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Drone racing – taking a first-person view

In early 2017, following a posting to Newcastle, Zak aka ‘Wedge’ wasn’t in the best of spirits. The move separated him from his mates, the recurrence of a previous injury meant he was physically inactive, and depression had started to set in. Then he stumbled across a US drone racing video that would change his view of the world.

Fast forward to December 2019 and Zak is fresh off a 4th place finish at the first X-Class World Invitational Championships, is the current Australian X-Class drone racing champion, and has started both Townsville FPVR (first-person view racing) and Rising Sun FPV – his own drone and 3D printing business.

Life changes

Zak began his army life with a posting to the 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment in Townsville in 2011. He enjoyed his time there, but an accident in 2015 left him with significant injuries to both knees, including tears to both medial meniscuses and a torn right ACL.

After two surgeries and working his way back to fitness, Zak was posted to Newcastle and suffered a recurrence of his injuries. This second setback meant Zak would never be as mobile as he had once been, and depression set in.

A new community, a new chapter

Although he was going through a difficult spell, the discovery of first-person view drone racing changed Zak’s view of the world – literally. “It’s different from every other sport” says Zak, “I’ve always been very electrically-minded, and with this [drones] I get to design things and get to know people. It ticks too many boxes for me that I can’t look away from it.”

After discovering drone racing online, Zak found a club in Newcastle. Clearly a natural, he placed 1st in the rookie class at his first event and hasn’t looked back since. Shortly after this, Zak was posted back to Townsville. Unfortunately, there was no drone racing club there.

Enter Townsville FPVR.

Completely engrossed in the sport, Zak made the decision to start the Townsville club and invite other enthusiasts to join. While still serving full time with the army, Zak was setting up monthly and seasonal events.

“It ticks too many boxes for me that I can’t look away from it.”

Looking to build on his interest, Zak found that the hobby shops in the area didn’t stock parts or offer advice on drones. Not to be deterred, Zak made the decision to open Rising Sun FPV, his own business, focused on drones and 3D printing.

Being a part of this community has given him new friends and taken him around the world; most recently, to the X-Class World Invitational Championships in Texas. “There was a really great community atmosphere, 100% I think that’s what really makes drone racing” says Zak.

Zak now does some work with Mates4Mates, encouraging others to get involved in drone racing as a wellbeing activity, and works with a few local schoolteachers to help get kids engaged in drones as part of their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program.

Transitioning out

“Having a good support network is key.”

Despite being medically discharged due to his injuries, when asked about his transition out of the army in October 2019, Zak has only two words to describe it, “really positive”.

He credits this largely to having drone racing and Rising Sun FPV. Already having his employment and hobbies set before he discharged meant that there was less of a shock when he left the army. On transitioning out and looking after your mental health, Zak’s advice is, “having a good support network is key. For me, drone racing definitely helps with that.”

Zak also says that everyone who is serving should attend a transition seminar, “even if you’re not transitioning out soon, just so you know what the process is. I did find myself at times saying, ‘what’s the next step, what do I need to do’, and the information helps with that.”

To find out more about drone racing and check for a club in your area, visit the Australian FPV Association website.

Let VSA know if you are keen to get involved in drone racing by getting in touch.