Air Racing Is Going Electric
Airbus and Air Race E aim for all-electric aircraft racing by 2020.
Airbus SE and the University of Nottingham have partnered with Air Race E to establish the world’s first electric airplane race. The competition, which aims to drive the development and adoption of cleaner, faster, and more technologically advanced electric engines, will follow a format similar to the popular Air Race 1 series of the sport known as “Formula One Air Racing.”
The University of Nottingham is currently developing a prototype race airplane powered by an integrated electric motor, battery, and power electronics system. The plane, which will race at speeds beyond any existing land-based motorsport, will help shape the model and rules for the inaugural Air Race E race in 2020.
Additionally, Air Race E Eight electric-powered airplanes will race directly against each other on a tight 5-kilometer circuit at an altitude of 10 meters above the ground.
“We want to motivate manufacturers to showcase their technologies across the full spectrum of electric propulsion systems and components.” says Grazia Vittadini, chief technology officer of Airbus. “This partnership enables us to demonstrate our commitment to staying at the leading edge of electric propulsion and developing a new ecosystem.”
Learn more: Fundamentals of Electric Aircraft
Airbus hopes that Air Race E will develop electronic propulsion technology that can be applied to urban air mobility vehicles and, eventually, commercial aircraft.
“We couldn’t be happier or more optimistic for success with Airbus as our official founding partner. This partnership is a significant milestone in the evolution of electric power in aviation. Together, we’re working to create a mainstream platform in which innovation in electric propulsion can be developed, nurtured, and accelerated more rapidly,” says Jeff Zaltman, chief executive officer of Air Race E.
Rolls-Royce plc is currently working on its own highspeed, all-electric aircraft. The British company has gathered a team of engineers, designers, and data specialists to develop a zero-emission aircraft that can reach or exceed a target speed of 300 miles per hour (480 kilometers per hour) by 2020 and set a world record for the fastest all-electric aircraft in history.
The current record – 210 mph (337 kph) was set by an Extra 330LE aerobatic plane powered by a propulsion system developed by Munich-based Siemens AG .
Similar to Airbus’s strategy of using Air Race E as a technology testbed, Rolls-Royce’s “Accelerating the Electrification of Flight” (ACCEL) aircraft project, is an attempt at pioneering a “third wave of aviation” with the company positioned as a champion of aircraft electrification.
Both Air Race E and ACCEL teams are planning to build, test, and commercialize aircraft in a market that does not yet exist all within a 24-month span. That is a blink of an eye in the world of aircraft development – it will be interesting to see if the resulting aircraft are just as fast.
William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.