Racing for the Stars

Recent developments, including test flights at the Oklahoma Spaceport at Burns Flat, have brought Rocket Racing League competitive events closer to getting off the ground, said retired Navy Lt. James Bridenstine, a Tulsa pilot who owns a rocket team.
The Rocket Racing League is an aerospace sports and entertainment organization that combines the competition of racing with the excitement of manned, rocket-powered flight. The RRL was established by X-Prize founder Dr. Peter Diamandis and two-time Indianapolis 500 champion team partner Granger Whitelaw.
Bridenstine, the owner of the DKNY Bridenstine Racing Team, said he would like to see the league even more closely tied to the state spaceport in western Oklahoma.
Bridenstine, who said he does not speak for the RRL, but whose rocket is the primary test vehicle for the league, said he would support basing the league’s headquarters at the Oklahoma Spaceport.
“I sure think that would be great,” said the nine-year Navy pilot veteran who, with his teammate wife Michelle, is a graduate of Jenks High School.
Bridenstine credited the link to the Oklahoma Spaceport to the efforts of the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority and its Executive Director Bill Khourie.
“Khourie has been extremely helpful and gracious in getting Rocket Racing all the facilities they need and helping Rocket Racing with the test flights and getting the airspace,” Bridenstine said.
The RRL hit a milestone this month when it reported Oct. 14, it had earned an Experimental Exhibition Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration for a rocket-powered airplane. The exhibition type certification marks the first time in the FAA’s history that a production-level rocket-powered aircraft has been cleared to perform exhibition flight demonstrations at more than 20 venues across the U.S.
On Sept. 4, the Rocket Racing League successfully completed seven test flights of the Bridenstine DKNY Rocket Racer at the Oklahoma Spaceport, which is a leading facility specializing in horizontal takeoff and landing of Reusable Launch Vehicles.
“We are thrilled to have been selected as the facility of choice by the Rocket Racing League for its initial flight test program,” said Khourie in a release. “The Oklahoma Spaceport provided the league with a qualified facility including a runway of almost three miles in length, hangar facilities, safety officials, air traffic control and other support staff and housing. It was a major milestone in our evolution, as we played an instrumental role in the incredibly successful flights of the Rocket Racer to altitudes in excess of 12,000 feet.”
Even if the RRL doesn’t decide to set up headquarters at the Oklahoma Spaceport, the participation of the facility in test flights will draw the attention of other private space flight industries, like Oklahoma City-based Rocketplane Global Inc., which is already a leader in the development of a suborbital vehicle for commercial space flight.
Rocketplane Global Inc. operates its engineering office in Oklahoma City with developmental work at Burns Flat, where it plans to locate its Flight Operations Center.
“As Rocket Racing flies and we demonstrate this really cool technological sport, people around the world are going to say, ‘Where are these guys flying? Where do they find facilities to fly rocket-propelled airplanes?’ And they are going to see that Oklahoma is in the center of the future privatization of the aerospace industry,” Bridenstine said. “Being an Oklahoman, I am extremely happy about the fact that the RRL has gotten involved in Oklahoma.”
The DKNY Bridenstine Rocket Racer vehicle, built on a Velocity Aircraft airframe and equipped with liquid oxygen and alcohol engines manufactured by Armadillo Aerospace, was used in test flights to demonstrate the Rocket Racer’s stability, safety, performance and reliability to the FAA.
The league said it plans to work with show, airport and local FAA authorities to select eight venues from the more than 20 that have been approved by the FAA, including the National Championship Air Races and Air Show, Reno; Miramar Air Show, San Diego; Las Cruces International Airport, Las Cruces, N.M.; Aviation Nation, Las Vegas; Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, Sebring, Fla.; McGuire Air Force Base Airshow, Wrightstown, N.J.; Igor I Sikorsky Memorial Airport, Bridgeport, Conn.; Sun ‘n Fun, Lakeland, Fla.; Oklahoma Spaceport; Spirit of St. Louis Airport, St. Louis; Wings and Wheels Fly-in, Sheboygan, Wis.; Lackland AirFest, San Antonio; Langley Air Force Base Air Show, Hampton, Va.; EAA AirVenture, Oshkosh, Wisc.; NAS JAX Air Show, Jacksonville, Fla.; Albert Whitted Airport, St. Petersburg, Fla.; Moffett Federal Airfield, Mountain View, Calif.; Mojave Air & Space Port, Mojave, Calif.; New York Air Show at Jones Beach, Farmingdale, N.Y.; Caddo Mills Municipal Airport, Caddo Mills, Texas; Majors Airport, Greenville, Texas; Grayson County Airport, Sherman/Denison, Texas and Fort Worth Alliance Air Show, Fort Worth.
Following a demonstration flight at the EAA Air Venture show at Oshkosh, Wis., three months ago, and the test flights at the Oklahoma Spaceport, that approval opens the way for a series of exhibition flights in 2009 with plans to start televised stand-alone racing events in 2010, Bridenstine said.
Other developments that have moved the RRL forward include:
? The sponsorship by DKNY of the league and the Bridenstine team. DKNY, the league’s first corporate sponsor, is a fashion label created by designer Donna Karan that has spawned a network of retail stores as well. DKNY will design the flight suits for all of the Rocket Racing teams.
? The Rocket Racing Composites Corp. unit of Rocket Racing Inc. has acquired its provider of composite airframes, Sebastian, Fla.-based Velocity Aircraft Co.
? The Rocket Racing League has adopted the liquid oxygen-alcohol engines manufactured by Armadillo Aerospace, a leading developer of reusable rocket-powered vehicles based in Mesquite, Texas.
Bridenstine said the league’s ownership of the Velocity Aircraft Co. allows the league the added value from the interest racing events will generate in the Velocity airframe.
“Once we start flying rockets on national television, people are going to have a thirst to have one of these airplanes for themselves,” he said.
Instead of a $1 million rocket motor, the aircraft comes powered by a push propeller.
“The Velocity aircraft fly at 20,000 feet and 200 mph. They are extremely stable, quiet, fast, high performance and the range is tremendous,” he said. “We are designing two more types of aircraft that we are going to roll out in 2009. If you are going to race Ferraris, why not own the Ferrari company?”
Since he invested in forming his own team two years ago, Bridenstine and his wife have looked for ways to base the team in Tulsa, and he is optimistic that can happen.
“I am committed to bringing my team to Tulsa,” he said. “We just have to find the right opportunities to make it happen. We are working on a number of things.”

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