Pilot Journal
Tuesday, March 1, 2005

A New Kind Of Air Racing

Red Bull has combined low-level aerobatics through a slalom course of pylons to give birth to an exciting new type of in-your-face race—all in the backdrop of Reno, Nevada!

A new kind of air racingReno 2004: The single red and blue airplane comes screaming downhill from 1,000 feet toward the twin pylons, passes through the center of the short gap between them and starts the race. Then, inexplicably, the airplane does an 8 G pull up to vertical, rolls past a wingover to inverted and dives straight back down toward the ground. It’s called the Red Bull Air Race, and it’s a type of competition no one in the U.S. has seen before." />

There are three possible flight plans for the course to keep things challenging for the racers and interesting for spectators. All use the same basic plan form, but specify different maneuvers in varied sequences. Time penalties of two, five or 10 seconds are assessed for flying too high through the pylons, any in-complete or missed maneuver, missing or touching a pylon and failing to touch down inside the designated zone on the touch-and-go. To be competitive, a racer must fly the course clean, with no deductions. In a recent competition, the winning margin was only .03 seconds.

(Interestingly, one cause for total disqualification is “hitting an obstacle with one’s propeller.” This has happened several times, fortunately, with no consequence worse than a bruised ego. Pylons are made of thin rubber designed to disintegrate on contact. So while a collision may be temporarily disorienting, it’ll simply destroy the pylon, not the airplane.)

Unlike standard, closed-course py-lon racing where virtually any decent pilot with a penchant for speed, reasonable formation skills and enough money to afford a race plane can compete, Red Bull racing demands expert aerobatic skills plus a fast, highly maneuverable airplane and a willingness to fly close to the edge. By definition, all competitors must be comfortable flying acro to the limits of the performance and control envelope, a special skill confined to a select group of aviators and a special type of airplane.

Red Bull kicked off the series in 2003 with two events, one in Austria and the other in Peter Besenyei’s home country of Hungary. In 2004, the schedule included three races, two in Europe and the third in the U.S. The first of the 2004 events was held in June at Kemble Air Day in Gloucestershire, U.K., the second in August at Budapest, Hungary. The latter race attracted several hundred thousand fans who lined the banks of Budapest’s Danube River to witness a wild race on a course that demanded a flight beneath the city’s famous Chain Bridge. (Imagine trying to get the American FAA to approve that.)

The final race of the season was held in conjunction with the world’s premier racing venue, the 41st Annual National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nev. Eight pilots flew in each of the competitions, and the Red Bull Air Race World Series Championship was decided at the Reno event.

A New Kind Of Air Racing
Courtesy of Red Bull
The eight pilots who were invited to compete for the top prize at Reno included some of the best aviators from the U.S. and Europe. All are former or current national or world aerobatic champions or established air-show performers.

Predictably, the pilots fly some of the world’s most agile high-performance aerobatic mounts. The French CAP 232 is a dedicated aerobatic airplane that has carried its pilots to more world medals than any other type. Walter Extra’s remarkable German Extra 300 is a total favorite of air-show performers around the world, and they include U.S. Aerobatic Champion Patty Wag-staff. The Russian Sukhoi has been a star on the aerobatic circuit for years, both in its initial SU-26 and later SU-31 versions. Perhaps the most popular of the Red Bull aircraft, however, is the Edge 540, an all-American product.


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