January 30, 2006 4:56 PM PST

Rocket racing closer to reality

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A group devoted to racing high-speed rockets at 5,000 feet is gaining velocity, having announced its first independent team on Monday.

The Rocket Racing League, a New York-based venture designed to turn rocket racing into a commercial sport, chose two F-16 pilots, Robert "Bobaloo" Rickard and Don "Dagger" Grantham, as its first third-party competitors. Their team, called Leading Edge Rocket Racing, will take possession of a Mark-1 rocket supplied by RRL this year.

Fees for the rocket start with $1.2 million up front, and may include as much as $1 million annually in operating costs.

The rocket prototype will be unveiled publicly at the X Prize Cup in October in Las Cruces, N.M. That's because the aerospace junkies behind the X Prize, a $10 million personalized flight contest, are also behind the RRL.

The concept for the rocket-racing events, which are slated for 2007 and 2008, take a page from Nascar's playbook.

Rocket planes called X-Racers will compete on a sky "track" in the design of a Grand Prix race, with long straightaways and the added dimension of vertical ascents and deep banks. The race will run perpendicular to spectators and be about two miles long, one mile wide and 5,000 feet in the air. The X-Racers will be staggered upon takeoff and fly their own "tunnel" of space, each separated by a few hundred feet.

Pilots will be guided by differential GPS (Global Positioning System) technology to help them avoid collisions.

Rickard, a former Air Force pilot and CEO of Leading Edge, called the opportunity to compete thrilling. "The roar of rocket power and a 20-foot trailing flame will redefine the concept of air racing," he said.

Bowing to excited fans online, the league also unveiled a Web contest to allow anyone to submit a name for its own rocket plane, via open submission. Ten semifinalists chosen by the RRL committee will be posted online, and fans will vote on the best of 10. The winner, who will receive annual VIP access to the race events, will be named at the X Prize Cup.

On Monday, the league also called for proposals, or competitive bids, for four race venues in 2007. (The league plans to hold six races that year.) It is also soliciting proposals for additional teams--the league expects 10 or more teams to compete in the 2007-2008 events.

The prototype of the X-Racer is being built in partnership with XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, Calif. It's modeled after XCOR's EZ-Rocket, but the next version will draw from the airframe of Velocity, based in Sebastian, Fla. Retired Air Force Col. Rick Searfoss, a former commander of the space shuttle Columbia, will fly the RRL's rocket.

In addition, the RRL made some executive housekeeping announcements on Monday. The league's president, Granger Whitelaw, will also become CEO. The organization also named two board members. TV executive and "The Blues Brothers" producer Robert Weiss, along with longtime media executive Ramy Weitz, will become board members of the RRL.

"Efforts to assemble the teams, build and test rocket planes, and secure sponsorships and locations are steadily under way," Whitelaw said.

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Air racing once much bigger than Nascar
I wonder why airplanes and space flight seems so old hat. Flying
became cheap mass transit. The skies were conquered. Men
walked on the moon. Rockets are too primitive to take our race
deep into space but we haven't invented the dark energy drive quite
yet. What we need is some more efficient thing than the thousand
year old Chinese invention we now use. We know more about our
universe now than we did when rockets were invented. Perhaps
some of you bright readers are thinking what the next step beyond
rockets might be.
Posted by JackfromBerkeley (136 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Air racing once much bigger than Nascar
I wonder why airplanes and space flight seems so old hat. Flying
became cheap mass transit. The skies were conquered. Men
walked on the moon. Rockets are too primitive to take our race
deep into space but we haven't invented the dark energy drive quite
yet. What we need is some more efficient thing than the thousand
year old Chinese invention we now use. We know more about our
universe now than we did when rockets were invented. Perhaps
some of you bright readers are thinking what the next step beyond
rockets might be.
Posted by JackfromBerkeley (136 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Spectator safety
How do they expect to keep the spectators safe? The size of the box is hardly big enough to guarantee safety for such high speed flight.
Posted by jsargent (98 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Spectator safety
How do they expect to keep the spectators safe? The size of the box is hardly big enough to guarantee safety for such high speed flight.
Posted by jsargent (98 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Obviously, You've Never Flown a Plane ...
much less a race plane (and God knows what flying a racing rocket will be like). Remember, this is much more for TV than it is for the spectators, who will be dyed-in-the-wool aviation fans, no doubt. If you think about what they've done to enhance NASCAR and other automotive racing events, you can be sure that there will be in-cockpit video streams coming off these birds, along with the tagging that is done to identify racers that will likely also include pertinent performance and position data (speed, altitude, G-forces, distance between rockets, etc.). The uses of computer-generated replays using the differential GPS data (which gets you down to within a gnat's rear-end in accuracy) will be legion, and you could win money in a bet that there will be all sorts of the usual licensing spin-offs, from logo clothing and tchotchkes, to video games, etc.

As for the spectator safety issue, there are a lot more opportunities to die or be injured while driving in your hometown, or to or from the races (especially if anyone's been drinking). What about the 30,000+ people killed every year on the roads, virtually all of which are due to the "loose nut behind the steering wheel"? Where's your high-and-mighty indignity about that? Oh, that's just a cost of living, right? As Clint Eastwood's character said to the bounty hunter gunning for him in (IIRC) "The Outlaw Josey Wales", "Dyin' ain't much of a livin', son."

The FAA, Experimental Aircraft Association, and aircraft manufacturers have come together to encourage a new generation to get excited about flying for fun, embodied in the Sport Pilot and Light Sport Aircraft programs established in 2004, after over a decade of endless studies, proposals, counter-proposals, and drafts of regulations. The end result is that you can now qualify to fly in half the time it takes to get a private pilot's certificate (extra instruction is needed for night flying and entering controlled airspace - most general aviation airports don't have towers nowadays), you can buy a brand-new, ready-to-fly airplane capable of up to 135 mph that seats two, and with a range of 350 ~ 500 miles, for less than what most people spend on cars or SUVs (~$25,000 and up), and the overall gas mileage is actually better than most SUVs and many cars (upwards of 25 mpg - not bad, when you're doing over 100 mph, and going essentially straight from Point A to Point B - that's usually a 20% savings in time/distance/fuel alone).

As the Baby Boomers start slowing down and trying to figure out what to do with all that moolah they inherited from The Greatest Generation, they're going to be looking for fun and exciting things to do, and being the pilot-in-command of your own airplane, free to fly the friendly skies pretty much wherever you want - although I would avoid downtown Washington DC and other large cities, nowadays (the overall accident and death rates in general aviation aircraft are virtually identical to those for driving, but can approach those for commercial aircraft, depending on pilot experience, aircraft type/model, etc.).

So, there may be a resurgence in interest in many forms of recreational aviation, and if the phenomenal response to Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites Spaceship One team winning the X Prize in 2004 is any indication, the Rocket Racing League is set to blast off (OK, sorry, I just could not resist that one! :)).

All the Best,
Joe Blow
Posted by Joe Blow (175 comments )
Reply Link Flag
a tiny caveat or two
Ah, Mr. Blow, I LOVE your sentiments. Especially about the new Light Sport Aircraft ticket. However, in the interest of elaboration, it's worth noting that one big benefit is the medical requirement is now, basically, a vaild driver's license. Which opens the door to some aging folks who may not be able to cut the more rigid Class 3 FAA Medical test--a good thing, since studies have shown an almost minicule percentage of aviation accidents are caused by medical issues.
Now, I claim no particular expertise, above what I've gleaned in a paltry 400 hours of flying, mostly Cessnas and vintage Cessnas, at that. Though now I'm the proud and newly poor co-owner of a Mooney 201 hotrod and an instrument rating.
That said, however, I have to take exception to your General Aviation/Automotive accident compairson. Unless I've read the stats all wrong (which is not impossible, but I think this is about right) the fatal accident rate per mile for GA overall is as much as seven times as much for passenger cars. Yes, the higher rated, more experienced, competent pilots do much better, which is one reason I got that IFR ticket (the others are utility, bragging rights, and insurance benefits). But unlike scheduled carriers flown by type rated ATPs, we GA folks do prang the things rather more often that is strictly necessary. Like seven times too much.

However, nothing in the previous bears on the safety of rocket plane racing. MY guess, the worst danger the spectators would be in is hearing loss! And I, for one, will wear my David Clarks and take my chances.

Keep up the advocacy,

PS. I think maybe 75K is a more realistic cost for a new, non-ultralight LSA. For 25 you're more likely to get a kite, or a kit!
Posted by The Radical Centrist (2 comments )
Link Flag
Obviously, You've Never Flown a Plane ...
much less a race plane (and God knows what flying a racing rocket will be like). Remember, this is much more for TV than it is for the spectators, who will be dyed-in-the-wool aviation fans, no doubt. If you think about what they've done to enhance NASCAR and other automotive racing events, you can be sure that there will be in-cockpit video streams coming off these birds, along with the tagging that is done to identify racers that will likely also include pertinent performance and position data (speed, altitude, G-forces, distance between rockets, etc.). The uses of computer-generated replays using the differential GPS data (which gets you down to within a gnat's rear-end in accuracy) will be legion, and you could win money in a bet that there will be all sorts of the usual licensing spin-offs, from logo clothing and tchotchkes, to video games, etc.

As for the spectator safety issue, there are a lot more opportunities to die or be injured while driving in your hometown, or to or from the races (especially if anyone's been drinking). What about the 30,000+ people killed every year on the roads, virtually all of which are due to the "loose nut behind the steering wheel"? Where's your high-and-mighty indignity about that? Oh, that's just a cost of living, right? As Clint Eastwood's character said to the bounty hunter gunning for him in (IIRC) "The Outlaw Josey Wales", "Dyin' ain't much of a livin', son."

The FAA, Experimental Aircraft Association, and aircraft manufacturers have come together to encourage a new generation to get excited about flying for fun, embodied in the Sport Pilot and Light Sport Aircraft programs established in 2004, after over a decade of endless studies, proposals, counter-proposals, and drafts of regulations. The end result is that you can now qualify to fly in half the time it takes to get a private pilot's certificate (extra instruction is needed for night flying and entering controlled airspace - most general aviation airports don't have towers nowadays), you can buy a brand-new, ready-to-fly airplane capable of up to 135 mph that seats two, and with a range of 350 ~ 500 miles, for less than what most people spend on cars or SUVs (~$25,000 and up), and the overall gas mileage is actually better than most SUVs and many cars (upwards of 25 mpg - not bad, when you're doing over 100 mph, and going essentially straight from Point A to Point B - that's usually a 20% savings in time/distance/fuel alone).

As the Baby Boomers start slowing down and trying to figure out what to do with all that moolah they inherited from The Greatest Generation, they're going to be looking for fun and exciting things to do, and being the pilot-in-command of your own airplane, free to fly the friendly skies pretty much wherever you want - although I would avoid downtown Washington DC and other large cities, nowadays (the overall accident and death rates in general aviation aircraft are virtually identical to those for driving, but can approach those for commercial aircraft, depending on pilot experience, aircraft type/model, etc.).

So, there may be a resurgence in interest in many forms of recreational aviation, and if the phenomenal response to Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites Spaceship One team winning the X Prize in 2004 is any indication, the Rocket Racing League is set to blast off (OK, sorry, I just could not resist that one! :)).

All the Best,
Joe Blow
Posted by Joe Blow (175 comments )
Reply Link Flag
a tiny caveat or two
Ah, Mr. Blow, I LOVE your sentiments. Especially about the new Light Sport Aircraft ticket. However, in the interest of elaboration, it's worth noting that one big benefit is the medical requirement is now, basically, a vaild driver's license. Which opens the door to some aging folks who may not be able to cut the more rigid Class 3 FAA Medical test--a good thing, since studies have shown an almost minicule percentage of aviation accidents are caused by medical issues.
Now, I claim no particular expertise, above what I've gleaned in a paltry 400 hours of flying, mostly Cessnas and vintage Cessnas, at that. Though now I'm the proud and newly poor co-owner of a Mooney 201 hotrod and an instrument rating.
That said, however, I have to take exception to your General Aviation/Automotive accident compairson. Unless I've read the stats all wrong (which is not impossible, but I think this is about right) the fatal accident rate per mile for GA overall is as much as seven times as much for passenger cars. Yes, the higher rated, more experienced, competent pilots do much better, which is one reason I got that IFR ticket (the others are utility, bragging rights, and insurance benefits). But unlike scheduled carriers flown by type rated ATPs, we GA folks do prang the things rather more often that is strictly necessary. Like seven times too much.

However, nothing in the previous bears on the safety of rocket plane racing. MY guess, the worst danger the spectators would be in is hearing loss! And I, for one, will wear my David Clarks and take my chances.

Keep up the advocacy,

PS. I think maybe 75K is a more realistic cost for a new, non-ultralight LSA. For 25 you're more likely to get a kite, or a kit!
Posted by The Radical Centrist (2 comments )
Link Flag
One sure thing is these races will be short
They can run the rocket for longer if they throttle back, but then
they won't go as fast. 5 minutes max.

I love to fly. I used to teach flying and flew fire bombers. I fly an
RV-6 now which is wildly fun. The best deal in aviating is the
experimental category. These guys will be flying experimental
exhibition category. The regulations which cover rocket flighgt
are not clear. To fly a turbojet, you need the highest pilot
certificate, the Airline Transport Pilot rating. My guess is you
can get away with a private airplane single engine land ticket,
because there are no regulations about rockets just yet. If this
thing gets going, there will be a rocket endorsement required on
your pilot certificate in order to fly one. FAA is not about to
leave that big a loophole.

I'd fly one of these things. I'd love to build a replica ME-163, the
German rocket fighter plane from WW2 and fly it at airshows.
That'd be a kick. Anybody with money reading this, like you, Mr.
Gates, just submit your reply here and we can get underway.
Posted by JackfromBerkeley (136 comments )
Reply Link Flag
sorry, wrong again. 90 minute races...
...will require long glides and also multiple refuelings with the
liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. Thrilling pit stops are to
be a big part of this, as will be multiple rocket take-offs from the
pit area, presumably visible from the big dollar seats. This is a
better idea than it looked at first. I wish them luck. If any team
wants a well qualified pilot, I'm available.
Posted by JackfromBerkeley (136 comments )
Link Flag
One sure thing is these races will be short
They can run the rocket for longer if they throttle back, but then
they won't go as fast. 5 minutes max.

I love to fly. I used to teach flying and flew fire bombers. I fly an
RV-6 now which is wildly fun. The best deal in aviating is the
experimental category. These guys will be flying experimental
exhibition category. The regulations which cover rocket flighgt
are not clear. To fly a turbojet, you need the highest pilot
certificate, the Airline Transport Pilot rating. My guess is you
can get away with a private airplane single engine land ticket,
because there are no regulations about rockets just yet. If this
thing gets going, there will be a rocket endorsement required on
your pilot certificate in order to fly one. FAA is not about to
leave that big a loophole.

I'd fly one of these things. I'd love to build a replica ME-163, the
German rocket fighter plane from WW2 and fly it at airshows.
That'd be a kick. Anybody with money reading this, like you, Mr.
Gates, just submit your reply here and we can get underway.
Posted by JackfromBerkeley (136 comments )
Reply Link Flag
sorry, wrong again. 90 minute races...
...will require long glides and also multiple refuelings with the
liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. Thrilling pit stops are to
be a big part of this, as will be multiple rocket take-offs from the
pit area, presumably visible from the big dollar seats. This is a
better idea than it looked at first. I wish them luck. If any team
wants a well qualified pilot, I'm available.
Posted by JackfromBerkeley (136 comments )
Link Flag
 

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