Luke Wolferstan Bannister, 15, from the UK, popularly known as ‘Banniuk’, became one of the youngest pilots to make it through the eliminations. Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/Gulf News

Dubai: The future of high-speed, high-technology racing was on display as 32 teams from 19 countries participated in the World Drone Grand Prix. The two-day contest revved up on the state-of-the-art drone racing track at Sky Dive Dubai on Friday.

Thirty-two pilots and their incredible flying machines held thousands of spectators spellbound with four hours of pure adrenaline-pumping spectacle.

Dubai became the first place in the world to flag off the two-day World Drone Grand Prix, under the patronage of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council.

Drone enthusiasts of all ages participated in the contest with 15-year old Luke Wolferstan Bannister from the UK, popularly known as ‘Banniuk’, being one of the youngest pilots to make it through the eliminations with a spectacular performance. “It has been a natural progression for me from flying other remote controlled objects. I am very excited and thrilled to have made it to this stage,” said Banniuk, who has to take his grade 11 GCSE examinations when he returns. He has a tutor accompanying him on his trip to the UAE.

The Australian team of grandfather Chris Thompson, father Sam Thompson, and Ben Thompson (9), the youngest navigator in the contest, share a common passion for drones and are happy to have all three generations participate in the contest. Chris is the engineer on the team and Sam is the pilot.

Two teams from UAE have also reached the elimination round and the pilot of one of these teams — Drone Works Dubai, Jeremiah, told Gulf News about how his passion brought him to the UAE from the US. “I used to design drone models for fun and eventually I began racing these and decided to come down to the UAE and make it my home considering the potential here,” he said.

Being the first in the world, Dubai now has to its credit the world’s largest drone racing track measuring seven kilometres. Over 150 teams entered the contest on March 7 but only 32 were short-listed in the elimination round today.

The eliminations whittle down the contestants to 16 today based on the pilots’ ability to pull off some complicated manoeuvres while crossing obstacles and completing 12 laps on the track.

Eight of the contestants make it to the semi-finals and four of them are to feature in the finals on Saturday.

Providing a guided tour of the arrangements and the racing tracks, Omar Al Olama, Secretary General of the World Organisation of Racing Drones, said: “Drones are the future of the world and we are likely to have passenger drones too as technology progresses. Drones have got a lot of bad press and we want to demonstrate that these machines can be used for public good and that is why we had the Drones for Good Championships. The response to that inspired us to look at the drones for fun and sport. One needs to be dynamic, have a sound knowledge of physics and aerodynamics to design and fly drones. The world over, there are pilots and technical people assembling and racing drones and that is why we decided to hold this championship to demonstrate that, like Formula One racing, drones too are the future of racing and will have seasons and annual Grand Prix.”

The Grand Prix venue at Sky Dive Dubai has a grandstand for enthusiasts to watch the races from close, plus a leisure and relaxation area where viewers can watch the event on high definition LED screens, simulation kiosks for amateurs to practise their skills and an enclosed area for novice drone flyers to hone their navigational skills. In addition, the Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre put up an exhibition of the drones being used in the Mars Project.

“Drones have a very high educational value and we want the spectators to know that,“ said Al Olama.