Rocket Racing League to Unveil New Air Hot Rod
One of the rocket-engine-powered planes' pilots will fly in the Rocket Racing League's sky drag races.
Credit: Rocket Racing League

The Rocket Racing League, a competitive venture billed as NASCAR with rockets, is set to launch its 2010 World Exhibition Tour and debut a new X-racer rocket plane in a high-flying event.

The demonstration, set for April 24, is part of the planned QuickTrip Air & Rocket Racing Show in Tulsa, Okla.

"For this to be successful, it really has to be enthralling for the crowd," said Peter Diamandis, co-founder of the Rocket Racing League and founder of the X Prize Foundation, which offers cash prizes for technological feats. "Over the course of the next year, because we have the vehicles and the pilots, we're going to be trying different types of competitions."

Beginning this year, the Rocket Racing League will conduct a series of demonstrations at air shows across the country that will stretch into 2011. The demonstrations are expected to highlight a mixture of staged trials, single vehicles navigating the racecourse in the sky, as well as multiple aircraft competing head to head.

Air races, with rockets

These exhibitions aim to build up the league's fanbase, in addition to perfecting operations and technologies in preparation for the launch of the league in late 2011, Diamandis said.

The Rocket Racing League was founded in 2005 by X PRIZE founder Peter Diamandis, and Granger Whitelaw, a two-time Indianapolis 500 champion.

The league features rocket-powered aircraft, called X-racers, flown by Top Gun and other acrobatic and military pilots in closed-circuit and drag-style races that pit two to 10 racers against each other on a 3-D raceway in the sky.

The league's X-racers are currently using a Velocity airframe and a single-thrust liquid oxygen and ethanol rocket engine developed by the Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace.

Unlike a regular jet engine that burns oxygen from the atmosphere as its oxidizer, X-racers carry their own oxidizer in the form of liquid oxygen. The current Mark II and Mark III X-racer designs fly at speeds of up to 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour).

Have rocket, will race

The Tulsa air show will be the first public show that demonstrates the capabilities of the improved Mark III X-racer.

"One of the most significant things that we've been able to do here is really bring down the cost of rocket operations," Diamandis said. "The ability to operate a rocket-powered vehicle with a minimal crew is incredible, and the ability to do multiple operations per day with the same rocket is really setting new records."

The Rocket Racing League's closed circuit races will involve X-racer pilots racing their vehicles through a custom 3-D virtual course, which is planned to be a 4-lap, multiple elimination heat on a 5-mile Formula One-style racecourse.

A cockpit-based Augmented Reality System will project the racecourse onto 3-D helmet displays. The new, custom-made helmet, called the Targo Racer, will be debuted in an exhibition flight on April 24.

"We've migrated our raceway avionics from the instrument panel directly to the pilot's line of sight," said Michael D'Angelo, Rocket Racing League's Chief Operation Officer. "Race-critical information will be directly in the pilot's line of sight, negating the need to look anywhere but the outside world."

Spectators will be able to view the race live and in real-time on large projection screens, or will be able to catch the action remotely, via television or computer.

At-home fans will also be able to experience Rocket Racing through remote and rocket-mounted cameras, that give the sensation of riding alongside X-racer pilots.

The Rocket Racing League will be the headliner of April 24 QuickTrip Air & Rocket Racing Show. The league will perform demonstrations throughout the day with the first beginning at noon.

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