Every month we see a new electric airplane project or two and sometime next year, we hope to see the first electric airplane race. Building on the gasoline Formula 1 race idea, Air Race E will soon announce a venue for the first international electric airplane race event. In this video, AVweb’s Paul Bertorelli interviews Air Race E’s Jeff Zaltman to illuminate what should be an interesting addition to the sport of air racing.


  1. is that really a good idea considering that AirBus lost a pilot and engineer while trying for a speed record while running on batteries?

    • Sorry to state the obvious but I believe there may have been a few lives lost as a result of speed runs behind internal combustion engines too…

  2. I can see it now – 50 engineers for each airplane, in bunkers with laptops, emulating F1 auto racing instead of IF1 air racing, and calling it “sophistication” and “professionalism”. With a Discovery Channel-ish ominous music track running during every event vidcast.

    • Kinda like you’re saying Chris. From what Jeff Zaltman was saying, my understanding, it’s not competitive air racing focused on aviation. It sound like just another reality drama TV show built around electric motors and batteries. They follow everyone around with a camera and focus on personalities. Targeting the 300 million TV watchers that love drama and ‘Green’.

      • Or, fostering technological innovation. Happens all the time. Definitely worthwhile to see where it goes.

  3. Don’t they already have RC plane races? Same thing different scale. Just as engaging I’m sure.

    For me, and many others, No sound=No race.

    • Most races are short already. The electric ‘F-1’s will be quite capable of flying the same number of laps as their dino-juice powered cousins.

  4. This sounds a little like what happened at the Indianapolis 500 race years ago when Andy Granatelli entered his gas turbine powered car in the race. It almost won, but had a damaged bearing in the drivetrain take it out. It was interesting because all the other cars went by with a deafening roar, but his car sounded like a vacuum cleaner, and a fairly quiet one at that. The next year, the racing commission changed the rules about fuel consumption and other things to basically make it impossible for Andy to run the car again. The commission was afraid that, as William said above, “No sound=No race”.

  5. BRING IT ON!! Electric power IS coming and WILL become the way of the future, despite the nay saying and revisionism of the dinosaurs. as a 50 year veteran of the aviation industry I see electric and self flying is inevitably and inexorably approaching, so, a Racing Formula is a great way to promote the sporting aspects and passion of the aviation enthusiasts and industry members. I can only see benefits. it will not sound the same, and if the visceral sensations of racing are the fundaments, air racing success could be best measured by a microphone, not a stop watch. empirical results ARE important and as with Motor racing promoting automobile manufacturer’s development, design and sales, the efforts of an electric air racing formula will inspire greater efforts for cutting edge power and efficiency in airborne electric powerplants, including enhanced propeller designs. i can ONLY see the good side of this and believe that the promotional benefits will be significant.

    • Racing of any kind has never had as a primary focus a manufacturer’s capabilities. It’s about one competitor beating another. The major motor racing sanctioning groups and promotors are all worried about decreasing numbers of fans and this was happening pre-covid. All the artificialities introduced over the years like one-make chassis, the ability for an overtaking car to influence the performance of the car in front, etc are making the sporting essence of racing far less important than conforming to a rulebook. The former fans sensed this, either consciously or just by the feeling and vibe, and they have chosen other interests. Manufacturers can and will pour money into competition until they no longer realize any benefit and then they’re gone. I doubt there is anything in this world more fickle than a motorsports sponsor. As a former racer, I have seen that the more “tech” is applied to racing, without a doubt, the less interesting is the actual on-course action. Within my own racing discipline, I’d have more fun watching a weekend of club racers at Blackhawk Farms than at a MotoGP race weekend. The shrinking crowds and TV viewer numbers seem to say it’s not just me.

    • I agree with David. For relatively short races, electric will inevitably become a major part of the racing space and its introduction may help drive technology development and interest in other applications where it makes sense. Electric powered drones have obviated the use for gasoline in many drone applications. It makes sense that electric power will be competitive in some classes of airplanes in the foreseeable future.

  6. Air racing, no matter what is powering the racing airplane, is not a popular spectator sport. When air racing began in an organized way back in the thirties, the US public was enamored with all things aircraft. It was a national intertest.

    Today, there is no national interest in aviation. It is interesting, fascinating, and challenging to aviation enthusiast. But the bulk of the interest comes from within an already shrinking minority of aviation enthusiasts. Reno is the place to be for already fired up, aviation nuts. Reno has a pedigree, with a loyal core group of fan’s who flock there in September like we do at AirVenture/Oshkosh. It is a staple within the aviation fraternity. Average people do not identify with airplanes, let alone race planes.

    Red Bull races came as close to inventing a spectator sport that non-aviation minded people responded to…and didn’t make the return on investment that allowed for sustainability and growth. Red Bull ended it as a result. Outside of Red Bull, know one knows how much money was made, if any, and how that related to Red Bull sales. But if it was growing the business, I am sure it would still be in existence.

    Having a Cassutt racer with Boeing or Airbus logos on the side will be a bit of a flying paradox. The public is expecting something exotic and sees one airplane similar, if not exact to the other. No new shapes. How does the sponsor create brand loyalty on a product that has no perceived association with what the brand manufactures. Boeing and Airbus build jets, big ones. Maybe mix in an Owl Racer or two for a perceived “modern” look? But from the ground, Shoestring, Rivits, Ol’ Tiger, Bonzo, and Loving’s Love all look the same.

    If Cessna, Piper, Cirrus etc…name your favorite brand…entered electric powered versions of their craft combined with a class or classes devoted to an unlimited style, “run what ya brung” format, that might peak some interest from folks outside of aviation. When Nascar racing was identifiable with cars everybody already had in the driveway, what win’s on Sunday sold on Monday. Like wise during the drag racing heyday of match racing, AF/X cars, and simple head to head Friday/Saturday night grudge runs. As long as the average person can identify with the possibility of being a participant, many do, and the sport thrives and continues to grow.

    But “green” people seem like the least competitive kind of people who would throng to an aviation racing event no more than they would pack the stands watching competition between Volts vs Tesla, vs Leaf vs Prius with the most noise coming from the tires. I can see a homebuilder, already immersed in aviation who likes the challenge of seeing what he or she can do with an electric motor vs a well worn 0-200 truly bringing some fun and innovation birthing a potential class like the STOL Drag races. But like the STOL Drags, Reno, and Oshkosh, I don’t see people outside of aviation filling the stands.

    I wish the race organizers luck. I would like them to succeed. I will try to view an event if it is reasonably available to me to see. But as a current racer ( but not in airplanes), I already have the competitive spirit that enjoys the comradery of others who feel likewise.

    My racing abilities and vehicle of choice makes me a Walter Mitty type who gets to experience the thrill at a local level. But that does not make me Mickey Thompson, Craig Breedlove, Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick, or Richard Petty. But I can appreciate all of the visceral aspects of their over achievements at an amateur’s, local level when I have the time and finances to run what I brung.

    If E-Racing can bring to the masses a similar feeling or organize classes that can accommodate grass roots aviation enthusiasts not just a NASA/Boeing/Airbus/MIT backed specialty teams to participate, there might be a future. But I am convinced it will be primarily attended by people already smitten and bitten by the aviation bug. The rest of the masses will see what they want to see via tablet or smartphone. And I don’t believe air racing of electric airplanes will be a primary interest to them.

  7. Most pilots don’t care about the SPEED of an e-racer–as so many have pointed out, the big problem is range and endurance. Perhaps it is time to change the race.

    Since range and endurance are the sought-out areas needing improvement, I think there would be a lot more people in today’s aircraft community that would be interested in how FAR or how LONG the aircraft could fly.

    “Racing” or “Firsts” in the formative years of aviation wasn’t all about speed–think of Spirit of St. Louis. It was slow, but it accomplished a goal for distance traveled. The public ate it up–“Lindbergh Mania.”

    I think that the electric airplane market would be better served by demonstrating just how far an electric aircraft could go on internal power alone(perhaps separated by class) than how FAST it can go. That competition/demonstration would also be applicable to hybrid fuel/electric aircraft categories.

    Borrow from the heady days of distance records–not speed.

    • I have a different understanding of the classic air races. They were most definitely about speed. And nothing but. The GeeBee wasn’t designed to go distance, it was designed to go fast. The Thompson, Bendix and Schneider were about ever faster airplanes.

      The later gave us the Spitfire, eventually. That was the Golden Age of rapid speed advances that culminated in World War II developments.

      • That’s not the case at all. Which came first–air racing or distance flights? Compare the two–distance flights captured the public imagination–transcontinental record–long-distance point to point records–US to Hawaii flights–trans-ocean flights like Alcock and Brown across the Atlantic–trans-Pacific flights–London to Australia flights–and round-the world flights by the US Army, Wiley Post, Howard Hughes, USAF aerial refueled flights, and Steve Fossett solo in an airplane and again in a balloon. The ultimate in interest was with Lindbergh’s NY to Paris flight.

        Record flights continue to inspire people–but no longer with the fervor of the “golden age” (with the exception of Rutan/Yeager nonstop around the world, Atlantic balloon crossings , and round-the world flights by Steve Fossett.

        By contrast, air racing was popular for only a short time–1929 until 1949 (with time off during WW II–a total of 15 years.) Yes, they were popular initially–but even that was fueled by “Lindbergh Mania”–which wasn’t an air race at all. Interest waned, as the huge engines and unreliability (not to mention huge costs) of air racing engines ceased to be something the average person could identify with. Steve Wittman and his cohorts tried to institute a class of “affordable air racing”–but it failed to attract interest with the public.

        The difference–the distance flights were largely accomplished by people of modest means. Their aircraft weren’t made for SPEED–they were made of DEPENDABILITY. People could envision themselves as participating in the sport–leading to a desire to learn to fly.

        The same lesson should be exhibited by the electric airplane proponents–since their electric aircraft will likely never be FAST–show DEPENDABILITY AND VERSATILITY by showing us something USEFUL about electric aircraft power–the ability to cover a distance safely and economically.

  8. When I was a kid I loved watching the monster movies at 4PM when I got home from school. Godzilla, Rodan, King Kong. Shows like that.

    Sometimes the monster would appear as a little baby that was cute, before stomping all over Tokyo.

    I would think how much better it would have been to kill it when it was young and before it destroyed downtown.

    I feel the same about electric cars, motorcycles, and airplanes.

    Kill them in their infancy, before they take over the roads and airports.

    • LOL – There’s some wisdom in that, William. Because otherwise, the solution applied two hours later is only temporary, until “The Return Of______” (Fill In Blank)