X-Wing, TIE fighter drones compete for suburban air supremacy

BALBOA PARK – A gathering of teens with aspirations of playing out science fiction fantasies met Saturday, and with the help of drones, competed in a first-of-its-kind ‘space battle.’

The first annual Star Flight Tournament drew more than 50 participants and 500 spectators from across Los Angeles to witness a chaotic clash of miniaturized, remote-controlled space ships battle for air supremacy over a barren field in the San Fernando Valley.

At the start of the competition, pilots commandeered the takeoff of their drones from a circular area on the ground inscribed with chalk. The drones included downsized replicas of space ships memorialized in popular culture – Star Wars X-Wing and TIE fighters, Star Trek Federation and Klingon vessels – as well as personalized ships not yet for sale in the mass market.

While many participants provided their own drones for the tournament, more than half were provided by tournament organizers to allow school-aged boys and girls to play.

The tournament offered these new ‘recruits’ a course in a ‘star fleet academy’ to practice drone maneuvers before sending them into battle.

The objective of the team and individual competitions was for the pilot to maintain flight of his or her drone while shooting as many competing drones as possible using a ‘laser-guided’ exchange system developed by tournament organizers.

Once a drone was shot, a red-light flashed on its frame, signaling to pilot and spectators that it was out of commission.

Shot drones became immobilized within one minute, to be safely landed and reset for later play.

The last pilot of the last drone flying in the team and individual rounds was declared winner.

Amanda Schulz's TIE fighter done, winner of this year's singles competition.

Amanda Schulz’s TIE fighter drone proves victorious at this year’s Star Flight Tournament.

This year’s victors included Team Striker for the group competition. For singles play, Amanda Schultz, a 17-year-old TIE fighter pilot, shot a Star Wars X-Wing, Battlestar Galactica Viper and Star Trek Bird of Prey during the last ten minutes of competition to secure her championship.

Eric Rose, 18, chief tournament organizer, senior at Hidden Valley High School and Eagle Scout nominee, said a number of circumstances led him to create the SFT.

Rose said he began to first imagined the tournament during a winter break family visit more than a year ago.

“My younger nephew Chris received a drone Millennium Falcon for Christmas,” said Rose. “It was made of Styrofoam and had a few tiny motor parts, and we had so much fun flying it. We even had to fetch it from a roof once when it got stuck. That toy was the start of a bonding experience, which eventually led us here.”

Following a game of laser-tag Rose played with Chris during that same visit, Rose said he had an ‘ah-ha’ moment in which he envisioned putting the two activities together.

“I realized it would be cool to rig laser-tag detection devices onto toy drones, and then use the drones for mock ‘space battles,’” said Rose, who solicited the help of high school teachers to make his idea a reality.

Rose's Millennium Falcon drone prepares for battle.

Rose’s Millennium Falcon drone prepares for battle.

“We were all for it,” said Eddie Garcia, Rose’s engineering teacher. “Eric is a natural leader and tinkerer, and it didn’t take long for the faculty to devise a way to help make his talents payoff.”

Within a year, Rose’s teachers developed a school-based learning project for students to create their own drone ‘space fighters.’

Meanwhile, Rose embarked on a community-based service project to organize and raise money for the Space Flight Tournament, an undertaking that also helped him earn his Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouts of America.

While many Scouts viewed Rose’s idea for the event as a little ‘ahead of its time,’ his nomination for Eagle Scout has not come without some resistance from some within the organization.

“I tried to frame my project as an update to the classic Pinewood derby car race, but some Scouts still had issues with the ‘violent’ nature of space battles,” said Rose. “So, I pitched my project as a modern alternative to youngsters loitering around in their bedrooms hooked to their gaming counsels … at least this way they would be getting fresh air, and of course, with the educational element, learn something while they’re enjoying themselves. The Scouts saw the potential and helped me make it work, and I am grateful for that.”

So is Rose’s father, Alan Rose, 48, a real estate broker and former Scout himself.

“When I was growing up, I had the Millennium Falcon toy that I had to lift in order to fly,” said Rose Sr. “I never imagined my son would be flying one that was auto-propelled. I am glad he’s had this opportunity to have so much fun in a way I never did, and that he has gone so far with it.”

Lydia Grave, March 17, 2018

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