By MIRANDA ENZOR
LOCAL HERO: Jim Bridenstine, TASM director, Navy pilot and a 1993 graduate of Jenks High School, is one of the individuals getting in at the ground floor of the Rocket Racing League. He has flown F-18s and E-2s for the Navy and has fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Imagine being able to fly non-stop from Tulsa to Paris in two hours while using a quarter of the fuel an airliner uses for the same trip. It sounds like a science-fiction film fantasy, but in a matter of years such a flight could be a reality. And it all begins with the world’s first ever Rocket Racing League (RRL).
The RRL is an organization combining air shows and vehicle racing to create a league that hopes to draw in viewers and advance rocket science and space technology.
Jim Bridenstine, a Navy pilot and a 1993 graduate of Jenks High School, is one of the individuals getting in at the ground floor of this momentous project. He flies F-18s and E-2s for the Navy and has fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. When his tour of duty ends in May, Bridenstine plans to embark on a new adventure with the RRL.
“As a team owner and as a pilot I want to bring my rocket racing team, which has phenomenal individuals on it, to the city of Tulsa and I want to promote Tulsa as a center of aerospace excellence and as a great place to do business,” Bridenstine says.
Bridenstine met with city officials Jan. 10 in hopes of gaining support for his team. He says officials are excited to bring him to the city and will ask him to return in the following months for a second proposal presentation. In order to bring his team to Tulsa, the support of the city is crucial. Bridenstine currently has offers from Ft. Worth and Houston, but says Tulsa is home.
Bridenstine first heard about the RRL from an article last February in Popular Science magazine. After reading about the league, he scoured the Internet for every article he could find.
“I started getting smart about what these guys were doing, and I started sending them e-mails and calling them,” Bridenstine says. “Because I’m a Navy pilot, they assumed I didn’t have the capital to get involved in this kind of an operation. They didn’t really express a whole lot of interest in having me race in the first season.”
Bridenstine estimates a rocket costs around $1.2 million. The operating expenses would cost roughly $3 million. Bridenstine remained persistent. He continued sending e-mails and calling the RRL, and they finally relented.
“They said, ‘Send us five-hundred bucks and we’ll send you a request approval.’”
Bridenstine’s first step was building a racing team that includes notable members: LeRoy Thompson, a rocket scientist at Lockheed Martin; Daniel McShane, a Navy Blue Angel; and Phillip Stiehl, a former NASA Space Shuttle mechanic.
With his team assembled, Bridenstine met with RRL officials in Los Angeles. His proposal and interview won officials over. They believed Bridenstine’s Navy background would give the organization credibility, and they offered his team a spot in the RRL.
By being a part of the RRL, Bridenstine hopes to instill a sense of patriotism into the country, inspire children and advance space travel technology.
“When you look at my parent’s generation, they lived through a time when space travel was new, novel. There were great feelings of patriotism around it. What I want to do with my team is infuse the patriotic feelings that were once in the space program into the RRL. Even more important is to encourage children and youth to get involved and learn the math and science required so that (the RRL) can be successful in the future.
“Ultimately, we want for space travel to be relatively cheap, available for everybody and extremely safe. All the technology currently exists but it isn’t being used because there hasn’t been a desire for it in the past.”
With the RRL’s first season starting in just over a year, Bridenstine won’t have to wait long to achieve these goals.
“I want this to be great for the space sector of the economy and I want to be part of an adventure that will advance rocket science and space technology with private sector mechanisms.”
For more information on Bridenstine’s team, visit www.bridenstinerocketracing.com.