Kaden Steckenrider is a master at the sticks.
Not drums. Drones.
Small. Medium. Large. If it flies, 13-year-old Kaden can be found at the controls, perfecting his angles and flight paths.
Kaden, a seventh grader at Massac County Junior High School, ranks 45th in the world as a drone racer. He began the hobby after seeing someone racing a 5-inch drone at the model airplane field in Paducah. The man handed him the controller, or sticks, and Kaden got hooked.
“At the start, I just found it cool to be able to do more than planes,” he said. “And then once I learned about all the competitions and racing, it helped me to keep pushing and pushing.”
Kaden currently competes in the pro class of the MultiGP, the largest drone racing community in the world. The organization has more than 30,000 registered pilots spread across 500 active chapters worldwide.
Kaden’s drone of choice is a 3-inch model, or about the size of a person’s hand. The drone looks more like a toy, but it’s a powerful racer. To race, Kaden dons goggles that allow him to visualize the drone’s view.
These little drones usually fly around at speeds up to 100 mph.
“And it blew my mind because I didn’t think that I was that fast until I proved myself wrong,” he said.
Kaden, who practices about two hours a day on drone simulators, minimizes his skill as a drone racer, but his father, Stephen, says drone racing requires a lot of skill. “I couldn’t do it,” Stephen Steckenrider said. “I’ve tried it. It’s a lot because you have to have very fast reflexes and be able to process everything so quickly. These quads (quadcopters) are moving close to 100 miles per hour. And then come upon gate after gate so fast. And if you’re not lined up, you’re going to crash.”
Kaden said drone racing has taught him how to control stress because the races induce stress with “four pilots either chasing you down or you have to chase them down.”
That high level of controlled stress has made him have to keep his eyes open and focused on the race. “And every time I do better, I keep seeing more opportunities,” he said.
Kaden races in about ten races a year. Like parents who take their children to travel baseball or soccer, the Steckenriders travel to see Kaden race. His upcoming races this season will find the family in Ohio, Indiana, and the Florida Gulf Coast.
Kaden now has sponsorship from GemFan, a drone frame company, as well as FlyFive33, Orqa, and Hobbywing. He also has signed a contract with the Unified Scholastic Drone Racing Association that takes drone-racing skills into schools to teach about science, technology, art, engineering, and math (STEAM).
Besides the racing skills, Stephen Steckenrider said Kaden has learned communication, computer and video skills. All of these skills could serve him well for his future, which Kaden hopes includes a spot in the Drone Racing League when he turns 18.
Kaden has already won $1,000 as a drone racer. “That’s not a bad weekend,” Stephen Steckenrider said. “Well, the goal is that by the time he’s 16 that he will be making enough money to buy his own car.”
For Kaden, that means a truck. But until then, he’s focused on soaring above the competition.
Kaden’s next race this month will be the Ice Storm held on the ice at Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.