Leading Edge Rocket Racing, which in October 2005 became the first team to join Peter Diamandis’s ambitious Rocket Racing League, has officially left the organization. The league is in the process of developing rocket-powered aircraft that will race in Nascar-like events around the country. It is already more than a year behind its initial schedule, which was to have included 10 full races in 2007. As of right now, it hasn’t even test-flown a prototype aircraft, let alone certified one for safe flight and produced enough for actual competitive racing.
Leading Edge, founded by former F-16 pilots Robert Rickard and Don Grantham, announced the move via a terse memo on Friday, and were vague about their reasons—though they’re clearly disgruntled. "After working with Rocket Racing League for the past 17 months, we have concluded that our vision, business practices, and communication standards are incompatible with those of the league,” said Rickard in the press release. “We had very high hopes for this enterprise and tried very hard to find a common way forward.”
And: "There hasn’t been a working relationship between our company and the RRL for some time now. This announcement makes it official so we can move on,” said Grantham. “It's time to focus our resources on something more compatible with Leading Edge’s goal of being the premiere operators of high performance rocket powered aircraft." (Neither Rickard nor Grantham could be reached for clarification or additional comment.)
RRL chief executive Granger Whitelaw didn’t wish to comment on the departure, except to say that Leading Edge was “welcome to come back and race whenever they get their internal organization funded and structured appropriately.” When asked about the status of the RRL, Granger said, “Terrific! Wonderful!” before adding that the league expects to test-fly its first rocketplane this July.
So, reading between the lines (and it certainly doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do that), Leading Edge seems to be implying that the Rocket Racing League is something of a sham, and the RRL thinks Leading Edge doesn’t have its act together enough—most likely in terms of fund-raising—to play on the RRL’s level.
Will the rocket racers ever start flying? We’ve still got our hopes up, but today’s news is certainly a significant obstacle for the fledgling league to overcome. —Eric Adams