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Canada’s drone racing king doubles as McGill PhD candidate

Gabriel Kocher is the two-time Canadian Drone national champion, leading the pack in the ever-growing Drone Racing world.

In the skies, this maverick is better known by his call sign, Gab707.

READ MORE: Canada’s biggest drone race lands in Montreal

“Drone Racing is very much a rush. It’s as intense as car racing,” Kocher told Global News.

The drones he files aren’t typical store-bought ones.

“The drones are very different. The drones are fast and they’re not really toys,” Kocher said.

“They’re grown up toys. It’s like comparing a van from a retailer and a race car.”

The drones he buys go for about $400 to $500 each and can zip by at speeds of up to 130 km/h.

READ MORE: Rogue drone trips up cyclist during California race

“They are meant to go fast and they are meant to be aggressive and you end up [crashing] in a pole at some point,” Kocher said.

While sitting in the virtual driver’s seat, you don’t feel the speed, but Kocher says the experience is just as thrilling.

“You have goggles on and you can feel the movements that are going on inside the drone. You’re going through loops, you’re going upside down with twists and turns,” Kocher said.

“It’s all three-dimensional racing and it’s really, really intense. ”

READ MORE: Drone collides with the Space Needle in Seattle

The “top gun” drone pilot started flying to take photos from above and soon realized he was a natural.

“I started watching people racing online and I said, ‘I can do better than that.’ So I just took to the local races and it’s been moving on from there,” he said.

Drone racing is only two years old, but it has become increasingly popular with shows and organizations like the Drone Racing League.

Kocher was a contender in the 2017 national series, which showcases a Grand Prix-like drone racing circuit.

He was top of the leader board until the final, when he came in second in the one-minute race.

READ MORE: Ski federation bans drones after camera nearly hits racer

Being a racer has brought Kocher some recognition.

“No one knows who I am, but occasionally, I run into people and they say, ‘Hey, I’ve seen you on TV,’” he said.

Drone racing isn’t the only thing the Swiss-born ace spends his time on.

READ MORE: Drone pilots beware the drone-capturing drone

He said his true passion is devoted to his PhD candidacy at McGill University in material science and theoretical physics.

“Drone racing has really exploded, but it’s always been a side project for me,” he said.

“I’ve come here to do a PhD in physics and I’ve spent over 10 years of my life [doing it]. My main priority is to finish my PhD.”

Kocher will be flying high in the 2018 season of the Drone Racing League, while working to complete the last year of his studies.

READ MORE: U.S. report cites 241 close encounters between pilots, drones

“If all things go well, I should be done my PhD next year and then I’m planning on giving a shot with drone racing for a year or two,” he said.

“We will see how it goes. Maybe I’ll come back to physics, maybe not.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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