Photo Credit: The Drone Racing League
The Drone Racing League (also known as the DRL) is the only professional drone racing circuit on the scene right now, and it has the clout to prove it. Founded in 2015, DRL didn't launch their first season until 2016 when their 16 professional pilots battled it out for the chance to be one of eight competitors in their first Allianz World Championship final in London. The league has grown since then and now has a greater financial backing than before, as well as a bigger audience and talent pool.
Season 3 began in California with California Nights, "one of the most technical drone racing course ever designed," before culminating in Championship Kingdom for the 2018 DRL Allianz World Championship where the top ten pilots of the season competed against each other. DRL describes the semifinals as "the most vertical course of the season." Controversially, this year's championship was held in Saudi Arabia, and the League has been receiving criticism since last year over its decision to hold their 2018 championship in Saudi Arabia.
Essentially, critics are concerned about what holding the championships in Saudi Arabia means for female pilots. Saudi Arabia is considered to be "one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women." With legal restrictions on where they can go and what that can do, women were concerned that they would not even be able to get to the competition without being escorted by a male.
For some, this decision is a clear sign that the DRL had not taken female pilots and fans into consideration when planning out the season. There are hurdles that women have to overcome when entering male-dominated professions and activities, and sometimes, location is one of them. Some pilots are taking this decision to mean that women are not welcome to participate in the competition. This is all the more uncomfortable considering the previous year's championship, which took place in London, had no female competitors. Additionally, as of December of 2018, the DRL Pilots page does not feature a single female pilot. This lack of representation has pilots wondering what the DRL is doing to ensure that women are welcome to compete. When the announcement was made last year, eminent female pilot Zoe Stumbaugh vocalized her disappointment and stated that she was publicly protesting.
In an official statement, DRL's spokesperson responded to people's concerns by stating that women would face no hindrance when attempting to compete in the championship. Their spokesperson went on to state that the location of the competition would have no effect on their ability to participate. Benjamin Johnson, DRL’s head of business development and marketing, attempted to assuage these concerns by assuring pilots that the "DRL was taking steps to ensure that women will be guaranteed participation." At the time, it was uncertain how exactly they would go about accomplishing this.
Despite the criticism, the 2018 DRL Allianz World Championship was held in September and championed by DRL elite pilot Paul "Nurk" Nurkkala who worked hard and practiced long hours in order to obtain this victory.
I am a writer and an artist based in Georgia. Specializing in illustration, graphic design, and video art, I love to explore the new ways technology intersects with art. I think drones have done amazing things for photography and video art, making what would previously be costly and difficult more accessible. As a complete novice, it was only recently that I saw what independent artists could do with their drones, and I continue to be impressed by the sights that drones are able to explore and the images they can capture. Instagram: @tyesha.ferron