Searfoss and fellow Rocket Racer and world-class aerobatic pilot Sean Tucker will help select those pilots. They will have no trouble finding recruits, according to the RRL's business development manager, Michael D'Angelo. "We have received inquiries from retired fighter pilots, astronauts, aerobatic pilots and automobile race-car drivers who also happen to fly jets," he says.
Will They Come?
Perhaps the Rocket Racing League has the technology, the engineering talent, the financial backing (from Whitelaw, Diamandis and other partners) and the right stuff to get the venture off the ground. But will it fly?
Whitelaw and Diamandis insist that rocket racing will have more in common with auto racing than with the comparatively invisible air races, such as the annual Reno Air Races, which are more of a niche sporting event. They plan to put together racing teams along lines similar to IndyCar and Nascar, with ownership open to anyone who can pony up the fees (about a million dollars per team per year) and meet RRL standards. And, of course, they'll try to attract corporate sponsors.
All of which depends on drawing from the millions of fans who make auto racing a major industry. Doing so, however, could be the RRL's biggest hurdle. "All auto-racing series try to capitalize on the relationship that people have to their cars because they drive them," says Indy Racing League executive vice president Fred Nation. "All of us probably feel in some ways, â€Well, I can do that.' " Never mind that few fans could successfully compete in an auto race-the point is that they can imagine themselves in the driver's seat and experience the races vicariously. That will be harder to do with Rocket Racing, since most people don't fly planes. Also, Nation says, "Auto racing gains part of its appeal from the risks the drivers take. You can clearly identify with the risks that auto-racing drivers take because you can see that it's close. In the Indy Racing League, they're wheel-to-wheel. What is really close, I would imagine, for rockets or airplanes, may not appear that close."
And that disparity points up the central struggle of the RRL. Like the emerging commercial spaceflight industry in which it hopes to play a part, it's being formed by visionaries groping for ways to make their dreams pay their own way. Tourist spaceships that will fly wealthy fellow dreamers into space, such as those to be built by Scaled Composites for Virgin Galactic, have the potential to succeed. Rocket-powered race planes that can't reach space might face a more difficult challenge, because they will have to appeal to the broader audience of fans who may not be so starry-eyed. But there's only one way to find out if the plan will work. Gentlemen, start your rockets.
Michael Belfiore, who lives in Woodstock, New York, is writing a book about commercial spaceflight.single page