NEW YORK - TwoF-16 fighter pilots have tossed their hats into a high-flying ring as the firstteam to join the nascent RocketRacing League.
Pilots Robert"Bobaloo" Rickard and Don "Dagger" Grantham, of Phoenix, Arizona, announced theirLeading Edge Rocket Racing team and presented a $100,000 deposit to leagueofficials during a presentation here Monday.
"Weconsider it a huge, exciting thing to be on the leading edge of our new sport,"Rickard said, adding that he and Grantham continue to fly F-16 jets with theU.S. Air Force reserves. "It's kind of a unique talent [to fly]."
To race inthe rocket league, Leading Edge pilots and their competitors are destined to racefor best times and prize money while zooming through a three-dimensional racecourse that comes complete with refueling pit stops. The league's X-racer rocketplanes are based on the EZ-Rocketdesign developed by XCOR Aerospace in Mojave, California.
Based in Las Cruces, NewMexico?, the Rocket Racing League formed last year to meld rocket aircraftand the auto racing format into a completely new competitive sport. Co-foundersPeterDiamandis and Granger Whitelaw hope the sport will encourage interest inrocket technology and human spaceflight in a way unavailable to larger governmentspace agencies.
"[Spaceflight]should be sexy, it should be edgy and fun," said Diamandis, who also foundedthe $10 million Ansari XPrize competition for private, manned suborbital spaceflight, as well asthe ZeroGravity Corp. for commercial weightless flights aboard a modified airplane,in an interview. "It should be more like Star Wars and Star Trek, and that's whatprivate enterprise can do."
The rocketleague's first Mark-1 X-racer - featuring a modified airframe built by VelocityAircraft and a single liquid oxygen and kerosene rocket engine - will debutduring the October 2006 XPrize Cup in Las Cruces.
A contest is underwayto name that rocket vehicle, league officials said.
With onlyfour minutes worth of fuel aboard and 10 minutes of unpowered flight available,X-racer pilots will be challenged to fire their rocket engines at vital times toovertake competitors before having to land and refuel during a planned90-minute race.
Moreteams, more venues
In additionto announcing the league's first team, Diamandis and Whitelaw also launched anofficial call for new competitors and four additional race venues.
At least 10different teams - of which Leading Edge is the first - are expected to competein the Rocket Racing League's first full season in 2007, league officials said.No less than six courses will be laid out for the competition's first year,with four more to follow in the 2008 season, they added.
Prospectiveteams must lay down a $100,000 deposit - to be put toward the group's Mark-1X-racer - as well as be able to cover the rocket ship's $1.2-million cost andannual operating costs of up to $1 million. Once chosen, the teams will functionindependently, and are responsible for all hiring, training and meetingrequirements set by the league and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Whitelaw, atwo-time Indianapolis 500 champion team partner, said talks are currentlyunderway with three additional groups - including a female pilot - which mayresult in additional league teams.
"From ourwebsite alone, we've been approached by 50 different groups," Diamandis said,adding that they are being pared down to only the most serious contenders.
Two venues -the Reno Air Races held yearly in September at the Reno Stead Airport in Reno,Nevada and the annual X Prize Cup in October - have been tapped for the Rocket Racing League's semi-finals and national championship contests, respectively, Diamandis added.
Individualcities, airport authorities or other entities can compete for the initial fouropen slots, league officials said. Letters of intent for new teams andprospective race courses are due by March 31, with written proposals due by May31, 2006, they added.
Meanwhile,Leading Edge co-founder Grantham said his team has begun seeking pit personnelto pilot, service and refuel their vehicle during future races.
"This is anew age of flight...we've got one goal," Grantham said. "We're going to win, we'regoing to be champions."
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