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Aerial Drone Competition - 10 Tips to Help You Win

Taking part in an aerial drone competition is a great way to participate in hands on student centered learning that will increase your knowledge of the technology and the careers surrounding drones. Beyond the educational benefits, participating in competitions while in high school can significantly enhance your profile and college applications. 

Participating in extracurricular activities is a crucial aspect of college applications, allowing students to showcase skills beyond academic achievements. Competitions offer a unique avenue for students to dive into a field of their interest, while acquiring essential skills in teamwork, problem-solving, and critical thinking. As colleges increasingly seek well-rounded individuals, engaging in competitions can set you apart from other applicants, demonstrating your passion for your subject and your ability to apply theoretical knowledge in a practical setting.

Few opportunities provide a unique blend of technology, teamwork, and skill development like the Aerial Drone Competition. Open to students in grades 5-12, this competition is not just about flying drones; it's a comprehensive educational experience that encompasses aspects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

In this article, we’ve covered the competition in depth – its eligibility, participation rules, and included a few tips that might help you win it!

What is the Aerial Drone Competition?

The Aerial Drone Competition, supported by the REC Foundation, is designed to be an educational and hands-on drone sporting event. The competition focuses on student-centered learning, encompassing various elements such as understanding drones, flight principles, programming, documentation, and communication skills. Targeted at students in grades 5-12, the competition involves teams working together to complete four missions, providing a holistic learning experience.

The competition entails several components including piloting teamwork, autonomous flights, and piloting, and interviews. In the piloting teamwork, drones are piloted by students and in autonomous flight drone are flown after being programmed by students to operate entirely autonomously. In the piloting round students will fly their drone through an obstacle course competing to score as many points as possible. In the final round, judges will interview teams about their drone, programming, and competition logbook.

How is it structured?

The Aerial Drone Competition is held at regional and national levels. The is expanding nationwide, with new teams and events being added continuously. Find the latest updates here!

Competition events typically take place on Saturdays, from approximately 8 am to 4 pm.

Eligibility and Team Composition

Students in grades 5-12 are encouraged to participate in the Aerial Drone Competition. Teams must consist of 3-5 students, and each team is required to have access to a drone and other equipment, which we’ve detailed further below. Schools or organizations can register multiple teams, up to 22 teams from a single organization. 

Time Commitment

The time commitment for teams can vary based on resources and the age of the students. Generally, a typical team dedicates 2-4 hours per week after school for practice.

Registration & Attendance Costs

To register your team , you or the organization you’re applying under will have to visit the Robot Events website. The first team registration will cost $200. Additional teams under the same organization can be registered for $150 each. After six additional teams are registered under the same organization, the next team registrations are free of cost (22 teams is the limit for one organization!). 

Once a team is registered, the cost to attend a local competition varies by state and region. Registration fees typically range from $50 to $100 per team, with championship events fees a little more than that. You can find regional and national events here. If you can’t locate an event in your area, the foundation recommends your organization consider becoming an event host! They will provide the training and support required to do so.

Essential Equipment you’ll need to compete:

In order to participate in the Aerial Drone Competition, each team will need a drone, controller, a computer for programming, and spare parts such as batteries, motors, and propellers. 

For the 2023-2024 season, the foundation has specified three drones that will be allowed:

  • CoDrone EDU

  • CoDrone EDU (JROTC Edition)

  • Parrot Mambo

You can order the CoDrone EDU from Robolink, and the CoDrone EDU (JROTC Edition) will  soon be available. The Parrot Mambo, unfortunately, has been discontinued and is challenging to find or order at this time.

Field Setup and Rules

For the 2023-2024 season, there will be two field layouts at events, one for the Piloting Teamwork Missions and another for the Piloting Mission and Autonomous Flight Mission. In the piloting teamwork, drones wll be piloted by students and in the autonomous flight mission drone are flown after being programmed by students.

The rules for the competition can be found in the Mission 2024: Eclipse Competition Manual, available on the REC Foundation Aerial Drone Competition Webpage.

Competition Missions and Structure

The Aerial Drone Competition comprises three flight missions and one communication mission, each designed to test different aspects of the participants' skills. Each team will compete in each mission. Teams are assigned to regions and will compete at local qualifying events to each a spot at the the Regional Championship of their assigned region as shown on the map.


  1. Piloting Teamwork Mission: This mission presents an exciting challenge in the form of a game that changes each year. For the 2023-2024 season, two teams form an alliance and work together to score points by flying around the field during a 90-second match.

  2. Autonomous Flight Mission: In this mission, one team competes against the clock to score points in a 1-minute match. Students program their drones to score points entirely autonomously.

  3. Piloting Skills Mission: Similar to the Autonomous Flight Mission, one team competes against the clock to score points in a 1-minute match. However, in this mission, students manually pilot their drones to score points.

  4. Communication Mission: This mission focuses on showcasing workforce development skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, project management, and communication. Teams are interviewed by judges and must submit their Competition Logbook for evaluation.

10 Tips to Help You Win

Now that you're familiar with the structure and nuances of the Aerial Drone Competition, let's explore a few tips that can help you ace this competition. 

1. Master the basics of drones

Before diving into advanced programming and flight strategies, ensure you have a solid understanding of the basics of drone operation. This includes familiarizing yourself with the chosen drone model, controller functions, and programming essentials.

2. Take advantage of all the resources available

Take full advantage of all the official resources provided by the competition organizers. This includes studying the competition manual thoroughly, understanding the rules, and staying updated on any amendments or clarifications. There is a webpage for teams and coaches which includes information such as scorecards and competition logbooks which will be important to study and review in preparation for the competition.

3. Learn from past winning entries

Reviewing past entries and performances can offer valuable insights into successful strategies and common pitfalls. Analyze what worked for previous teams and incorporate those lessons into your approach.

4. Focus on Teamwork

The Piloting Teamwork Mission underscores the importance of collaboration more than the other missions which may not require participation from every member of your team depending on your team’s size. Foster effective communication and teamwork within your team, ensuring seamless coordination during the competition. Practice working together under time constraints to enhance efficiency. Identify each team member’s strengths and weaknesses. Play up your team’s strengths by specializing and collaboratively designating roles for each team member. 

5. Develop Autonomous Programming Skills

In the Autonomous Flight Mission, programming skills take center stage. Invest time in mastering autonomous programming, ensuring your drone can navigate and complete tasks without manual intervention. Be sure to study the guidebook of your team’s drone and follow YouTube videos on how to program the drone. This can significantly boost your team's performance.

6. Prioritize Safety Measures

While pushing boundaries and aiming for high scores is essential, safety should always be a priority. Familiarize yourself with safety guidelines in the game manual, especially when it comes to drone operation. This includes understanding emergency procedures and having a clear plan for troubleshooting mid-competition.

7. Create a Comprehensive Logbook

The Communication Mission requires teams to submit a Competition Logbook for evaluation. Take this opportunity to showcase your team's journey, highlighting key decisions, challenges faced, and innovative solutions. A well-documented logbook reflects organizational skills and attention to detail.

8. Engage with the Drone Community

Explore forums, social media groups, and other platforms such as YouTube where drone enthusiasts and competitors gather. Engaging with the larger drone community can provide valuable insights, tips, and a sense of camaraderie. Don't hesitate to seek advice or share your experiences.

9. Simulate Competition Conditions

Simulate competition conditions during your practice sessions. Set time limits for tasks, recreate the field layouts, and introduce elements of unpredictability. There are field setups which your team can purchase to recreate a competition field. This helps acclimate your team to the pressure and dynamics of the actual competition.

10. Attend Workshops and Training Sessions 

Take advantage of any workshops or training sessions offered by the competition organizers or other organizations. These sessions can provide hands-on guidance, clarify doubts, and offer additional resources to enhance your team's skills.

Final thoughts

The Aerial Drone Competition presents a unique opportunity for students to explore the world of drone technology while honing essential skills in STEM. Beyond the thrill of competition, participants gain valuable insights into specific STEM fields and develop skills that are highly sought after by colleges and employers. By following these ten tips and embracing the educational journey offered by the competition, you not only increase your chances of winning but also equip yourself with skills that will prove invaluable in your academic and professional journey. 

If you're looking for a real-world internship that can help boost your resume while applying to college, we recommend Ladder Internships!

Ladder Internships is a selective program equipping students with virtual internship experiences at startups and nonprofits around the world! 

The startups range across a variety of industries, and each student can select which field they would most love to deep dive into. This is also a great opportunity for students to explore areas they think they might be interested in, and better understand professional career opportunities in those areas. The startups are based all across the world, with the majority being in the United States, Asia and then Europe and the UK. 

The fields include technology, machine learning and AI, finance, environmental science and sustainability, business and marketing, healthcare and medicine, media and journalism and more.

You can explore all the options here on their application form. As part of their internship, each student will work on a real-world project that is of genuine need to the startup they are working with, and present their work at the end of their internship.

In addition to working closely with their manager from the startup, each intern will also work with a Ladder Coach throughout their internship - the Ladder Coach serves as a second mentor and a sounding board, guiding you through the internship and helping you navigate the startup environment. 

Cost: $1490 (Financial Aid Available)

Location:  Remote! You can work from anywhere in the world.

Application deadline: April 16 and May 14

Program dates: 8 weeks, June to August

Eligibility: Students who can work for 10-20 hours/week, for 8-12 weeks. Open to high school students, undergraduates and gap year students!

One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are passionate about research in drones and engineering, you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that was founded by researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.

Image Source: Aerial Drone Competition logo



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