BIRD 2024 – Setup

I woke up as late as I dared in the WhoopHaus. Not having gotten to bed until after 1:00 a.m. I wanted to get as much sleep as possible ready for the next three long days. 

It’s the Germans fault after all, they only turned up at midnight and it was so good to see these international friends we’ve made that we stayed up talking far too long. And then even later thrashing our quads around the WhoopHaus track.

We have been practising on this track all night putting pack after pack through our abused quads. The DRC boys had set out the track, and like last year, it went up one staircase along the hallway and dove down the main staircase. I’ve not released any details of the track I have planned for Millennium Point but this will be good training for them as I expect to include a dive gate at the event. A very special dive gate!

I grabbed my stuff and headed out to the van, trying to avoid the enticing smell of bacon and the excited babbel of drone friends coming from the kitchen. My job today was to load up the van with all the things I’ve been collecting over the last few months and go and set up the event space at Millennium Point. Tomorrow is the big day and we must be ready!

Of course, all the planning in the world can’t cope with some things. I’d received a call yesterday saying that the chap who was going to be running the BMFA simulators had been very ill and was unlikely to be able to attend. This would mean that the whole attraction would be out of actionI I don’t want anyone to be working when they are suffering ill health but this put me in an awkward situation as I’d been advertising simulators at the event for several months now. After some discussion it turned out that he was fit enough to run the stall but was not allowed to drive so could not collect any of the equipment needed. Well this was something I could help with. The WhoopHaus was an hour in that direction anyway, so whilst it was not on route to MP, at least it wasn’t too far off route.

After a quick stop at Greggs to get breakfast and do some preparatory food shopping I got home and started loading up the van with all of the kit needed. I knew I had a lot, but its a surprising amount of stuff when loaded in the back of the van. By the time I set off, you would look in the back and say the van was full but I’ve not even collected Cerb and all of his live streaming equipment yet. This might take some pro level Tetris skills…

Once again I was working with FPV racing Solutions to produce the live stream and manage the race directing for the event. Cerberus and RC maniac are a great team and produce some great work but this all requires a lot of kit. Boxes and boxes of electrical cable-ly craziness that you point at drones and you get all sorts of wonderful things out the other end. I’m convinced magic is involved, there is no other explanation. Luckily I was able to get all the boxes of magic into my van without too much trouble. It’s quite fun playing life size Tetris, but looking at the stack of kit I wasn’t 100% sure it was all going to fit. Maybe the boxes had extra-dimensional tessellation properties amongst the magic… I’m not sure what I would do without the van, it’s by far the best purchase of my life.

Rocking up to MP a cheeky amount of early, the event that was occupying the space before us was running a little late. This was fine, we just unloaded everything into a corner so we could get going as soon as we were given the nod.

The first job for me, was to run the rope work up to the balconies. This was for the two hanging gates out in space and was not something I could let anyone else do. It took some of my years of climbing ropework knowledge to construct, maintaining safety at all times. Even so, I was fumbling and having to redo things, feeling the pressure. While I had set this up at home to practise, it was a big commitment I had made to myself to get these gates out into space. With Eddy’s help, I also had to construct the Dive gate and hang that off the edge of the balcony. I am glad he was here to help because he does ropework all day long and so could double check my logic and knots. All together, this took much longer than expected and meant other areas of set up were neglected for too long. 

But David was here to help and I knew I could trust him to solve problems on the go. This meant the netting went up a lot easier than expected. Of course with Eddy’s help they made sure everything was neat and very secure. Luckily, the netting from Jagger’s was long enough to go the whole distance needed which was a relief. This left my shorter length to cover the critical “return from space” bit where pilots were likely to escape the race area without a net in place. We also had some netting given to us by the BMFA. This was really small and did the job, but was nowhere near as good looking as our string stuff. We used that for the spectator tunnel under the flight path from space. Lastly, I planned to use a 3x4m section of netting to protect the balcony pedestrians from uncontrolled quad crashes. When I was sizing it up at home, it looked huge, but barely covered the area I expected it to at MP. Still it was better than nothing and I had run out of netting now, so that was that.

It had started getting quite late so the ladies went off to procure pizza for everyone. This was very welcome by us but not very welcome by the events staff, especially when we finished our setup later than expected. Having sat around for half an hour of the time eating pizza they weren’t very impressed but working from 6pm and until 11 without food would also have been very undesirable. Still, it was nice to enjoy half an hour with everyone and give my brain a small break from feeling under pressure.

Of course, there was still a lot to get done including the all important track layout. I set the event staff off bringing up barriers to cordon off the pits area and I set the girls off on a task blowing up 20 or so inflatable parrot birds. This decoration was only there for fun, but they were not laughing when I said there was no pump with which to do it… Nothing I could do about it now, so… with an apology, I cracked on… 

The track was sketched out on paper after a long night watching Whooptopia so I knew roughly what I wanted to include. But until everything else was in place, I couldn’t see the size available to work with. There is an element of organic growth with a Whoop track. They aren’t like the 5 inch drone tracks that stand on their own in a field of unlimited size. Whoop tracks are all about exploring the space and using the building’s quirks as parts of your track… in my opinion. This takes time to see the space and fit in the elements you want, or adjust what you thought would work when you see it won’t in person. It’s also essential to get the right mix of speed, flow, technical and easy sections. You need all of them to give the wide range of flying styles something they will all enjoy and all feel tested by. 

I’d mostly used the Killakwads and BTW gates combined with David’s extra special light rods, making another appearance this year. But I needed a couple of gates stacked up in 2 specific configurations. WareFPV club were happy to help out and lent me their gates, power supplies and cables to make it all work and light up beautifully. Luckily, they arrived just as I was starting to set up the track which was perfect timing. 

All this time I had let Cerb and James do their thing. They had their boxes of magic and spent the whole evening getting the race directors desk, live stream computer and video control unit set up. Once I finally had the track set up, we could place cameras. Again, I knew roughly where I wanted them, but it had to come after the final track layout was complete. We picked some great locations and even managed to get one zoomed in on the dive gate, I was very happy.

Another thing I’d planned was the pits area. I’d organised 3 big tables for pilots to set up, and they all had power for charging. This worked out great, but I’d forgotten about a table to display the prizes, and a table for peoples bags, oh and a table for Midlands 3D to set out some of their stuff for display. It was getting towards the end of where we could reasonably stretch our welcome into the night and it was just about done. There are things I’d like to have set up differently but really it looked great. I was very proud of what we built in 5 hours and very thankful of my family and all the volunteers who helped.

It was time to get out before we were kicked out.

Cerb and James head home, just down the road and I can only imagine dropped straight into bed and lights out. Eddy, after having worked a whole day and driven 4 hours up here to then spend the evening helping me set up, was staying up here somewhere. In hindsight, we should have gotten a hotel together. But what we actually ended up doing was driving back to Oakamoor – an hour away – for 5 hours sleep. Before getting up and coming all the way back again in the morning. This was a dumb plan, but having planned everything else out so meticulously, I’m not surprised something stupid slipped through. 

Next year, we stay in a hotel nearby.