NEW YORK – Rocket mavens, mark your calendars: The date of the first Rocket Racing League race has been set.
On Aug. 1-2, the league will stage a high-flying version of NASCAR with rockets at the EAA AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wis., in its first-ever exhibition race.
Two racers will fly planes powered by rocket engines on a 2-lap circuit around an airborne raceway.
Pilots in the races will view the sky racecourse on 3-D helmet displays, while the roughly 700,000 people expected to attend will watch the action on multiple 50-foot (15-meter) projection screens.
"We're using 21st century technology to create a 21st-century sport for 21st-century people," said Granger Whitelaw, Rocket Racing League CEO, during a press briefing here at the Yale Club. "We're very excited about announcing our first public exhibition race."
The Rocket Racing League was founded in 2005 by Ansari X Prize founder Peter Diamandis and Whitelaw, an Indianapolis 500 veteran. The competitors will be piloted Mark 1 X-Racer rockets based on the EZ-Rocket design developed by the firm XCOR Aerospace in Mojave, Calif.
"I'm very proud of the incredible progress that's been made by this team, " Diamandis said. "This is an incredibly important and exciting sport that will be as interesting to kids as it will be to adults."
The league currently has six teams that will compete in four series of races throughout the year. After the first EAA AirVenture exhibition, later races will be staged at the Reno National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nev., between Sept. 10-14; at Aviation Nation at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nev., on Nov. 8-9, and at the X Prize Cup in Las Cruces, N.M., in late October.
The initial racer design was powered by XCOR's liquid-oxygen and kerosene rocket engine, though Whitelaw announced Monday that a second engine type, fueled by liquid-oxygen and ethanol, will also be available.
Mesquite, Tex.-based Armadillo Aerospace, founded by computer game-developer John Carmack, will build the new engines, which can be stopped and restarted.
Since the engines burn liquid oxygen and ethanol, the company added a salt-water solution to the fuel to produce a bright yellow glow from the racers.
"We're building a robust set of technologies together that should be safe for the pilot, cost effective, and spectacular for the crowds," Carmack said via a video link.
Full Rocket Racing competitions will be point-based competitions that run four laps around an aerial racetrack, with racers switching their engines on and off to conserve their 10-minute or so supply of fuel, league officials have said.
During the exhibition races, two team-owned rocket planes are expected to fly, Whitelaw said.
The Bridestine Rocket Racing team, founded by former U.S. Navy pilot Jim Bridestine, and Santa Fe Racing team led by Albuquerque land developer Marc Cumbow will reserve the first two league racers, Whitelaw said.
"I've been seeing the tremendous amount of exposure NASCAR has gotten, and I think this is the next generation," Bridestine said. "I think it's going to be a lot more exciting [than NASCAR]."
The Rocket Racing Composites Corp. also announced the acquisition of the Velocity Aircraft company of Sebastian, Fla., which will construct airframes for the league's Rocket Racers.
The cockpit seats for all the Rocket Racers will be reinforced to withstand impacts of up to 20G forces, and the league plans to add safety measures to the racers similar to that of F-1 and Indy Cars.
The composites firm and racing league itself are part of the Rocket Racing, Inc., an umbrella firm that also includes a research and development branch based in Las Cruces, Whitelaw said.
"What's really important, and unusual in this type of business, is a focus on safety," said Scott Baker, president of Velocity, Inc. "Those advances are going to find themselves entering into the world of general aviation. We're looking forward to some exciting times ahead."
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