Rocket Racing Could be Futuristic NASCAR Sport

July 31, 2008 by Lisa Zyga, Phys.org weblog
Rocket Racing
Courtesy of Rocket Racing League®

With its first demonstration of a rocket-powered plane, the Rocket Racing League is hoping to have invented a new sport. Thousands of spectators witnessed the league´s first flight, held at the Experimental Aircraft Association´s AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wisc., on Tuesday.

"We´re using 21st century technology to create a 21st century sport for 21st century people," said Rocket Racing League CEO Granger Whitelaw. "It´s the start of a new industry, and certainly a new sports and entertainment company."

Whitelaw, an Indianapolis 500 veteran, co-founded the Rocket Racing League along with Ansari X Prize-founder Peter Diamandis. Their vision is to race planes powered by bursts of rocket fuel around a virtual 3D race course in the sky that spectators will be able to watch on projection screens.

The rocket engines, which burn liquid fuel and so can be turned on and off, will allow pilots to alternate between bursts of acceleration and gliding, with top speeds of 340 mph. Pilots will strategize on the best times to release bursts of limited fuel to achieve the fastest flights, with three or four minutes of burn time allowing about 10 minutes of racing. As the planes release their fuel, they produce 15-foot (4.5-meter) orange flames from the engines, creating a dramatic visible effect. Whitelaw and Diamandis hope that the races will one day become a kind of "NASCAR of the skies."

At Tuesday´s demonstration, Rocket Racing League officials had originally planned to stage two planes with different engines in a friendly race on an aerial 3D track. Spectators would follow along with the pilots using large television screens and helmet displays. But one of the planes, used by the league´s Santa Fe Racing Team and designed by Armadillo Aerospace of Mesquite, Texas, is still awaiting approval by the FAA. That plane is powered by liquid oxygen and ethanol.

Still, the audience still got to witness a solo flight piloted by former space shuttle commander Richard Searfoss, who flew a plane with a liquid oxygen- and kerosene-powered engine, developed by Xcor Aerospace of Mojave, California. Searfoss represented the league´s Bridenstine Rocket Racing Team, which is led by former U.S. Navy jet pilot Jim Bridenstine.

As Searfoss fired the engine for takeoff, a bright flame emerged from the back of the plane. With 1,500 pounds of thrust, the plane quickly rose to a height of several hundred feet, when the pilot turned off the engine and glided. He "popped" the engine a few more times, releasing brilliant flames in between periods of gliding.

Spectators could also view the Santa Fe Team´s plane as a display, with its engine exposed. Rocket Racing League officials hope to get FAA approval for the plane by September, when they have plans for a two-plane race at Reno Air Races. Other planned exhibitions include races at the X Prize Cup in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in October, and at Aviation Nation in Las Vegas in November.

If everything goes according to plan, the league will begin hosting competitions next year. Six teams have already signed up to participate in races, sponsored by DKNY Men, a New York City-based men´s sportswear line. At the races, fans will follow the planes´ progress by watching videos from cockpit cameras, and the league also hopes to design a computer game in which players could race against real pilots.

More information: http://www.rocketracingleague.com

via: Space.com and The New York Times

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6 comments

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agg
2 / 5 (1) Jul 31, 2008
I just watch RRL for the crashes.
drel
4.3 / 5 (3) Jul 31, 2008
"We´re using 21st century technology to create..."

Lame, liquid fueled rocket planes are so "last century"! (Messerschmitt's Me 163 Komet)lol
Mayday
4.5 / 5 (2) Jul 31, 2008
agg: Unfortunately, I suspect that you will not be disappointed.

It does look like it would be fun to fly though. And the computer game version should be fun, if paired with a great flight simulator program.

Interesting in the video, where the announcer talks up the "fuel management strategies" that will make the racing interesting, just like in NASCAR. However, he leaves out the fact that there will be NO MARGIN FOR ERROR.

I can't imagine that they would let the crowds sit close enough to make it much worth attending though. But, heck, I don't want to spectate, I want to participate!
tpb
4.7 / 5 (3) Jul 31, 2008
OOPS! my 15ft. hydrogen torch just vaporized the plane I didn't see behind me.
vlam67
5 / 5 (2) Aug 01, 2008
it's gonna be fun! but i wonder what regulations about engines types, makes and power restrictions, does anybody know? Otherwise it will be like the turbo wars of the 1980s in F1 in the sky.
...And, as spectacular engine blows in F1, i am afraid to say that a rocket engine blowing up in flight is even more spectacular...and maybe fatal.
Egnite
3 / 5 (1) Aug 01, 2008
Lol, yeah this should be fun to watch in the initial couple years as they iron out the creases. How do they propose making a racing circuit in the sky though? Do they have pilot-wings technology where floating rings in the sky mark out the track? Or will it be more like sailing with balloons anchored down as waypoints?

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