It was only 9 short years ago that Red Bull’s sports division dreamt up the Red Bull Air Race World championship. The race features aerobatic flights performing high precision maneuvers at speeds over 200 mph and pulling 10 g’s (g-force). While aerobatics isn’t new, the Air Race was to be a gathering of the very best pilots and teams in the world, for an event that was guaranteed to thrill.
The race championship is a truly exciting combination of high speed flights, low altitude (as low as 85 feet), and precision maneuverability. The pilots are expected to weave their way through specially design aerial racetracks with inflatable pylons to guide the path. The actions moves so fast and furious, pilots are required to leave a vapor trail behind them just so their progress can be followed by spectators and judges, or else they are disqualified.
There are many planes built for aerobatics, but few built to withstand the extreme conditions of the Red Bull Air Race. In fact, nearly every pilot flies an Edge 540 model airplane- purpose built for aerobatics but built to perform at extreme speeds. That doesn’t mean, however, that every plane is the same. Each team performs hundreds of hours of research to fine tune their craft to their specifications. That means differences in wing tips as well as the high performance engine that powers the craft. The 541.5 cubic inch Lycoming IO-540 engine is air cooled and just as personal as other modifications on the plane. No two engines are exactly the same, as they are built by hand. It is vital to find the right ratio of airflow to keep the engine cooled and able to power the plane through tight circles and hard banks.
The pilots are just as elite as the planes, as the Air Race only accepts the very best. 12 Master Class pilots must be vetted and issued an Unrestricted Superlicense from the Red Bull Air Race Committee. Vetting means that they have to be a top achiever in international flight competitions and be active aerobatic air display pilots. Additionally they must prove their self at the Air Race Qualification Camp. Once they have completed these requirements, they can then obtain their license and be eligible for one of the coveted spots in the race.
Recently the Air Race took a three year hiatus to overhaul safety and technical issues and accommodate for the rapid growth of the sport and its tour stops. 2014 marks the grand return of the race with standardization of engines and propellers as well and changes in material and height to the pylons that mark the course. Stops in Dallas and Las Vegas are part of an eight race season that will feature 12 elite pilots including the defending world champion Paul Bonhomme, who is a three time champion. However 2014 also features a new addition in the form of the Challenger cup. The Challenger Cup race is on the main track and held on race weekend but gives new pilots, who have qualified, experience and a rare opportunity to compete against the Master Class pilots of the championships.
After a three year hiatus, the Red Bull Air Race Championship has come back strong with an exciting stop in Dallas, Texas. The changes in rules and technical upgrades have already proven themselves to be welcome additions to the sport, providing a more level playing ground and setting the stage for a very exciting season. The next stop on the tour will be in Las Vegas in October, and promises to continue the streak.
By Military Travel Exchange