4 August 2008
Announcements - Vehicles (Good)
Rocket Racing League Debuts
AirVenture show gets first look
by G B Leatherwood
On July 28, and again on August 1 and 2, at the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the Rocket Racing League debuted during a week-long showcase of experimental, exotic, and remarkable flying machines.

The “Rocket Racer” gave the public its first look of not only a sleek new aircraft for enthusiasts to drool over, but also a chance to see it in flight.

Demonstration flights, piloted by former astronaut and shuttle commander Rick Searfoss, treated the fans to bursts of hands-over-the-ears sound blasts and blazing rocket exhaust as the tiny craft whipped down the runway and into the sky for a short trip, then coasted back for a smooth landing.

Pending final FAA approval of airframe and engine specifications, a schedule of demonstration flights and actual races is tentatively scheduled for later in 2008 or 2009. Details of these are still being wrung out.

Even though FAA approval is still pending while the suits grapple with the safety and airworthiness of this unique concept, the aircraft has been in testing since 2005 and has successfully flown test flights since 2007.

The rocketplane were made by Velocity Aircraft of Sebastian, Florida (just south of Cape Canaveral), a builder of sleek canard-wing aircraft, and powered by rocket engines from Xcor Aerospace of Mojave, California, and Armadillo Aerospace of Mesquite, Texas, these little jewels travel at speeds up to 350 mph and altitudes of up to 1500 feet. Velocity Aircraft has been building conventionally powered vehicles for the personal and business market since 1985, available either factory built or in kits for the mechanically inclined.

The rocket racers race each other in pairs around a fixed course, alternately firing the rocket engines and coasting to conserve fuel. This means that these engines, powered by kerosene and oxygen, can be shut off and restarted.

Pilots need knowledge of when to shut down and when to light up the engines; flying skill in navigating a five-mile, three-dimensional track in the air without the benefit of traffic cones; and just plain courage.

According to Granger Whitelaw, chief executive of the Rocket Racing League, competitions, six teams have already signed up. And they're keeping their engines warm.
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G B Leatherwood 4 August 2008
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