Words: Mike Ryan
Photos: Alauda Aeronautics
Brought to you by Castrol EDGE
Is it a car? Is it a plane? Well, it’s both – kind of. What you’re looking at could be described as an oversized drone, but its creators, Alauda Aeronautics, are calling it an electric flying racing car, or more specifically, an electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle (eVTOL).
After the first units of these ‘Airspeeder’ flying cars were revealed earlier this year, the first race between them was held recently in the deserts of South Australia, previewing a future electric flying car race series.
To backtrack a little, Alauda Aeronautics first presented the concept of the Airspeeder back in 2019. The result of three years’ research, the flying EV is powered by eight 50kW electric motors, driving four sets of propellers that can propel the vehicle to a claimed 200km/h. A requirement for the Airspeeder to be manned allows for lifting 100kg of weight to a height of 4 metres, but the competition focus means the 500kW battery packs provide enough juice for only 15 minutes flight time.
In February, a Mk3 version of the Airspeeder was revealed, following a Mk2 proof-of-concept vehicle. As the manned element remains in future planning, all the testing to date – along with the racing - has been done with unmanned vehicles operated remotely.
“The unveiling of the world’s first full-sized electric flying racing car is a landmark moment in the dawn of a new mobility revolution,” said Matthew Pearson, Airspeeder and Alauda Aeronautics Founder, earlier this year.
“It is competition that drives progress and our racing series is hastening the arrival of technology that will transform clean-air passenger transport, logistics and even advanced air mobility for medical applications.”
All the Mk3 Airspeeders produced to date have come out of Alauda’s technical HQ in Adelaide, with Pearson’s team drawn from aerospace, automotive and motorsport technology companies, including McLaren, Babcock Aviation, Boeing, Jaguar Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Brabham.
There’s also a commercial operations HQ in London, which Pearson says has been vital in the Airspeeder’s development: “Britain is a globally recognised centre of excellence in motorsports and aerospace. We are building an engineering base in Britain [that] will lead to the creation of highly skilled jobs in the rapidly growing eVTOL industry.”
Racing Improves the Breed
The Airspeeder racing series will eventually see manned vehicles competing against each other – and that could come as early as 2022. For now, the racing is being done by “drivers” on the ground, with the Mk3 unmanned vehicles used to gather data on dynamics, performance and safety to apply to the manned Mk4 version.
As with most forms of motorsport, Airspeeder racing is expected to fast-track the arrival of eVTOL technologies for other applications, like passenger mobility and freight. Those technologies include LiDAR and radar collision-avoidance systems that, according to Alauda, provide a virtual forcefield around each vehicle.
The Airspeeder’s octocopter configuration with rotors at each corner also provide a measure of safety, as in the event of one rotor’s failure, the vehicle can apparently still be controlled and landed safely.
Power for the Mk3 has increased by 95 per cent over the Mk2, while adding only 50 per cent more weight. With fast pit stops in mind, a ‘slide and lock’ system for the batteries has been introduced with the Mk3 that allows rapid battery removal and replacement.
In a reflection of tyre tactics used in conventional motorsport, different battery configurations, in terms of capacity and weight, will be available, allowing the Airspeeder to be set up to improve straight-line speed or manoeuvrability, depending on the course.
The Mk3 Airspeeder runs a carbon fibre frame and fuselage, but this will be upgraded to a full carbon fibre monocoque for the Mk4.
Outback Drag Race
This past October, the first Airspeeder racing event was held in South Australia. At the conclusion of a two-day test session in a remote desert location, two teams made up of Alauda Aeronautics staff, Team Alpha and Team Bravo, went head-to-head in a drag race over a quarter mile (402m). Team Bravo was led by Alauda’s Technical Project Manager, Brett Hill, while Head of Operations, Renee Fraser, was leading Team Alpha.
In what was described as a tense and enthralling encounter, both teams had to adapt to wind and dust conditions, which are more of a factor in this form of competition than traditional motorsport.
Flying at 10 metres above the ground and speeds in excess of 100km/h, Team Bravo’s car edged out the Team Bravo machine over the quarter mile by 3.2 seconds.
“This first test drag race is a major moment in the creation of our sport and a giant leap forward for the development of electric flying cars,” Pearson proclaimed.
“This test race provides the world a glimpse at the next generation of motorsport and mobility.”
More to Come
According to Alauda, this first ever electric flying car race previews what’s to come in the ‘EXA Series’ for remotely-operated Airspeeders that’s scheduled to commence next year, followed by manned Airspeeder Grands Prix in the future.
Up to ten Airspeeders will be in action in these events, while the minimal infrastructure required for this form of motorsport means races can be held almost anywhere, thus minimising environmental impact, too.
Alauda says the electric flying car race series will be backed by global broadcasts and enhanced technology that communicates the virtual track layouts and race data directly to pilots through augmented reality.
To find out more, go to: airspeeder.com