The U.S. Air Force has long had its hands in the drone industry. There are certainly military applications of drones, but the U.S. Air Force is involved in civilian applications, including working with WingXpand to build firefighting drones. And lately, the Air Force recruiting strategy is shifting to place even more emphasis on great drone pilots.
The Drone Racing League and the United States Air Force (USAF) this month announced the continuation of what has now been a seven-year long partnership that has long emphasized recruiting the next generation of USAF personnel. But this year the partnership adds something new: an actual pilot endorsement.
For the first time, USAF will endorse a DRL Pilot, who will fly as the official U.S. Air Force Team Pilot and engage in special appearances with veterans and military families around DRL race events. That USAF team pilot will be prominently featured in the upcoming 2023-24 DRL Algorand World Championship Season.
The DRL Algorand World Championship Season is an annual drone racing series that puts pilots in both virtual race courses through the Drone Racing League’s own simulator called DRL Sim, as well as in-person races at major venues, which in the past has included loanDepot Park, home to Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins, in Miami, Florida as well as PayPal Park in San Jose, California. Race are then aired both on TV and on social media channels such as YouTube, TikTok and Twitch, exposing that sponsored Air Force pilot to a massive audience.
Along with sponsoring a pilot, the USAF said it will also debut new educational programming with DRL this year. That includes an inaugural U.S. Air Force DRL STEM Day, which will teach students and kids of military families how to develop new drone engineering and piloting skills. Attendees will be invited attendees to experience a DRL race, meet the U.S. Air Force Team Pilot, and see the U.S. Air Force DRL Flight Deck (which is the hub in which all of DRL’s elite pilots fly) firsthand.
Why this Air Force recruiting strategy could be a smart bet on a future of drone pilots
The Air Force’s move to endorse a drone pilot could be a smart step in getting out in front of a growing base of drone pilots. Last year was a record-breaking season for DRL, and it only seems likely that this coming season would also break records.
As far as DRL viewership stats in its most recent drone racing season, DRL reached 320 million households (up 30% from the prior race season). As far as actual race viewership numbers, DRL received 260 million digital views worldwide (up 23% from the previous season). It’s social media following grew 45% from the past season, including a total of about 1 billion social video views (spread across channels like Instagram and YouTube) throughout the year.
“The world’s best pilots fly in the U.S. Air Force and race in the Drone Racing League,” said DRL President Rachel Jacobson in a prepared statement. “We put a spotlight on high performance through tech-driven competition, leveling up our fans with new, multifaceted STEM skills that are transferable across all industries, including entertainment, mobility and security.”
With STEM jobs on the rise and drone pilots sought after across an array of industries — from cinematography to delivery to defense — this is a timely opportunity for the Air Force recruiting teams to tap into DRL’s tech-savvy fanbase — and further develop their talent-pipelines.
DRL said its data shows that its own fans are about 30x more likely to engage with the Air Force on social channels and 80% more likely to work in technology than the general US population. In turn, those people could be potentially great candidates to join Air Force personnel.
“The league engages a coveted audience of young, high-energy Tech-Setters who have a passion for flight, innovation and technology,” said U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Christopher Amrhein in a prepared statement. “They are future U.S. Air Force recruits and airmen, and a core reason why we continue to renew our partnership with DRL year after year.”
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