The dream of flying: “You think you’re right there”

Since the beginning of this year, Heiko Schenk is a new face with us and supports us in hardware development and as a test pilot. Working at Third Element Aviation is by no means his first encounter with drones: Heiko Schenk is a former German Drone Racing Champion and has raced all over the world.

Heiko, how did you come to 3EA?

At a party of a former sponsor and current friend, a mutual customer was a guest, who then directly contacted Third Element Aviation when he heard that I was on the lookout. We talked and now I’ve been here since the beginning of January. Before that, I was a trained IT specialist and was a support for ERP systems.

And you have more than a little prior experience with drones, right?

I did drone racing semi-professionally, so I worked part-time, but I also made money racing. That’s when I designed, milled and sold frames for the racing drones myself. I also had the opportunity to develop my own motor with the company T-Motor and there was also a “Heiko Schenk” racing propeller.

How do you even get into doing something like that?

I thought drones were kind of cool right when the topic started. It started with a photo drone, but that was boring after a few times. I quickly developed it a bit more myself. At some point I saw a video of FPV (First Person View) drones racing through the forest. On the same day, a beginner’s set was ordered, tried out and I was immediately hooked. With a FPV headset, the body is fooled and you have the feeling of sitting in the drone. It has something of the “dream of flying”, being free like a bird, being able to observe everything from above.

Since I am a competitive guy, after two weeks of flight training I made the decision that I want to become German Champion in the Drone Racing category. After nine months, I was already flying internationally, flying for teams and, until Corona came along, had been to over 30 countries.

Wow, and then where have you been? What’s the most impressive thing that stuck with you?

There’s so much – I flew over the Great Wall of China, over the Champs-Élysées, which was terribly impressive because there were so many people at the event. There was once a Redbull event on a Formula 1 track in Austria, where you flew through a hoop of fire, and a salt mine in Romania. I have also been to the USA, Brussels, South Korea and many other places. Additionally, I gave drone racing lessons at a Chinese school as part of a project week.

But now your drone racing time is behind you? Do you miss it sometimes?

Because of Corona, there were no more events in the international scene from one day to the next. During this time I dedicated myself more to FreeStyle flying and currently I don’t fly competitively anymore.

Sure, I miss the time somehow. But everything has its place in life and I am happy that I could turn my passion into a profession. They were beautiful but also intense five years from 2016 to 2021.

What do you bring back from that time for your work here?

Understanding drones and how they work, which is just something completely different again than with model planes. Weight, for example, is much more important. Also, drones are much more active when flying. The experiences I gained in my racing days help me in my job in many places: be it tuning, aerodynamic effects, vibration, radio or battery issues.

What do you like about your job and the company?

I like that the team consists of so many different people: people from the automotive industry, aeronautics, physicists, robotics and many others. And the work is not monotonous. There are many facets, whether it’s in development, flying in systems, or on-site with customers. And the flexible working hours are great.

Is there anything particularly memorable about your time here so far and is there anything you would like to see in the future?

Flying our 25kg drone Auriol for the first time was impressive. I would love to fly it through a course with FPV headset. The sound would be amazing. 

And last but not least: What advice would you give to other people who want to be part of the team?

That you should dare: this field is not something you can have learned the classical way. If you have flown something actively as a hobby, and have developed a little yourself, you can definitely bring that to the table. So anyone who is interested in the subject should apply.

(Thanks to Heiko Schenk for the additional photos!)

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