The 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed Will Host AirSpeeder - A Futuristic Airborne Motorsport You Didn’t Realize You Needed
Remember the Reno Air Races? This is version 2.0. Well, sort of...by Michael Fira, on
For decades, we’ve been promised that the roads and highways of the world will become obsolete and that four-wheeled transport will follow suit as flying contraptions replace personal cars, buses, trucks, and the rest of the motorized repertoire. We’ve seen them in science-fiction movies and many wannabe visionaries tried to create flying cars that could also be usable on the road. Most of these attempts have failed for one reason or another but now there’s something new and it’s coming to Goodwood FoS: AirSpeeder, a new form of motorsport that proposes an unlikely recipe for success and reminds us of Podracing.
"Let’s take the monocoque of a ’60s Formula 1 car and attach to it four oversized drone propellers. Then let’s get people to jump on board these devil-may-care creations and let them race around a pre-defined track", said no one ever. Right? Well, actually, wrong. Someone did think of all that and, what is more, made it a soon-to-materialize reality in the form of AirSpeeder. These flying machines that can reach speeds in excess of 124 mph can accelerate faster than many brisk road cars and are touted as a form of motorsport that will carry us into the future. We’ve seen purpose-built racing drones surpassing 100 mph in flight before but the AirSpeeders are something else and a manned version (most tests conducted thus far featured remote-controlled versions) will be part of an exhibition at the Goodwood FoS this weekend.
AirSpeeder is one way of calling it. Star Wars-style racing is another
Have you watched the French Grand Prix? If you have and you managed to stay awake all the way through that whole borefest hosted by the Paul Ricard track then props to you. If not, and you relished in the excitement offered by last weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix but still want more, this may be the form of motorsport that may win you over once it gets off the ground - literally and metaphorically.
This new series will make its worldwide public debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed where attendees will be able to see an example of the AirSpeeder Mark IV as well as witness air displays performed by manned Airspeeder aircrafts (known as ’octocopters’). They will perform along the route of an aerial track at the Goodwood Aerodrome, adjacent to the Goodwood hillclimb course.
The flying AirSpeeders won't be manned although the Mark IV is set to debut in competition as early as next year when the first AirSpeeder season is set to commence backed by e-commerce company Equals.
Equals, formerly known as ’FairFX Group’ until late last month, "is a low-cost payment services provider based in the UK with products including international payments, corporate expenses, current accounts, credit facilities, currency cards, and travel cash," according to ProactiveInvestors. The company’s CEO, Ian Strafford-Taylor, said that "the spirit of ingenuity and engineering behind Airspeeder makes it the perfect fit for Equals, as these are also the drivers behind our new brand identity," in a statement.
But, beyond the PR talk, what are these things? Are they just glorified racing drones? The Australian start-up company that’s behind it all, Alauda Racing, would beg to differ as they call the AirSpeeders ’flying sports cars’. These wacky octocopters are the brainchild of Matt Pearson, a South African-born Australian entrepreneur who’s been working on making these things a reality for some four years and is happy to see them now part of the FoS Future Lab.
"Transport is changing, and motoring is becoming more than two-dimensional. Just like traditional motoring, flying cars need a forum to push the technology further," Pearson told LAD Bible back in April. "What better way to achieve this than by creating a global flying car series, the sport of this century, the future of motorsport," the CEO of AirSpeeder added.
The AirSpeeder we’ve seen testing around, or, may I say, above the Wakefield Park Raceway in New South Wales in a video posted by Alauda Racing back in April (actually a 3/4 scale version of the Mk. IV) proves that the octocopter can more than keep up with a Shelby Cobra Continuation model and a Lotus Elise S2 111S. But this is just the beginning as Alauda Racing boasts that the AirSpeeder has a better power-to-weight ratio than an F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet - which is said to have a thrust ratio of 1:1 and tips the scales at 36,970 pounds (gross weight).
The AirSpeeder, meanwhile, is powered by a 500 kW battery pack that urges the wooden propellers, connected to removable 50 mW electric motors, to spin.
Early examples feature aluminum chassis but the latest ones are made out of carbon fiber, the construction of the body being akin to the monocoques of Formula 1 cars from the ’60s.
"We’ve merged an F1 car with a racing drone and turned it into something completely new," Pearson explained to CNN. "It’s easier to build a hovering, flying car. What we wanted to do is race and when you want to race, you need an enormous amount of power very, very fast." The bodies also resemble the look of ’60s F1 cars. You can see a bit of the Lotus 49 in there or the early Brabhams and Maserati-powered Coopers of the day. In a way, it’s an ode to the first full-stressed monocoque that appeared in F1, the Lotus 25 that bagged the 1963 F1 World Championship.
Most of the testing done thus far saw the 3/4 scale Mark IV put under high stress and it proved a 100-kilogram lift.
"Our journey so far has been a bit dangerous, and very exciting. We’ve crashed a lot, learned a lot, and rebuilt over and over. But we are now ready for the next step,” said Pearson to Goodwood Road & Race. The full-scale Mark IV will feature a host of bespoke elements, military-grade materials, and is said to weigh in at just under 1,000 pounds without the pilot onboard. In 2020, when the series will debut, five teams will run two AirSpeeders each.
"I think this is going to be the most watchable sport in the world," added Pearson who hopes to attract eSport fans as well as drone fans together with his new racing vehicles that can reach 124 mph and that are supposed to compete in 30-minute races that will feature two pit stops for each competitor (currently, the battery pack can sustain 15-minute stints at a top speed of just 62 mph but this will see a massive improvement by the time the series will kick-off).
Given the high speeds, the first manned tests are planned to take place in the Mojave Desert in November.
The manned Mark IV will also be equipped with an improved sensor system to avoid collisions as well as airbags for the pilots. As the crafts will fly rather close to the ground, the pilots will follow a track probably drawn out below them.
While racing the AirSpeeders is part of Pearson and Alauda’s short and mid-term ambitions, the Australian startup’s end goal is to create a personal octocopter available for purchase to anybody out there with the means to do it. A research report by Morgan Stanley quoted by Goodwood Road & Race states that the eVTOL (electric-powered vertical take-off and landing) vehicle market could be worth $1.5 trillion by 2040 and Alauda Racing wants to be ahead of the curve.
“If you want to build a good sports car or hypercar, you first build a racing car,” Pearson stated. “As we know from today’s motorsport industry, the racing environment encourages fast iteration of new concepts, and healthy competition and collaboration. Similarly, for the emerging eVTOL industry, it will provide a safe and exciting platform for bringing these innovations to market faster." If the racing series is a success and the public is receptive to the technology and its potential, the ’civilian’ versions will also feature tech that will be found aboard the Mark IV racer like the ‘bump simulation’ Augmented Reality system that allows each pilot to see ahead unimpeded regardless of the number of octocopters flying ahead of him (basically, he’ll see ’through’ them).
Source: Goodwood Road & Racing