Women Taking Flight: DRL and Air Force team up in stereotype-breaking initiative

Drone racing might seem like a stereotypically male activity. The Air Force might also seem so. But a project called “Women Taking Flight” aims to buck those stereotypes.

The Drone Racing League and the United States Air Force teamed up to launch what’s called “Women Taking Flight.” After all, women currently make up around just 5% of pilots across the entire aviation industry, according to the Centre for Aviation.

The initiative, which launched today, centers around bringing more female drone pilots into the industry.  The initiative encompasses a range of activities including drone racing competitions, esports tournaments, and STEM curriculum. The goals? To recruit more talented, female drone pilots to fly with DRL. Even for female pilots who might not want to go all-in on flying with DRL, the program could encourage women to participate in drones generally. With that, DRL might reach more potential, untapped fan bases.

“Our DRL Women Taking Flight platform will inspire women and girls to pursue their dream careers as drone pilots, athletes and engineers while helping them develop their skills so they can compete on the highest stages,” said DRL President Rachel Jacobson in a prepared statement.

DRL put together a promo video for the project here:

What is DRL? And how will it interact with Women Taking Flight?

Drone Racing League (DRL) is a New York-based, professional drone racing entertainment and tech company. Founded in 2015, the company’s bread and butter entails putting on races with professional pilots. Those pilots navigate custom-built drones through intricate, three-dimensional courses at over 80 miles per hour using first-person view goggles.

The League broadcasts races on platforms like NBC and YouTube for viewers to tune in at home. Meanwhile, the live races are often spectator sports in themselves, held at flashy venues. For example, DRL held its DRL Algorand World Championship Season 2021-22 finale on an outdoor course along the Las Vegas strip at T-Mobile Arena.

Though, DRL has also branched out beyond hosting physical races, through products like its DRL SIM. It’s also dabbled in hardware, such as the 2021 launch of the 5G DRL racing drone made in partnership with T-Mobile, dubbed Magenta.

But its roster of official pilots is ultra-male dominated. With “Women Taking Flight,” that might change.

Photo courtesy of DRL

For starters, DRL will invite top female drone racers to train with existing DRL Champion Pilots. The female participants will also compete in an esports tournament on the DRL SIM. DRL SIM is a drone simulator that functions as a drone racing video game. Top competitors will then earn the chance to receive a professional contract in the league.

“The winning pilot will be named a DRL Pilot, participating in DRL races and supporting DRL’s upcoming “Girls Who Fly” STEM course to encourage girls to aim high and pursue tech, sports and aviation careers,” according to a statement from DRL.

It’ll be an excellent opportunity to finally put women on DRL’s rosters. It’ll also contribute to increased coverage of women in sports in general (or in this case, e-sports). As of now, female athletes receive only 15% of all U.S. sports media coverage. That’s despite the fact that they actually participate in nearly half of all sports competitions, according to Wasserman data.

The Air Force’s role in Women Taking Flight

What is the Air Force’s role in the “Women Taking Flight” program? Technically, the Drone Racing League runs “Women Taking Flight.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force is a founding partner.

It’s all shaping up to be a recruiting opportunity for the Air Force. That’s both to bring in more women either as pilots or in other technical roles. Across all aspects of technology jobs, women today hold less than 27% of tech-related roles, according to data from Deloitte. For what it’s worth, the Air Force has the highest percentage of female active duty service members of all the branches in the U.S. military. But still, it’s a minority. As of 2020, women made up just 21.1% of the U.S. Air Force.

“DRL, and this partnership, helps us inform women of opportunities in the Air Force and Space Force, so we’re thrilled to help these women pilots soar to new heights,” said Barry Dickey, Air Force Recruiting Service’s Chief Marketing Officer in a prepared statement. “Through the DRL Women Taking Flight program, the Air Force is able to connect with a talented group of drone pilots, as well as tech innovators and their audience.”

The U.S. Air Force has already had a fairly robust, longstanding partnership with DRL. Last summer, DRL and the United States Air Force (USAF) announced the continuation of what has now been a seven-year long partnership pegged around recruiting. New to this year, the partnership includes an actual pilot endorsement. With that, the USAF endorses a DRL Pilot, who flies as the official U.S. Air Force Team Pilot and engages in special appearances with veterans and military families at DRL race events. 

Consider it a clever example of how companies are investing in diversity, equity and inclusion. And it’s an indicator that even some of the most long-standing employers are improving their creative talent-pipeline development strategies through innovative sports like drone racing. 

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