Great Air Race to return in 2019 – for electric powered aircraft

The crowd gathers for the Great Air Race arrival. (NSW Library)
The crowd gathers for the Great Air Race arrival. (NSW Library)

In the week Qantas prepares to launch the first regularly scheduled nonstop flights linking the continents of Australia and Europe, the Northern Territory government is reviving an air race first held when such an undertaking would have been inconceivable.

In 1919, the Australian Government challenged the world’s leading aviators to fly from Great Britain to Australia in less than 30 days.

Waiting for the first successful flight would be a prize of 10,000 pounds.

It was called the Great Air Race and six teams entered the contest. Three teams crashed, two fatally. A fourth was imprisoned in Yugoslavia after being thought to be “Bolsheviks”. Just two crews finished.

And there was only one winner.

On the morning of November 12 1919, pilots Ross and Keith Smith, along with mechanics Sergeants Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett, took off in their Vickers Vimy G-EAOU from Hounslow aerodrome in West London.

Over the next 29 days they passed through countries including France, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, India, Myanmar, Singapore and Indonesia before touching down at Fannie Bay, Northern Territory.

The realisation that it was possible to fly from Australia to Great Britain was part of the inspiration that spurred the founding of Qantas, by Paul McGinness and Hudson Fysh, in 1920.

Ross Smith with his prize money. (NSW Library)
Ross Smith with his prize money. (NSW Library)

To celebrate the centenary of the Great Air Race in 1919, the Northern Territory government is backing a new Great Air Race to be held in 2019.

The advancement in aviation technology over the past century means the journey between Australia and Great Britain now takes 24 hours rather than 30 days. Indeed Qantas’s forthcoming Boeing 787-9 flights from Perth to London shows the journey can be done nonstop.

Therefore, the Great Air Race 2019 will be for electric-powered aircraft, with batteries to be charged using renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, or by hydrogen fuel cells, with the hydrogen to be produced by renewable energy. And competitors will have to complete the journey within 30 days.

Electric.Aero's Pipistrel Alpha Electro's first flight at Perth's Jandakot Airport. (Electric.Aero/Facebook)
In January, Perth-based Electro.Aero completed the first Australian flight of a production-built electric light sport aircraft, with this Slovenian-built Pipistrel. (Electric.Aero)

University of NSW Emeritus Professor of physics John Storey said the race would help spur innovation in battery technology.

“The heart of the problem is to store enough energy in the batteries without making the aircraft weigh like an elephant,” Prof Storey said.

“The event is technically feasible, but being able to complete the route within 30 days is by no means a foregone conclusion.

“That makes 2019 the right time to stage it: in 2009 it would have been impossible, in 2029 it will be routine. It’s a very happy coincidence.”

Airbus Group's E-Fan technology demonstrator became the world s first all-electric two engine aircraft taking off by its own power to successfully cross the Channel on 10 July 2015, some 106 years after Louis Bleriot epic flight. Here during ist test flight on July 09 over the UK. (Airbus)
Airbus Group’s E-Fan technology demonstrator became the world s first all-electric two engine aircraft taking off by its own power to successfully cross the Channel on July 10 2015, some 106 years after Louis Bleriot epic flight. Here during ist test flight over the UK. (Airbus)

More information can be found on greatairrace.com.au.


VIDEO: Airbus Group explains the building of the E-Fan technology demonstrator on its YouTube channel.

Comments

  1. mike9 says

    Technology has a way of going in different directions from what most people think.. the next generation of
    Li Fe Pho 2 batteries are already being tested. twice the energy density of Li -ion. and half the weight. one twentieth of a lead acid. Lithium oxygen is being tested right now. the major manufacturers are already testing Li-Fe Pho 2 on Aircraft. it is going to be a very different aviation world in 20 years.

  2. NJP says

    Hope they are more stable that the first B878 batteries…..lithium ignites in pure oxygen (if I remember my school science classes)

  3. Richard De Crespigney says

    Actually Airbus weren’t the first to cross the channel, there was an amateur guy who was going to do it himself with some sort of home-built battery-powered aeroplane about a week before Airbus attempted it, due to political pressure (from Airbus obviously), his flight plan was cancelled by the government, but he still went anyway illegally, he was successful and beat Airbus to it.

    Also Pipistrel were going to do it before Airbus, but they too, for some ‘unknown’ reason, were told by their battery supplier Samsung, that they weren’t allowed to attempt the channel crossing. A

    fter these 2 events, Airbus are the first ‘officially’ to cross the channel, but not really, check your facts, there’s always more to every story you hear.

  4. John Cox says

    Well done
    Good for Australia good for innovation forget all the the iffs buts and maybe let’s get behind the idea and help make it happen.

  5. Chris says

    What a good idea. Great way to improve battery technology whether its for aircraft, vehicles. buses and trains.

  6. mike9 says

    NJP,
    Totally different to Li-Ion actually, absolutely no fire risk with LiFePho. different catalytic process . but everyone see’s lithium and thinks fire hazard.