Plane & Pilot
Friday, May 1, 2009

Smoke On!

Pushing my Edge to the edge over the Danube

It’s hot in this race plane…even at 1,000 feet…or is it just me? My mouth is dry and my heart is racing as I watch the competitor before me twisting his way through the track. Is there anything to learn by watching him? Which way is his smoke blowing? Have I planned my flight according to the current wind conditions? It’s a little too late for big changes in my plan, so just a tweak here or there is all I can do.

My fellow competitor finishes only 30 seconds before my call to start. Seat belts tightened, helmet secure…one final check. Rpm: 2,950. Throttle: what do you think? Now, let’s make a big, low-G circle to minimize speed loss during my turn. Budapest is a “fast track,” which means that I need every last knot as I pass under the historic Chain Bridge for the start of the race.

That’s right, under the bridge! It’s only 27 feet from the bottom of the steel curtain to the river beneath it. Then the call comes from the race director, “Number 99, Michael, cleared into the track…smoke on.” I make one last big, gentle turn as I start my run in. As I complete the turn, I focus on a small orange buoy approximately 100 yards short of the bridge. According to the rules, my Edge must be wings level as I cross the buoy, which gives me approximately two seconds between the buoy and my pass beneath the bridge.

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