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Air Racing Goes Electric!

Unlike more conventional uses for airplanes, air racing is a natural for electric power. Here’s why the developers of new racing classes believe they have a winner on their hands.

It’s hard to imagine enjoying an air race without the din of high-powered piston engines thundering around the pylons. But deafening exhaust blast may soon be joined by the soft hum of ever-more-powerful electric motors on the air race circuit. A recent announcement adds two new classes to electric racers, and as in the Golden Age of air racing in the 1930s for piston-engine airplanes, the competition could set the pace for increasingly efficient and commercially viable electric air power.

It seems like a natural. Two of the big stumbling blocks for the development of practical electric planes are the current lack of battery endurance and hence, range, and the even more glaring lack of charging infrastructure at airports around the country. Neither of these are issues when the planes take off, fly a quick race and return to the start.

Air Race E, which developed the first standard electric air race class, has announced two new classes joining the original racers. The new Performance Class is based on what has become the standard electric powertrain, but focuses on performance optimization and efficiency—pulling the maximum power performance from the powertrain. Air Race E is developing the new race aircraft in house, with input from leading aerospace manufacturers, including Airbus and simulation software firm Ansys.

The second new competition platform is the V-class (for VTOL—vertical take-off and landing). Development of VTOL aircraft to meet a plethora of market needs has captured the imagination (and investment dollars) of the aerospace industry and the public, alike. The new class would be a catalyst for incremental improvements that could support what so many believe to be the next revolution in air travel. Air Race E calls this class “the world’s first vertical motorsport.”

The existing race formula is to be recast as the Open Class, unleashing, the organizers say, the full innovative imaginations of all manufacturers. They are now free to develop their own powertrains restricted only by the limit of 150 kW of power. The Performance and Open Classes will operate under the same racing rules, but with differences in statutes governing the configuration of the powerplants.

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As for the V-Class, Jeff Zaltman, CEO of Air Race E, said, “The V-Class demonstrates a major step-change in air racing. Air Race E will be working with the top pioneering organizations in the e-VTOL world to shape the event to be at the vanguard of this next generation of motorsport.”

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