FAA Approves Rocket Races
An early test of a rocket-powered racer for the Rocket Racing League.
Credit: Rocket Racing League

Rocket-powered racers received the go-ahead this week from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to soar at over 20 venues across the United States.

This certification marks the first time ever that the FAA has approved a production-scale rocket-powered aircraft for exhibition flights, the Rocket Racing League announced on Tuesday.

The league formed in 2005 to promote aerial NASCAR-style racing, and currently has a roster of six teams under title sponsor DKNY, a New York City-based men's sportswear line that is also backing the Bridenstine Rocket Racing Team headed by former U.S. Navy jet pilot Jim Bridenstine.

An earlier debut of the rocket-powered racers used a liquid oxygen and kerosene engine designed by XCOR Aerospace. However, the DKNY Bridenstine Rocket Racer that received recent FAA approval for public demonstrations is equipped with liquid oxygen and alcohol engines produced by Armadillo Aerospace.

"I would like to personally thank the FAA for their assistance through this process," said Granger Whitelaw, Rocket Racing League co-founder and CEO. "This historic moment was built upon the unprecedented cooperation between our company, Armadillo Aerospace, and the FAA."

He added that the League plans to confirm its venues for the 2009 exhibition season, before kicking off an official race season with 10 rocket racers in 2010.

League officials had once talked of pitting an XCOR-powered racer against an Armadillo-powered racer, but had to wait on the FAA approval for the Armadillo engine. However, the league announced in September that its current fleet of rocket racers would only fly with Armadillo engines.

Whitelaw told SPACE.com then that XCOR engines had not met league standards of "safety, reliability, reusability and performance," although XCOR disputes that its engines have any problems.

Of the 10 rocket racers scheduled to fly in 2010, six are slated to use the Armadillo engine. The other four racer engines remain "up for grabs," according to Whitelaw.

The league is currently working on selecting eight venues from the more than 20 approved by the FAA, including the Reno National Championship Air Races and Air Show in Reno, Nev., where a public demonstration flight took place in September.