The 2019 Dubai Air Show marks the e-racer’s first public appearance in anticipation of the inaugural competition of the Air Race E racing series.
The year was 1979. In the workshop of a builder in Midlands, UK, a standard slab-wing Cassutt aircraft was being transformed from nose to tail. The objective? To build an air racing machine that could compete in formula one air races. By 1980, the reconstruction was complete, and the new aircraft, named “White Lightning,” was launched on the air race circuit by its owner-pilot Andrew Chadwick.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, White Lightning raced in both handicap and formula one races—several races per year, in fact. Chadwick introduced air racing to continental Europe, travelling with White Lightning to places such as Epernay, France and Freiburg, Germany. In Compiègne, France, White Lightning achieved new levels of celebrity when a pigeon famously flew right through its wing from top to bottom!
By the end of two exhilarating decades in air racing, White Lightning had been twice crowned a champion—in Meaux, France and in Rochester, UK—then fell into retirement. But this did not last: a new life was quietly hovering on the horizon.
Today, hopes abound that the racer formerly known as White Lightning will repeat its winning history, but in a completely different format.
Martyn Wiseman, the lead from Team Condor Aviation, took ownership of White Lightning—an older Cassutt model but still very popular in traditional formula one air racing. The model has an airframe comprised of a welded-tube-steel fuselage and fabric-covered wooden wings. The fuel tank was positioned behind the engine—like in many aircraft.
As part of the retrofit for Air Race E, Team Condor Aviation has completely gutted the piston engine and swapped in Contra-Electric’s twin-motor, contra-rotating-propeller powertrain that provides continuous electric power. The fuel tank has been replaced with a ~20 kWh battery.
For Martyn and his team, the major engineering challenge with the retrofit is finding the right balance between weight and power distribution. Specifically, the electric motor has the potential for a relatively high power-to-weight ratio compared to the original piston engine.
“The first step is to retrofit the aircraft with commercially available components to try to replicate the original performance,” explains Martyn. “As a second step, we will design a custom propulsion system to ensure the airplane is ready to race.”