Rocket Racing League Set for First Flight Demonstration
A Rocket Racing League Rocket Racer featuring the DKNY logo.
Credit: RRL.

The Rocket Racing League, a group of high-flying rocketeers eager to race each other across the sky, will debut its new stock racer today during a demonstration flight at a Wisconsin air show.

The exhibition flight will mark the first public debut for the league?s Rocket Racer, a sleek rocket-powered aircraft designed for aerial track racing. More demonstrations are set for Friday and Saturday at the EAA AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wisc., where some 700,000 spectators are expected.

?It feels great,? Rocket Racing League CEO Granger Whitelaw told SPACE.com, adding that he?s both cautious and nervous. ?It?s just there?s a lot that is important about these flights, not only for Rocket Racing, but for aerospace and general aviation.?

Founded in 2005 by Whitelaw, an Indianapolis 500 veteran, and Ansari X Prize-founder Peter Diamandis, the Rocket Racing League is aimed at melding human spaceflight with NASCAR-like competitions in the sky. The racers are designed to belch 15-foot (4.5-meter) flames from their engines that can be easily seen by spectators, and carry limited amounts of rocket fuel to fly through a three-dimensional aerial race course.

?It?s the start of a new industry, and certainly a new sports and entertainment company,? Whitelaw said.

Six teams are now on the roster along with a title sponsor DKNY Men, a New York City-based men?s sportswear line that is also sponsoring the league?s Bridenstine Rocket Racing Team led by former U.S. Navy jet pilot Jim Bridenstine.

During today?s demonstration, the league?s go-to rocket pilot Rick Searfoss will fly the Bridenstine team?s racer. The exhibition comes fresh on the heels of the private spaceflight firm Virgin Galactic?s Monday debut of WhiteKnightTwo, an enormous carrier plane designed to launch the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft on passenger trips through suborbital space, in Mojave, Calif.

?He?s just going to fly a very simple flight pattern, the plane has still got some more testing to do,? Whitelaw said of today?s planned flight. ?We just want to show it basically and that?s it. And that?s a great step.?

Challenges still ahead

There have been some setbacks, Whitelaw added.

Originally, Searfoss was expected to fly his racer through a three-dimensional track in the sky that fans could follow along with using large television screens and helmet displays, but logistical challenges for the screens? placement made it untenable, Whitelaw said.

The league also hoped to hold its first exhibition race between two vehicles this weekend using the Bridenstine team?s race - powered by a liquid oxygen and kerosene engine developed by XCOR Aerospace - and the Santa Fe Racing team vehicle, which uses an alternate engine designed by Mesquite, Tex.-based Armadillo Aerospace that runs on liquid oxygen and ethanol. Those races were slated for Aug. 1 and Aug. 2, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had yet to clear the Santa Fe team?s racer for exhibition flight using the Armadillo-built engine.

?It?s been ready to fly for weeks,? Whitelaw said, adding that he did feel some disappointment since the Armadillo team did a great job getting the engine ready. ?It?s the engine and its integration within airframe that the FAA has to get its arms around.?

The Armadillo engine should be clear for flight demonstrations planned for later this year at the Reno National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nev., between Sept.10-14; X Prize Cup in Las Cruces, N.M., in late October; and at Aviation Nation at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nev., on Nov. 8-9.

Rocket Show and Tell

But while the public may only get to see one of the two racers fly at OshKosh this week, there will certainly be a lot of face time with both of the rocket planes, Whitelaw added.

The Bridenstine and Santa Fe racers, which are based on airframes built by Velocity Aircraft, will be on hand for photographs and up-close scrutiny. The league also plans to host a series of other events throughout the air show to discuss the history and future of its high-flying sport.

Last week?s announcement of the title sponsorship with DKNY Men also marked a major step forward for the league. Not only is the fashion firm sponsoring the league and Bridenstine?s team, but it also designed the flight suits to be worn by Rocket Racer pilots and pit crew, as well as executive league clothing.

"Rocket Racing is innovative, fast and fun - which also defines the kind of man who wears DKNY," said Patti Cohen, the firm?s executive vice president of global marketing and communications, in a statement. "This partnership is just the beginning for both the brand and the sport."

Whitelaw said that corporate sponsorship is vital to extend the league?s reach to the public and investors, and that the DKNY Men deal is just the beginning.

?We?re going to be announcing more sponsors, and I think that?s a good thing because then people can touch and feel a real rocket, and they can get more excited about it,? he said, adding that more exposure could also help other space-oriented firms like Virgin Galactic, XCOR and Armadillo Aerospace with their own private suborbital efforts. ?I think it?s a very important step in the underpinning of the industry. I don?t know if there can be a more important step quite frankly.?

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