By Flora Wong
With a competitive spirit and keen eye for detail, San Dimas resident Levi Johnson, 17, has taken flight to become an internationally recognized drone pilot and one of the youngest award-winning pilots in multiple drone racing competitions.
“Ever since I was 7 years old, I’ve had little toy drones to fly with. When I was 14, I started learning to build my own drones completely in order to compete,” Johnson said.
In recent years, drones have gone from a niche hobby to an international, multi-competition sporting event. One drone niche that’s making waves is the FPV (first-person view) drones in both creative filmmaking and sports.
Elite drone pilots across all age groups often gather together to race their custom-built FPV drones with speeds as fast as 100 mph. Specialized FPV goggles assist remote navigation of drone-eye views around obstacle-ridden courses.
Each course is an exciting challenge that tests pilots’ ability to navigate through obstacles of gates, ladders and hurdles at various elevations and difficulty levels.
Not only does drone racing bring together individuals from around the globe, but it can also promote a sense of camaraderie.
Johnson, operating under the pseudonym Leviathann, first realized that drone competitions could foster community during his first competition in Orange County.
“All of the other pilots were very supportive and happy to see someone new. They asked about my gear and gave me recommendations for improvement. It was a learning experience, and it gave me the hunger to do better,” Johnson said.
Johnson continued to enter competitions, both locally and internationally, eventually becoming an award-winning drone pilot.
In fact, having a supportive community proved critical for Johnson’s first win.
In that competition, Johnson’s father Aaron Johnson recalls how another competitor supplied his son with a backup camera after a drone crash.
“Joshua Locsin, a.k.a. Wildtype, who was wearing a big onesie pajama, comes by and offers to help,” Aaron Johnson said.
With Locsin’s backup camera, Levi Johnson was able to rejoin the race and ultimately win the competition.
Levi Johnson’s has since racked up accolades. His achievements include 2021 Collegiate Drone Champion in Drone Champions League, 2021 First Place Global Qualifier, 2021 Mayhem Individual Race, Second Place at the International Open World Cup in MultiGP, First Place at AZ Night Tracks and First Place at Drone Zone New Jersey.
He placed sixth at a recent competition in Costa Rica, where he raced against pilots from Korea, Latin America, Europe and more. His dad accompanied him on the trip.
“It’s wonderful for any parent to see their child work so hard and diligently on something. It’s a privilege to be able to see Levi pursue this,” Aaron Johnson said.
Levi Johnson’s mom Kim Johnson agrees.
“Early on, when Levi started learning how to program and build his drones, it was really interesting to see him have such a passion for it,” Kim Johnson said. “He is in a world where he can grow and flourish.”
For the Johnsons, drone flying has become a family affair, with Levi teaching his two sisters Sabrina, 22, and Camille, 12, about the sport too.
As for his future goals, Levi Johnson hopes to be on the next season of NBC Sports Drone Racing League. He plans to enter the Multi GP World Championship in 2022 with plans of starting his own Multi GP Drone Racing chapter locally, entitled CAZ FPV, to establish a community of drone pilots close to home — offering mentorship to members and hosting local races, Levi Johnson says.
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