By BRIAN WALKER
RATHDRUM — Christopher Hartman has launched himself into the national drone racing spotlight.
The Lakeland High senior will represent the five-member American drone racing team at the World Drone Racing Championships in China in November after winning the national Junior Division in Indiana in August.
"I didn't quite get into drone racing from the ground up, but I'm definitely catching the curve," the 16-year-old said. "I am super excited that I get to represent the United States.
"Drones are becoming increasingly popular, not just for racing and sports, but in industry all around the world."
About 50 pilots competed at the national championships for the right to qualify for the USA squad, which includes three adult males, a female and one junior.
"We are excited to field the first drone racing team to represent the United States (in China)," said David Roberts, president of MultiGP, among the team's sponsors.
Hartman said he's keeping his expectations for the international event loose.
"My goal in China is to have fun and represent our country the best I can," Hartman said. "I don't know what to expect because we'll see a lot of pilots we haven't seen before. If I finish poor and still thought I raced well, I'll consider that a success."
Hartman started designing, building and racing drones two years ago. The drones fly through obstacle courses at speeds of more than 85 mph.
Pilots wear goggles and use cameras mounted on the drones to navigate the gates, flags and hurdles in hopes of avoiding mid-air collisions.
Hartman said he and a friend caught the need for speed with radio-controlled cars before his drone-racing venture took off.
"I wasn't super motivated about racing at first, but when my buddy got out of it I started to push for it and it's been on from there," he said. "I didn't envision myself taking it to this level."
Hartman, a ham radio operator before racing drones, said the racing combines his love for flying, video and radio-controlled items into one package.
Having competed in multiple national and international competitions over the summer, Hartman also took first place in the Western Canadian Regionals in Kelowna, B.C.
His finish in Indiana earned him the right to represent the USA and compete in two other upcoming championship races, including the USA Nationals and Canadian Nationals.
The Academy of Model Aeronautics and local businesses have also supported Hartman's journey.
"I've been amazed at the support that I have received from both drone equipment manufacturers and distributors nationally as well as local companies such as Empire Air in Hayden and Venom Batteries in Rathdrum," he said.
Hartman said that while some pilots try to make a profession of drone racing, he plans to attend college and possibly major in electrical engineering. He has a 4.0 GPA and is a member of the swimming team for both Lakeland and the Coeur d'Alene Area Swim Team.
"It's difficult to keep up with it and to be decent in school and swimming all at once, so I'm just trying to have fun with it for now." he said. "I plan to continue with (drone racing) for the next several years, but I don't believe it will be a lifelong career."