04 Apr 2018

Meet 16-year-old drone-racing star Thomas Grout

Thomas Grout, 16, came third in last year’s FAI Drone Racing World Cup: a fantastic achievement for such a young pilot. The talented young racer only started flying drones about two years ago after discovering FPV (first person view) racing online.

With FPV racing, pilots use headsets that are linked to cameras in the drones, giving the impression they are inside the drone, piloting it from there.

“I became aware of radio-controlled sports about eight years ago because my father pilots model boats,” said Thomas, who lives in St Malo in northern France.

“As I have always loved everything that flies, I soon got interested in aeromodelling, joining a local club and flying model aircraft just for fun. When I saw FPV videos on YouTube, I decided to try a headset on a model aircraft and I loved it straight away.”

Nowadays, Thomas prefers flying drones to model aircraft. “I prefer drone racing because you have more freedom of movement with a drone, so there are more possibilities,” he said.

“You are also totally immersed while you are doing it. It’s like being in a real-life video game – you definitely feel the adrenaline more as a result.”

He also finds the pace of change in the drone-racing world exciting. “I first started flying drones competitively towards the end of 2015, and took part in my first real race in 2016,” Thomas said. “Even since then, both the drones and the headsets have really moved on. Everything has become smaller and more powerful.”

However, he believes his years of aeromodelling helped him to progress more quickly as a drone racer. “You do not need to have aeromodelling experience to become a drone racing pilot,” he said. “It helps with understanding the radio control element, though.”

When it comes to drone racing competitions, Thomas enjoys the taking part as much as the winning. “There is a really good atmosphere at drone racing competitions,” he said. “They are great places to make new friends and learn how to become a better pilot.

“During last year’s FAI World Cup, I was competing against the best pilots in the world, so I really learnt a lot. Travelling to countries such as Spain and Korea was also fun, especially as I got to meet lots of new pilots while I was there.”

He is planning to take part in some FAI Drone Racing World Cup 2018 events later this year. But for this young pilot, even the thrill of competing cannot compare with sharing the excitement of drone sports with his friends.

“For me, the three best words to describe drone racing are: adrenaline, fun and friendship,” he said. “You can’t beat flying with your friends.”

Thomas’ five top tips for aspiring drone racers

  1. Don’t get into drone racing simply to win competitions. You have to do it because you enjoy the sport.
  2. Take pride in building and maintaining your own drone. Doing it yourself will mean you understand exactly how it works, which will help you to fly it better.
  3. Drone technology is constantly evolving. But while it is important to stay up to date, you need time to adapt to any modifications you make to your drone. So don’t make too many modifications just before a competition.
  4. It’s important to be able to train in the right environment. But buying practise circuit equipment such as gates is expensive, so try to find a local club or make contact with local people you can train with.
  5. Try to fly with people who are better than you whenever you can – it’s the best way to progress.

Photo credit: FAI/Marcus King