The Bold New World of Drone Racing
By Nicole Dudenhoefer ’17
Blowing up a rocket isn’t usually a strong indicator for success, but when Derek Saltzman’s first-year UCF engineering project exploded on launch in 2016, he knew he was onto something. Yes, the project exploded, but all 13 feet of the carbon fiber frame Saltzman manufactured remained perfectly intact, creating a highly durable solution to a problem he hadn’t yet discovered.
Enter drone racing, an up-and-coming sport. Replicating the same carbon fiber manufacturing method used in his failed project, Saltzman and his roommate, Mason Mincey, launched Soar Aerospace, which creates custom, durable drone frames that can withstand the collisions and falls that happen during races.
“Imagine NASCAR, but all the cars are the same color, and they’re too small to really see. That’s what drone racing is like right now.”Derek Saltzman, UCF aerospace engineering student
“Imagine NASCAR, but all the cars are the same color, and they’re too small to really see. That’s what drone racing is like right now,” Saltzman says.
True to the spirit of engineering, the team of juniors is trying to solve this problem by creating a brighter solution: colorful 3-foot X Class drone frames in addition to the standard 5-to-10-inch mini quadcopters used for races all over the world. The aerospace engineering majors hope to advance the league into a sport that will draw more spectators and sponsors to support its growth.
“We think this industry has the same potential as esports, NASCAR and Formula [racing,] so we decided to take a risk to see if we can be one of the primary companies pioneering drone racing,” Mincey says.
“We decided to take a risk to see if we can be one of the primary companies pioneering drone racing.”Mason Mincey, UCF aerospace engineering student
Over the past year they’ve partnered with drone racing equipment suppliers to expand the company’s reach. At UCF, drone racing is also growing through the student organization First Person View Knights, which earned second place at the Collegiate Drone Racing Association National Championship in North Dakota. In May, Soar brought intercollegiate drone racing to central Florida by hosting its own competition.
“Seeing student and amateur drone racing pilots competing at our event was inspiring,” Saltzman says. “Drone racing is more than a hobby. There are future engineers, pilots, technicians and radio operators helping to lay the foundation of this new era of aviation.”
Earlier this year the team also moved out of its garage and into Factur, a makerspace in downtown Orlando. Operating out of the coworking space allows them to teach others about carbon fiber manufacturing, which Mincey says is in high demand in Orlando.
As the industry continues to shift, Saltzman and Mincey will continue watching the market to stay ahead of the curve and build the sport’s following, which just might get a boost when ESPN broadcasts the AlphaPilot drone racing challenge to be held at UCF in October.
Aerospace engineering students Derek Saltzman and Mason Mincey
High-quality, durable, custom drone frames featuring colorful designs in small and X Class sizes
Months after Saltzman’s rocket explosion, he and Mincey noticed a friend was using a lower quality frame to race drones. “The quality wasn’t up to par, and it was just black so it looked like every other frame and didn’t stand out,” Mincey says.
UCF’s 2018 Joust New Venture Competition (second place, $7,000). UCF’s UpStarts Student Venture Accelerator, which offers free office space, advanced mentoring, and exclusive access to services, resources and colleagues