Airspeeder, the world’s first racing series for electric flying cars, has made history today (Thursday) with the first full flights of its remotely-piloted Alauda Mk3.

The flights took place at undisclosed test locations in the deserts of South Australia, under the observation of the country’s civil aviation safety authority (CASA). Throughout the development process, the Alauda team has worked with the regulator to ensure compliance to all required procedures while developing robust safety protocols.

The successful execution of these flights mean uncrewed electric flying car ‘Grand Prixs’ will take place at three international locations in 2021, which will soon be revealed. This news follows on from Airspeeder announcing a timekeeping and engineering partnership with IWC Schauffhausen earlier this week.

Matthew Pearson, Founder of Airspeeder and Alauda Aeronautics, said: “Nothing drives innovation like racing. The world is ready for advanced air mobility and we are proud to make history by introducing the world’s first racing series for flying electric cars. Airspeeder and EXA represent the future of motorsport and a compelling and exhilarating showcase of the potential of electric flying cars as this generation’s defining mobility revolution.” 

EXA will be Airspeeder’s first racing series. Up to four teams with two remote pilots per team will compete in  three individual events across the globe through this year. They will race ‘blade-to-blade’ over locations inaccessible to traditional motorsport. Audiences will tune-in through global streams available on-demand. This approach reflects the changing requirements of global audiences, in particular a generation native to streaming and the ability to interact directly with the content generators they follow. 

EXA will also remain the proving ground for the Airspeeder crewed racing series, providing a vital technical test-bed for teams and the perfect space to develop pilot skills. This means Airspeeder is able to draw its pilots and crew from a wide range of backgrounds, including eSports as they can undertake the necessary training on the dynamics of an electric flying race car in a remote environment. In legacy motorsport terms, EXA will take its place as the feeder series for crewed Airspeeder races in the forthcoming Alauda Mk4.   

A pre-season will soon be announced and take the form of an internal drag-race style competition between two distinct ‘works teams’ drawn from within Alauda. These final test events will serve as an important technical and strategic shake-down before external teams are invited to prove their competitive edge against the creators of the sport. Pilots will remotely control their Speeders in races across electronically governed, Augmented Reality enabled sky-tracks.

Pearson added: “EXA delivers on the promise of a future first shown in science fiction. We are proud to introduce a sport that redefines what humans and machines can achieve together. These historic first flights are just the start and we are all excited to begin a momentous new chapter in motorpsort’s rich legacy.”   

The Alauda Aeronautics Mk3 EXA race-craft are remotely piloted by highly skilled women and men. They take a seat in a simulator environment that mimics the dynamics and ergonomics of the Mk3 cockpit environment.

From there they control the vehicle in exactly the same way as a pilot located in the cockpit with finger-tip commands sent instantly to the physical Speeder as it plots a series of courses dictated by electronic sky-tracks. Each Alauda Aeronautics Mk3 is presented to teams with identical specification, meaning it is pilot skill and team strategy that will determine race-winners. This will ensure the close competition traditional motorsport fans crave. 

Physical tele-robotic avatars named ‘The Aviators’ sit within the cockpit environment of the Mk3. They have been designed to represent the frame of human pilots. This will provide engineers with critical data and information on the effects of high speed racing, rapid turning, acceleration and deceleration on the human frame. This will accelerate Airspeeder’s progression  to human piloted races which are scheduled in 2022. 

Every Airspeeder race includes rapid pit stops. To facilitate this, Alauda’s engineers have developed an innovative ‘slide and lock’ system for the swift removal and replacement of batteries when on the ground. Intense internal competition between in-house pit-crews has driven the pitstop time down to just 20 seconds, which is entirely comparable with any form of ground-based legacy motorsport. This is expected to continue to fall. For context, a Formula 1 pitstop used to take more than a minute. 

Pearson said: “The Alauda Aeronautics Mk3 is the world’s first performance eVTOL craft. It is the result of the very best minds working with focus to accelerate a mobility revolution. Racing will take this a step further and we cannot wait to compete with elite teams to show the world the dynamic potential of these incredible performance race-craft.”  

At maximum power, the craft delivers 320kW and without a pilot, weighs just 130kg. It can lift a weight of more than 80kg, proving the viability of the powertrain for piloted races. Acceleration from 0-62mph takes 2.8 seconds and the Speeder can climb to 500 meters. 

A Speeder can also turn with extraordinary speed when compared to a traditional fixed wing aircraft or helicopter. The Mk3 vehicle has a thrust-to-weight ratio of 3.5, which exceeds that of an F-15E Strike Eagle (thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.2), one of the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world. 

The rapid hairpin turning potential achieved through an octocopter format has been compared to that of a Formula 1 car, generating up to 5Gs, with the added capability to manoeuvre vertically. 

The engineering team has developed an advanced carbon fibre structure, carrying strength and weight-saving benefits. Indeed, there is an obsession at Alauda with shedding grams to gain critical seconds in performance. A Mk3 consists of a carbon fibre chassis and advanced integrally stiffened skin which allows for the complex shapes of the fuselage while providing structural integrity of the vehicle under extreme racing conditions and manoeuvres. 

The vehicle batteries have been re-designed resulting in 90 per cent more capacity with only a 50 per cent increase in weight over the earlier Airspeeder concept vehicle. The design of the battery modules also provides for an exciting strategic layer to the Airspeeder racing events. 

Power delivery profiles can be changed by ground-crews to respond to the different requirements of the electronically governed sky-tracks that Airspeeder pilots will follow.

Airspeeder employs a systems-based approach to safety. This means that no single operational failure can lead to loss of the primary function of the vehicle, which is controlled flight. 

During flights, all systems are monitored on the ground through a state-of-the-art telemetry system. This means that groundcrew are immediately aware of issues and can take appropriate action to bring the craft to ground safely. 

Prioritising safety is also inherent to the architecture of the vehicle. The octocopter layout ensures stability in the event of rotor failure or breakage, while the carbon fiber structure of the Speeder has been engineered for overall structural integrity. 

The Mk3, which will be operated by an expert remote operator from the ground, features a suite of technologies and engineering elements never before seen on an eVTOL aircraft. These innovations will be validated in this key uncrewed proving phase and include sophisticated collision avoidance systems that create a ‘virtual forcefield’ around the craft to ensure close but ultimately safe racing.