MOORHEAD - The racers line up near a series of white nylon flags, gates and cones - their eyes covered with strange goggles and their hands feverishly working a set of controls.

They don't even have to look in the direction of the course, as their drones, or "quads," dip and zip through.

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With the help of their electronic goggles, the pilots are operating the little flying machines in "first-person view."

"You're in the aircraft itself. It's like being a bird," said Gary Ferguson, a member of Quad Squad Fargo-Moorhead.

Every Thursday night at M.B. Johnson Park here, group members gather to see who can best maneuver the course in two-minute intervals.

On the race night of June 21, they ran six rounds, with two heats per round. A computer system keeps track of scoring.

Group founder Tony Bjerke has played with radio-controlled cars, planes and helicopters all of his life, but the quads feed a need like no other.

"The racing gives you that adrenaline rush," Bjerke said.

The group is affiliated with MultiGP, a professional drone racing league with chapters worldwide.

In addition to weekly races, Quad Squad hosts a few larger events, such as the MultiGP Regional Qualifier it held Saturday, June 23.

People all over the U.S. have caught the drone racing bug. Ferguson puts the number at about 52,000 pilots nationwide.

He, too, flies other radio controlled machines, but there's nothing like racing quads.

"You're up above the trees, and you're looking down at the Earth. It's just a whole new view up there," Ferguson said.

From zero to 80 mph

Getting started in quad racing won't set you back as far financially as other types of radio- controlled flying.

The quads these pilots fly are smaller, lighter and quicker than other off-the-shelf drones.

Pilots will swap out motors and other parts and solder the electronics themselves, making the quads custom-built, in a sense.

"There's all kinds of tinkering going on," Bjerke said.

Ferguson says you can buy a quad that flies as fast or far as anybody else for $200 to $300. Add in the special goggles, radios and batteries, and the costs start to mount.

Repairs, however, are pretty cheap.

They usually involve bending a plastic propeller back into place, or popping on a new one. Props are 50 cents a piece, and Ferguson buys them in bulk.

Accidents are common due to the high speeds - from zero to 80 mph in a span of one to two seconds.

"If anybody tells you they don't crash when they're out flying in a session, they're lying," Ferguson said, with a laugh.

Wide appeal

It doesn't have to be race night for the group to fly drones. Some of them fly nightly, if possible.

When not racing, they go "freestyle," coming up with interesting objects to fly around in parks.

"There's pathways through the trees that the birds fly, and you can fly them, too. It's kind of euphoric, or entertaining," Bjerke said.

Mandi Markwardt likes the freestyle mode, as she isn't as competitive as some of the members.

She joined the group with encouragement from her husband and race director, Brandon Markwardt.

"This was all completely foreign to me, so it's been fun learning and being hands on, learning some of the skills involved," she said.

The group has a Facebook page where people can learn more about their chapter, and they welcome anyone.

"You know, it appeals to anybody, really," Ferguson said.