Not Your Father's Air Race
by ANN Correspondent Annette Kurman
It's a 21st century
sport for 21st century fans using 21st century technology. And it
portends to whoop the pants off of such old (as in 20th century)
entertainment sports like NASCAR, Formula One, and Indy Car, with
what will be a visually awesome fan experience.
Yup, it's the new Rocket Racing League (RRL), which presented
members of its first team, Leading Edge Racing, to the EAA
AirVenture public on Friday. Fans met RRL founders: X-Prize founder
and Chairman/CEO of Zero-Gravity Corporation, Peter Diamandis and
two-time Indianapolis 500 champion team partner Granger Whitelaw,
as well as team members: U.S. National Advanced Aerobatic Champion
(just one of his multitude of awards) Sean D. Tucker; commercial
pilot, grandson of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Lindbergh
Foundation director, Erik Lindbergh; Aero-News Network's
editor-in-chief, and aviation safety advocate, James Campbell;
and F-16 Air Force pilot, Korey Axe.
For all of those involved in the RRL, it's not just about the
money (although start-up money from individuals attracted to the
project and a multitude of revenue streams won't make the league
eligible for nonprofit status); it's about a sport that will move
technology forward, and not at the expense of our individual
pockets (did I hear the world "NASA?").
Said Whitelaw, ""The highest honor I've ever received is the
opportunity to do this." He called the RRL the next franchise to be
included in the same breath as the Blue Angels and the
Thunderbirds. "This is the future... and the next paradigm
The technology created and developed for these rocket racers,
said Whitelaw, will ultimately become available to the general and
commercial aviation industries seven years later (remember Tang?).
"It's a test bed for R&D (research and development)."
Added Lindbergh, the RRL and all that it entails, will give many
young people the "juice" or motivation they need to learn because
they want to learn. "This (RRL) will light a fire under many people
… and expand on the future to the stars, making it safer,
faster, and easier."
Said Test Pilot/Instructor Jim Campbell, now editor-in-chief for
Aero-News Network, "We all dream about it (rocket racing), and then
we all get bogged down in the realities of life. This is watching
history unfold; the RRL changes everything."
Chimed in Sean D. Tucker, "Passion overcomes everything."
The league is located on a 12-acre parcel at Las Cruces
International Airport in New Mexico, with almost unlimited
expansion capabilities. The league will travel to other cities for
the semi-finals, with the finals X-Prize Cup being held in La
Cruces. It plans six races next year, with 10 the year after.
Additionally, there is a real potential for international
The RRL is working very closely with the FAA, Whitelaw noted, as
well as the University of New Mexico. In addition to the Las Cruces
headquarters, semi-final competitions will be held in locations
around the country.
As an entrepreneurial enterprise based on the successful
business models of racing, the RRL plans revenue streams that
include event and admission revenue, TV, gaming, sponsorships, new
media, gaming, venue-based sales, licensing and merchandise,
attractions, and, uh, did I remember to mention gaming?
But what about the racing?!
The racing, itself, is perhaps top of mind for the fans. Here're
the facts, Max:
- Closed course with single pilot vehicles that "rocket" laps and
make four to six eight-minute pit stops.
- Ten rocket racers, all built the same, levels the playing
- The "track" is one mile high, two miles long, and a half mile
- Virtual GPS tunnels will shape the closed circuit track.
- Fans will have access from the ground, from television and from
the web to the exiting and rocket-fast action taking place.
- The races will be 60-90 minutes in length.
- The Mark-1 X-Racer will be a two passenger rocket; will carry
only a single seat during RRL racing.
- Look for a 15-foot bright yellow plume as the rockets roar
through the course, which features four minutes of intermittent
engine boost and 10 minutes of unpowered (glide) flight, allowing
strategy to play a key role in each team's plan.
- Each of the ten identical rocket-powered X-Racers will be built
using proven airframe technology, with a fully-integrated 1,500
pound thrust rocket engine burning liquid oxygen and kerosene.
- Cameras will not only follow the race from balloons and chase
planes, but five of them will be mounted within each vehicle,
providing unparalleled coverage of the race.
What's this "virtual track in the sky" stuff?
- X-Racers will navigate a three-dimensional track
featuring real and virtual obstacles using virtual gates
created through GPS technology.
- Pilots will navigate the course using a heads-up display
mounted in their helmets.
- The courses will vary in shape and complexity, covering an
airspace box approximately 10,000-feet long, 3,000-feet wide, and
5,000 feet high.
- The electronic course will be visible to race fans via large
video screens and hand-held monitoring devices, and at home on
television or on the computer.