It is a dream to have your passion match up with your job —with FPV drone racing becoming more and more prominent in the professional sports scene, this might be your chance to become a full-time drone racing pilot. So how much can you potentially earn in a drone racing career?

Yes, you can make a living with drone racing if you make your way to professional racing. Top racers earn up to $100k a year from contracts, not to mention other sources of income such as sponsorship, advertisement, and prizes. But if you have just started, you will need other sources of income until you have reached the top. 

Making a living out of flying a racing drone depends on different aspects. Like any collared jobs, there’s no one size that fits all when it comes to salary —it all depends on your expertise, position, and skill.

Pro pilots make a living with drone racing.
Professional drone racers in DRL. Photo by DRL.

Drone Racer Salary

Your salary as a drone racing pilot depends on your contracts. Professional drone racing athletes that are under a federation or a league can land contracts that are worth $100,000 or more. 

More often than not, these drone racing pilots are doing the sport full-time and have been on the field for quite a long time. Since these athletes are under an esteemed organization (the Drone Racing League, for example), they are legally more secure when it comes to their drone racing career.

But if you’re an amateur and just starting out exploring with your FPV drone, it can be challenging to make a full-time living out of it. No one is going to pay you for racing.

How Professional Drone Racing Athletes Get Paid

The big leagues are where things start to get interesting in terms of money. The 2016 top-ranked DR1 Racing drone pilot Luke Bannister is estimated to have a six-figure income coming from his drone racing career.

Back in  2016, Bannister won a drone racing prize of $250,000 when he was 15 after finishing first at the World Drone Prix. That doesn’t include sponsorship deals and other career opportunities that were opened upon his win.

So unlike amateur drone racing athletes, the professionals have more leeway and security when it comes to earning a salary out of their drone racing career.

Here are some of the ways a professional drone racing athlete can get paid:

1.  They have a standard salary

Depending on the contract of a federation or a league that they’re in, the salary of a professional drone racing athlete isn’t necessarily tied to the number of times that they played.

In certain situations that the drone racing pilot can’t race, their organization is obliged to pay them a salary as stated in their contract. This case goes for players who are not essentially picked to play. 

Professional drone racing teams have a lot of players under their name, but there are only a select few who are picked to represent them in competitions. Their racing lineups aren’t necessarily the same every event and sometimes, leagues will have rotations or an audition-based setup. If they’re not among the chosen players, their financial statuses won’t exactly be hurting.

The “standard” salary for professional drone racing athletes is hard to calculate. It all depends on the contract that they signed with their organization. For example, the Drone Racing League has provided a $75,000 professional contract as a drone racing prize back in 2018. In 2016, they offered a $100,000 contract to their first professional drone pilot.

2. Racing prizes.

If you’re playing under an organization, more often than not, you are compelled to divide your winnings appropriately. Your organization, manager, teammates, etc. will get a cut before you have your final earnings.

Luke Bannister bagged $250k from winning the 2016 Dubai World Drone Prix. Picture by XBlades Racing.

It also depends on their contracts and the prize pool. For example, if the drone racing prize is $10,000 or less, then the players get to keep 80% of the pot. At most organizations, the bigger the prize money, the bigger the percentage that you have to share.

3. Sponsorships are the bigger fish to fry.

While the hundreds of thousands of dollars of drone racing prize sound delightful to hear, sponsorships are a much bigger deal when it comes to professional drone racing athletes.

In the prize money, athletes can only get a portion out of it designated by their organization. A six-figure prize can easily shrink into a five or four-figure amount after taxes and cuts. But the million-dollar deals of sponsorships and endorsements are the ones that sustain a huge chunk of their drone racing career.

For example, an international drone racing event like the World Drone Prix will have multi-million dollar sponsorship contracts up for grabs for the winning teams. These contracts are sustained over the years too. 

While the prize money is the attention-grabber for those who are in the audience, the professionals are vying for the bigger deal of landing sponsorships and endorsements. These contracts alone can already land them a six-figure income.

If you want to learn more on becoming professional racers, check out my guide here. Or, start flying immediately with my choice of best RTF drones.

Can Amateur Make A Living with Drone Racing?

No, amateur racers can’t earn enough to make ends meet from drone racing alone. While the remuneration sounds good for pro drone racers, no one is born as a pro. Everyone starts from dirt and works hard to climb the ladders. Sadly, amateurs lack the opportunity to get contracts or sponsorship. 

Drone racing started as an “underground” activity. People organized racing events on their own, meeting at abandoned parking lots or buildings. The prize money is usually equal to the combined participation fee of the racers. The smaller the event, the lesser the drone racing prize.

In an amateur drone racing where a racing athlete is not under an organization, they get to keep all the prizes and winning pots up to the last cent. If you’re joining local community races, you can probably win a few hundred bucks. Some races offer prizes in the form of medals, certificates, or vouchers though. 

Relying on prizes for living is not advisable. It should be treated as a bonus because how much you receive depends on the events that you’ll join and whether you win those events or not.

Having said that, as an amateur starting out in drone racing, the majority, if not all, of your “salary” that you get from the sport will be the drone racing prize at competitions. It’s not stable or big by all means, but every professional drone racing athlete starts from the very beginning. 

If you are willing to invest your energy and time in your sport and constantly push yourself to climb the ranks, I am sure you can eventually become a pro and make a livingly out of drone racing.

How Do I Earn Enough Money before Reaching the Top?

Get a job! That’s the easiest way to earn money!

You can also build YouTube channel about drones to gain popularity. You might earn yourself some sponsorship to upgrade your drone, or best case, get full financial support from the channel alone. Who knows?