it was just a lot of adapting to flying differently, and looking at your computer to fly.”