The jaw-dropping excitement of air races from the early days of flight is back in a new form. Air Race E plans to rekindle the adventure, awe and adrenaline for both pilots and fans of the old air-racing days. Plus, much as Formula 1 has done for the automotive world, Air Race E wants to spark fresh leaps in electric-aircraft technology from innovation on the racecourse.
The first “heavier-than-air” race, held May 23, 1909 at the Port-Aviation airport south of Paris, ignited an incredible era of flight. Those events eventually led to a golden age of air-circuit races in the 1920s and ‘30s that attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators.
Now, Air Race E—E for electric—aims to rekindle the thrills and innovations of that era. Founder Jeff Zaltman has a track record in aircraft racing. He launched Air Race 1, using conventional aircraft engines, as the Formula 1 of air racing.
Several years ago, Zaltman realized that all the ingredients for modern electric air races were now available: a sanctioning body, engineers, emerging electric air propulsion, willing participants, and the expertise to deliver a wildly exciting international circuit.
While the races promise spectators plenty of thrills, Air Race E will have a more important effect, which was the same as the first races of the last century: It will move electric technology forward, while selling airplanes.
After two years of planning, Air Race E is ready for its inaugural event in 2020. Eleven international teams have formed, from All Ways Air Racing based in California, to Team Condor from the UK, known for designing and testing out-of-the-box solutions for aircraft. Team NL from the Netherlands is comprised of aviation expert Rick Boerma with a team of aviation design and engineering students. Team Blue-BETA Racing is another US team that has already built the world’s largest electric aircraft.
The new race will allow participants to design their own aircraft but all must fly a closed-circuit racecourse. “The rules allow a lot of design variance,” Zaltman told Robb Report. “It’s an exciting proposition to push innovation in this space.”
Airbus signing on as a founding partner not only gave the fledgling e-race series credibility, but also brought access to state-of-the-art technology. Zaltman says Air Race E is developing an integrated “plug and play” electric motor, battery, and power electronics system that will used for the first few years.
Much as Formula E did in its first seasons, the electric system is designed to be retrofitted into existing gas-powered Air Race 1 airplanes. The University of Nottingham has partnered with Air Race E to help develop the electric aircraft. The aircraft are expected to soar past 280 mph and follow a tight circuit racecourse. Planes will fly 10 laps that are roughly 3 miles. The plan is for the Air Race E circuit to hold a World Cup event in one major city each year. Dates and venue have yet to be announced for this year.
The latest team to enter Air Race E is Norway’s Equator Aircraft, which developed the world’s first electric seaplane in 2018. “The Air Race E initiative is a great opportunity to continue our work in electric aviation,” says Tomas Brodreskift, Equator’s managing director. “The race environment allows us to explore the extreme performance characteristics of our electric powertrain, as we push the components to their utmost limits in a safe environment.”
Brodreskift says it’s all about transferring insights from the racecourse to production aircraft. “The goal is to improve the performance and design of our electric consumer-based sea planes,” he says. “Ultimately, we want to bring green aerial mobility to the masses with our highly efficient electric airplanes.”