Game of Drones

If it flies, it fights.

Illustrations by Studio MUTI

Most pilots enjoy keeping their drones airborne. Marque Cornblatt, who studied digital art before turning to robotics, has different pleasure centers in his brain. “Crash your drone,” he says. “Get your hands dirty fixing that thing. Come up with solutions to keep it flying.”

This crash-and-rebuild philosophy came out of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) battles between Cornblatt and his friends. The duels were so much fun that they launched a group called Flight Club and the YouTube series Game of Drones. The show chronicles UAV dogfights, the building of unique battle drones—such as a paintball-shooting hexacopter—and abusive tests of a supersturdy airframe designed by Cornblatt and a buddy. (So far, it has survived flights through water, fire, and glass windows, drops from hundreds of feet, and even shotgun blasts.)

Cornblatt and his crew of daredevil drone pilots hope to grow their back-lot battles into a safe and watchable sport. To that end, they formed the Aerial Action Sports League, which borrows from the following Flight Club rules. Heed them if you dare.

The Rules

"If it flies,**** it fights." Anyone who brings a UAV to Flight Club must enter it in combat. There are no rules for what a pilot can attach to it.
"Knock the ****other guy to the ground." After a crash, the grounded drone's operator has some time—at least until the crowd gets antsy—to patch it up and get it working.
**"Two drones enter, one drone leaves." **The battle ends when one combatant has sustained too much damage to be revived.

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Popular Science.