Who asked for it? Did you ask for it I didn’t ask for it, I can tell you that. This is the Airspeeder Mk3, the world’s first flying electric racing car. At least if you believe Alauda, the makers of the Airspeeder Mk3. Do you see any wheels? I don’t see any wheels. I thought cars, especially racing cars, should have wheels.
Sigh. Okay, let’s see what it’s about.
Airspeeder Mk3 overview
The Airspeeder Mk3 is a remote controlled electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle (eVTOL). It will participate in an upcoming remote controlled airspeeder racing series that will serve as a technical test and feeder series for a manned racing series for the next year. A full network of Mk3 electric aircraft is currently being manufactured at Airspeeder and Alauda’s technical headquarters in Adelaide, South Australia.
More than 10 identical racing cars will be produced and sent to teams later this year. Alauda says the aircraft will be manufactured by a team of automotive and aviation professionals from companies such as Mclaren, Babcock Aviation, Boeing, Jaguar Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Brabham.
The Airspeeder Mk3 is a large eight-rotor drone as far as I can tell. There’s a cockpit in there, and it looks like you could cram a human pilot into that thing. Alauda plans to do so in 2022, when things go well with the first round of long-distance flights (i.e., drone flights) starting this year. In so many words, the plan is to get the series up and running – first checking everything with unmanned drones – and then rolling out the full zoot series with pilots. That sounds logical, and it might even be fun to watch and / or participate in, but I have some questions.
Airspeeder Mk3: It’s a bird, it’s an airplane. . .
I worked for the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer for six years and spent even more years in motorsport. The Airspeeder is neither an airplane nor a racing car. There are no wheels; There are runners. This is a helicopter. Well, helicopters are cool, no two ways, but this is still more of a helicopter than a car. Sure, it looks like a cross between a 1950s Indy roadster and something young Anakin Skywalker would have used in the Boonta Eve Podraces, but this is certainly not a car. And it’s definitely not an airplane either.
The eight vortex blades mounted on these arms take care of the lift. This configuration is called an octocopter and uses counter-rotating propeller efficiencies. It’s a fairly common layout for industrial-grade drones, and it sure seems to work here, at least in the short footage.
In a way, the Airspeeder is the answer to the inevitable question of any modern geek, “Hey, this is a cool drone. Could we make one big enough for me to drive in? “The answer to that is usually always yes. You may not like the experience, but if we have enough money to engineer we could tie your bum to a Ford Pinto and make it “fly”. Short. And then I promise that you will receive a tasteful eulogy.
Who will control the Airspeeder Mk3?
So this is the stage that Alauda is in. They have a big drone that looks fine and when they finish testing they cram a pilot into it. It won’t be me and (most likely) not you.
Check out the size of the Airspeeder Mk3. Alauda doesn’t give any indication of load capacity or flight time at any given load, but this thing just isn’t very big. That observation, combined with common sense, makes me conclude that if you are taller than a jockey, you will not be flying any of these. It’s not a size issue, it’s a weight issue. I bet the total load capacity, fully loaded and ready to go, can’t be more than 150 pounds.
And that’s generous.
The current Airspeeder Mk3 is powered by a 96 kW electric drive train. According to Alauda, this electric powertrain gives the Mk3 a thrust-to-weight ratio of over two. I’m not sure what that even means. A stroke ratio of 2: 1? A 2: 1 thrust-to-weight ratio? Loaded or Unloaded? According to Alauda, the Mk3 weighs only 100 kilograms unmanned and will fly at a speed of more than 120 km / h.
A race of space
Have you ever been to a flight race? If you’ve been to a car race track before, you will always be impressed by the size of the place. The Indianolis Motor Speedway and the Daytona International Speedway are huge Speed bowls that must be experienced to understand their size. Aircraft facilities usually dwarf such Picayune locations as IMS. Boeing’s Everett Assembly Plant, the tallest building in the world, is so big you can see it orbit with the naked eye. And The pales in comparison to the size of the runways, taxiways and rons next to the building. The main runway is nearly two miles long.
Search Google ms for Edwards Air Force Base in the California desert This is The extent of the “racetrack” that airspeed drivers will be concerned with.
Look, air races are an amazingly impressive feat. They stand there on the ramp as they fire off half a dozen vintage WWII aircraft with engines in excess of 2,800 cubic inches. No joke! These guys run engines with a displacement of 46 liters. It shakes your bowels and literally shakes the ground beneath your feet. Then they take off and are gone path! Noise!
There’s an unbroken Rumbledrone far away, and in the distance you’ll see cruciform spots against the clear blue desert sky and then grrrRRRRROARARRRRrrrrrr they come screaming past you at speeds that you can barely see at such low altitudes that a water bomber pilot would think twice. Then rustleYou’re gone again.
The course for the Reno Air Races (the most important air race in the world) is nearly eight miles away. That’s more than three times the size of IMS, and IMS is big enough to hold all of the baseball stadiums in major leagues in its infield.
The bottom line here, and the indisputable fact, is that flying and everything related to it is engrossed huge lots of space. Ergo, watching air races sucks from the viewer’s point of view. Let’s give Alauda the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say they get these things going well enough to cram a five-foot-nothing, 90 pounds. Jockey there and race them. Outside of video coverage, the viewing angle is all but controversial.
Can it be done
I love everything that flies and I find Alauda’s technique interesting. But how is that supposed to work in the real world? They used to have air races between wars, but they eventually died out. The outbreak of World War II ended them, but they faded before, in large part because the crowd in the stands couldn’t see what was going on. The Reno Air Races today exist mainly as a novelty and mainly for the participants. The airspeeder looks interesting, but how are you going to sell tickets for something you can’t even see?
In fact, only time will tell. This remote controlled Airspeeder Mk3 is in its final iteration. The manned racing vehicle, the Airspeeder Mk4, is due to appear next year. In the meantime, the Airspeeder Mk3 racing series will be announced in the coming months. The final pre-season testing behind closed doors will take place in Australia ahead of the start of an international racing calendar.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life driving antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in Perback or Kindle format. Follow his work on Twitter: @ TonyBorroz.
Photos & Source: Alauda.