Plane & Pilot
Friday, May 1, 2009

Smoke On!


Pushing my Edge to the edge over the Danube


I’m never really sure exactly when I pass under the bridge because I’m not ever looking at it. My focus is on the first gate, which is closing in at over 350 feet per second. The only sign that I have passed under the bridge is the instant a very quick shadow crosses my canopy. Sometimes there’s a good shot of turbulence too, depending on the wind.


But as I approach the first gate, my focus has already shifted to the second gate. At this speed, if you’re not way ahead of the airplane, then you’ll be out of position and not even have a chance to make it through the next gate. That’s a way of life in the Red Bull Air Race. Be ahead of the airplane, or you’ll find yourself hanging onto the tailwheel so far out of the race that you shouldn’t have even bothered to show up.

Here comes the tight 220-degree turn. The G will be immense, and for a long duration, so get ready...deep breath, tighten the legs and abs. Turn and go for it!

The G-meter is probably somewhere around 10 or 11, but I don’t have enough time to look. Where’s that gate? The G is too much to move my head while turning, so I just pull and “hang on” until the gate comes into view. I hope my wind planning was accurate, because there’s no time to correct once the turn is complete. You either planned it perfectly or you hit the gate and incur a 10-second penalty. Ten seconds may not seem long in everyday life, but it’s an eternity in the Red Bull Air Race—if you hit the gate, you might as well start thinking of packing your clothes for the 11-hour flight home.

Here comes the last gate... Got through it perfectly. Now for that bridge...again. This time, I must turn, descend and go below it—all in less than three seconds.

Made it! The race director calls my time over the radio, and it’s on to the Super 8s, the last round before the finals and another date with the bridge. As I exit the box, I pull up and perform an aerobatic maneuver—sometimes a series of snap rolls on a 45-degree climbing line, sometimes a tumble at the top of a loop—to say “thanks” to the 700,000 fans cheering me on from the riverbank. What a race, what a life. I’m one lucky guy!!

Michael Goulian has flown air shows for many years in his Castrol Aviator Extra 300SHP. He has been on the Red Bull Air Race circuit since 2006, flying in his Extra and, more recently, an Edge 540. Visit www.mikegoulian.com and www.redbullairrace.com and become a fan on Facebook (search: Mike Goulian Airshows).

 





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