Richard Glassock Research Fellow, Hybrid Propulsion Systems for Aircraft at University of Nottingham and Jeff Zaltman CEO of Air Race E, demonstrated, in this webinar, organised by the IET Central London Network, hosted by Rimesh Patel, how recent developments in electric propulsion technology have enabled a brand-new Aircraft Racing category. "Pure motor sporting and real racing" best describes Electric Air Racing explains Jeff, and Richard who discussed that "using different motor power techniques and design skills can also win the race". 

Air Race E is the world's first electric airplane race! It takes existing racing and aviation dynamics and converts them into a fresh new electric air race platform - with a fan base approach, it enables global racing so everyone can experience racing thrills of 450 KPH explained Jeff. 

The Air Race 1 format consists of 8 aircraft, 4 laps, a 10-meter race-height with 450 KPH average race speeds, where the racing circuit must be a set specification, with 3 pylons either side that forms the race circuit. To be clear, this is a motor sport that is accelerating innovations in air racing, a sport that has its origins in France in 1909, explained Jeff. 

Electrifying this industry involves developing new technology strategies including community engagement. By onboarding the right stakeholder ecosystem, whether that be propulsion technology or simulation partners, the facilitation of new design and testing regimes for new race aircrafts can come about. Also, as their platform is open for integration, it can take many electrification efforts from other energy mechanisms, power electronics or airframe architectures. 

The air race components are developed by Richard, whose technology demonstrator platform has been constructed within the University’s ‘Beacon for Future Propulsion’ research program – they have 12 private teams developing their first competition aircraft ready for racing. 

For this project, development is currently scoped into 2 development phases, the first is focusing on an electric flight demonstrator using COTS component replication that prioritise baseline and regulatory performance. The second phase, is to optimise the propulsion system for integrated power electronics and other components, with a foundation for commercial development; 

Phase 1 currently is focusing on;

  • Electrical System Design (Battery System) 

  • Mechanical System design (Concept Development)

  • Procurement (Mechanical Design Consultant, Aircraft Mechanical Integrator)

  • Air worthiness

With phase one, initially the maximum continuous power output will be 80kW, even though 150 kW is the max! A lower output allows you to take advantage of drag efficiencies - this is the skill that air craft racing will require. The types of COTS motors are robust and readily available and used in electric propulsion in racing already, which give good power to weight ratios, whether it be direct drive or gear system. 

It is here where Richard Glassock’s research provides value, for example, at the University of Nottingham they have been developing bespoke designed superbikes that has allowed the team to reach second place, in superbike races, and at a lower budget.  

For electric air racing, their mechanical system designs include using their dynamometer which tests motor design, power electronics to highlight the efficiencies including motor load performance that generates further test characteristics - this is good as high-performance tests can be conducted in the lab for effects on torque, propulsion and other motor components – this again gives the pilot a better performance to win! 

Review the full webinar here, which includes the discussion on how their research might scale into other types of hybrid propulsion industries, including hearing the Q&A - you'll also get to hear an exclusive from Jeff!! 

Download both sets of slides here and here.

Robert Heaton