“We’ve shown flying car racing can happen”: How Airspeeder is leading a mobility revolution

Jack Withinshaw, co-founder and chief commercial officer of Airspeeder and a member of BlackBook Motorsport’s Electric Energies Commission, outlines the flying car series’ ambitions ahead of its anticipated competitive debut in 2024.

Much has changed in the 18 months since BlackBook Motorsport last sat down with Jack Withinshaw, the co-founder and chief commercial officer of Airspeeder.

The most notable difference is just how tangible the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) flying car racing series has become. Broadcast deals have been signed, circuit trials have taken place, and piloted machinery has been unveiled.

It may be two years later than originally planned, but Airspeeder is one step closer to making its full debut and transforming the fantasy of flying cars into a reality. The series will face many challenges as it seeks to establish itself among a host of tried-and-tested motorsport series, none of which can boast flying cars.

Educating fans on exactly how this is going to work is crucial, otherwise it risks alienating casual viewers. Once these fans are suitably informed, the next hurdle will be maintaining engagement, although broadcast contracts already signed with DAZN globally and Fox Sports in Australia will play a key role in achieving that aim.

The mobility revolution is coming and Airspeeder is hoping to lead the way. Speaking to BlackBook Motorsport, Jack Withinshaw outlines how Airspeeder seeks to achieve its goals and how it plans to embed itself in the wider world of motorsport.

What have been some of the biggest milestones of the last 18 months?

We have taken the Mk3 vehicle, which is a four-and-a-half-metre uncrewed electric vehicle (eVTOL) and it’s gone through its design phase and test phase and we took it out racing. In 2022, we did two races where we had multiple vehicles in the air racing alongside each other in an augmented reality ‘sky-track’ – held up with a 5G network – racing through augmented reality gates with filming drones in the mix.

We can now confidently say that we’ve done the world’s first flying car race, it’s a big achievement for us. On top of that, we didn’t only do it once; once could be a miracle, but twice is assured. We’ve now also introduced our newest vehicle, the Mk4.

The Mk4 is a crewed hydrogen-enabled flying car and that’s going through the exact same testing phases that the Mk3 went through as well. We’ve not only shown that flying car racing can happen – we’ve done our first two races, proved the network works and that the surrounding infrastructure works.

Now, we’re bringing the final element – the riskiest element – which is the pilot into a crewed vehicle.


With these advancements on the technical side, how are you going to go about educating your audience?

With a property like ours, there is a huge education process that has to come along with it. It’s not as simple as saying, ‘here’s a car that we’re all familiar with and we’ve done X, Y and Z to modify it’. A flying car has no reference point for the public, we have to take them on that journey.

A lot of the deals we’ve done in the broadcast space, and some have yet to be announced, [aim to address] all the questions that jump into your head as soon as you even mention Airspeeder or flying car racing.

We have to start explaining them to the audience, so there’s a lot of original content in our programming that we’ve started to release to be able to take audiences on the journey that we’ve been on for three years. [The goal is to] get them up to scratch and up to speed as we move from our races last year into our [upcoming] races.

The three series we announced in the [global] DAZN deal were the ‘Road to Flying Car’, the ‘Finding Extreme Pilots’, and the ‘Building Flying Cars’ series. This is a global sport at the end of the day, we’re not trying to educate a single audience in a single location, we need to get this as far and wide as possible.


An important aspect of this education process will be ensuring the series is taken seriously. How will you avoid the series being seen as a gimmick?

My answer to that is progression. The mandate is for the series to evolve consistently every single year and to show that the sport is being pushed both technologically and as an entertainment piece. We are a new series and this is a blank sheet of paper that we’ve had to design the sport around, there’s no rules when it comes to building a flying car race.

The downside of that is there’s no path to follow, so we’ve had to build it and it does take time. But a good example is [comparing] last year to this year. [One way we’re] showing it’s not a gimmick is we’re starting to look at bringing in VIP and hospitality experiences to audiences on site, to be able to touch the vehicles and experience the vehicles for themselves. We’re looking to introduce more vehicles into the air [during a race]. This year, we’re looking at getting three [flying cars in the air at once], and possibly even more. To show it’s not a gimmick is [through] evolution, showing that we are moving and progressing this sport in the right direction.

Airspeeder’s competitive action so far has been limited to one-on-one racing without pilots

The next [hurdle] is the purpose as to why we are doing this, and it’s by that education process. We’ve got to remember that there’s a whole new mobility revolution which nobody really knows about. There’s 700 flying car companies out there and they are building the next leg of the revolution, which is urban mobility (or vertical-enabled mobility). Our job is to educate people about that, to get them excited and to fall in love.

You can see where we are today and the future that we’re heading towards where everybody’s sitting around in a flying car. This is a long journey, but its not a gimmick and it’s an evolving process to get to that.

Do you have any initiatives to make sure viewers are engaged with the content you’re putting out there?

We jokingly say ‘who wouldn’t want to watch a flying car race at least once?’, so we know we can probably get at least one view per person! But how do we get that engagement and how do we get that excitement? It’s a new sport, the rules are not written and we want to do things slightly differently as well.

[One path will be] exploring all the tools at our disposal, which is things like virtual reality, how we have [the audience] follow certain pilots and certain teams. As a product, we also need to move to live, we’re not a live broadcast just yet, and with that will come a whole load of new experiences for the viewers at home.

The long-term vision is, because these vehicles are so technologically advanced, that we can actually blend the digital and virtual worlds together. By that, there is a world where a player at home could be racing an actual pilot on the racetrack. And, because each of our vehicles have a digital forcefield around them, a virtual pilot could impact a real pilot and vice versa. That’s when I think we can start converging the worlds of physical and digital together.


While some of that may sound far-fetched, how important is real-world relevance to a series like Airspeeder?

You can’t [go and drive a flying car right now], but there are pilots out there that are doing it at the moment. That industry is coming. Some of the stats that are thrown around are that flying cars will be over London by 2028 or 2030. Some cities and locations will be moving even quicker than that. If you look to Dubai, they’re actually starting to build rulebooks and infrastructure and transport regulations to be able to enable flying cars by 2025 or 2026.

But, like all good motorsport series, and what I believe all new motorsport series should be, is to have technical relevance in development and use the sport as a way to drive that technology for the mobility revolution. So, driving it in performance, driving it in safety and driving it in public awareness and acceptance.

With this technologically advanced pitch, is it easy to sell the concept to potential partners or are they slightly sceptical?

Definitely sceptical, you get two types of responses. One is ‘that sounds absolutely crazy’, but the other is ‘that sounds absolutely crazy, I want to hear more’. We work with a lot of tier one partners, companies like Intel, IWC, Acronis, Telstra.

The reason they’re getting involved in Airspeeder [is] yes it’s a great story, it’s a long journey, it’s great to be a part of, but it goes back to what every motorsport needs: relevancy. What we’re doing in racing is building out not just the vehicles that are going to define the mobility of tomorrow, but also the infrastructure required to keep those vehicles in the air.

The 5G networks that enable our vehicles to fly and cooperate and talk together, we’re going to need that in our cities today. So, anyone that plays with us has a technical advantage over other partners, to be able to test that out with us ahead of when flying cars go mainstream.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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With a view to when flying cars might be mainstream, then, what does Airspeeder look like in five years’ time?

Hopefully by then we’ve graduated to our fifth year of Grand Prix racing, the grid is full with 20 vehicles, ten teams in the sky at the same time, you’ll be watching it from the bay of Monaco. You could be watching it through your phone, maybe with some form of holo-lens device where you can see the track and the vehicles all duking it out over the bay.

That’s where we want to get to, because if we can do that and do it safely, then we can show we’ve done it in the hardest and most extreme way possible.

[That shows] flying cars for everyday people, for our everyday experience, will become possible as well.


The Electric Energies Commission is BlackBook Motorsport's advisory group in the arena of electric motorsport. To find out more about the board, click here. To enquire about opportunities, email our executive director Peter Jones.

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