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!
Reno 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." />
Red Bull racer Kirby Chambliss of Flying Crown Ranch, Ariz., flies an Edge, and he’s convinced the airplane is one of the secrets of his success. Chambliss is a four-time U.S. National Aerobatic Champion and 2000 World Champion. Chambliss won both the Budapest and Gloucestershire events in 2004. A Southwest Airlines 737 captain in real life, Chambliss is an air-show pilot during his off time, flying the Edge 540 in air shows across the U.S. and Canada.
“From the beginning to the end, the Red Bull competition is a high-G, high-performance environment,” says Chambliss. “I need to keep the turn radius as small as possible on each pylon, and that means I’ll be pulling 8, 9 or even 10 G’s. If you expect to win, you need to shave off every second you possibly can and fly the shortest possible distance through the course.”
Chambliss’ Edge 540 is well-suited for that kind of mission. The airplane’s Lycoming AEIO-540 engine is pumped up to an 11.5-to-one compression ratio and delivers an impressive 350 hp. With only 1,183 pounds to lift, the Edge sports a power loading of only 3.4 pounds per hp, among the lowest of any aerobatic airplane. “My airplane is the closest thing you can get to a rocket ship with wings,” says Chambliss.
The Edge, which is a product of ZAI Aeronautics in Guthrie, Okla., offers a climb rate near 4,000 fpm and a top speed close to 200 knots. “I can recover lost energy faster from a slow speed and accelerate much quicker than some other airplanes because of the airplane’s extremely light weight as well as plenty of horsepower,” boasts Chambliss.
The Edge also is incredibly maneuverable. Huge ailerons help the airplane roll at 420 degrees per second. “Outstanding acceleration and quick maneuvering are especially important on such a tight course,” explains Chambliss. “The quicker you can get the airplane to the attitude, altitude and airspeed you need, the quicker you’ll get through the course. In short, we need all the performance we can get for this type of racing.”
The ground is another factor that plays a major role in Red Bull competition. “Unlike standard unlimited aerobatic competition where the floor of the box is 300 feet AGL,” says Chambliss, “we sometimes fly as low as 30 to 40 feet during a race, so the margin for error is considerably less, especially when you’re covering the equivalent of a football field each second.
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