After a three year hiatus to revamp and rework, the Red Bull Air Races are BACK! As someone who has seen four races in person and all of them via video, I could not be more thrilled.
Many things have changed, but some things have remained the same. The most important aspect that has not changed is the pilots. All 12 of the pilots are returning racers.
The UK’s Paul Bonhomme, the Red Bull Air Race World Champion for 2009 and 2010 is the early favorite to repeat. But Austrian, Hannes Arch who won in 2008 is also looking to return to the top. Both of these men are VERY competitive and have kept their skills up flying Airshows and Competition.
|Kirby Chambliss flying over Las Vegas Motor Speedway|
Credit: Garth Milan Red Bull Content Pool
American Kirby Chambliss won in 2004 and 2006 and is always striving for perfection. Michael Goulian, another American returning pilot is ready to take it all. Having met all 12 of the racers, it's hard to decide who to cheer for, but no matter who wins, it will be an exciting year.
The changes are many and quite important. First off, the pylons are different. The new pylons are asymmetrical cones with a straight inner edge with an inclined outer edge. They will also be 5 meters taller with a higher flight window for the pilots to fly through. Another important difference is the material will be able to deflate more easily when hit by a plane and stand up straighter during windy weather conditions.
Over the years, 30 different materials and fabrics have been tested to see if they would make the grade. The current pylons will have a Spinnaker type fabric on the top which should make the racing safer with a quicker burst or deflation.
Another major change is the engine/prop combo being adopted by all of the teams. While the aircraft may be different, the engines will all be the 300 hp Lycoming Thunderbolt AEIO-540-EXP.
|Lycoming Thunderbolts AEIO-540-EXPs|
Credit: Balazs Gardi Red Bull Content Pool
The propellers will all be Hartzell 3-bladed 7690 structural composite props more commonly known as “The Claw”. This propeller has low gyroscopic forces and incredible thrust. By the end of the last season (2010) all of the teams had converted to “The Claw” and Hartzell is now partnering with Red Bull Air Races to continue to innovate and focus on safety.
By using the same engines and propellers combo, the organizers feel there will be a more level playing field and the variables will now be pilot skill and aerodynamics. Time will tell if this is the right move – but if closer racing is the result – that would be fantastic.
An interesting change is the recent agreement signed between Red Bull Air Race management and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). The FAI is the sanctioning body of air sports, and the keeper of aviation records.
This agreement puts FAI in the position of sanctioning the Red Bull Air Races’ rules and regulations and will provide support for the races as safety supervisors. This is a big stamp of approval by the International Aviation Community of the Red Bull Air Races.
Another interesting addition is the Challenger Cup. This is basically a farm system for Air Race Pilots. One of the difficulties in the past was sourcing the type of talent it takes to be an Air Race Pilot. The ability to select a group of potential new Racers and have them compete for a spot on the roster is a great idea. Again, I believe this will add to the safety of the series. With eight pilots from seven different countries including Francois Le Vot from France, the World Aerobatic Champion from 2013, the newcomers are the next generation.
The season opener in Abu Dhabi over the Arabian Gulf will be held the first weekend in March. As I write this, the teams are already there and getting their aircraft ready for the week of festivities and competition.
The next race will be in Rovinj, Croatia in April – then onto the Putrajaya, Malaysia in May. July bring us to the Baltic Sea and the city of Gdynia, Poland. August takes us to Great Britain and the Ascot Racecourse.
|Locations - spanning the globe|
They move to the United States with two further debut locations, the Texas Motor Speedway in Dallas-Fort Worth, in September and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, in October. The final race will be held in China in November. For those counting at home, that’s eight races in seven countries on three continents.
Both stops in the US are being staged at a motor speedway. This has been done once before in Lausitz, Germany during the 2010 series. The perspective for the fans will be totally different – being that the action will take place at eye level or lower than the fans' seats. Looking down at the competition will be an interesting change.
Tickets are on sale – and the action can be seen in multiple places. The Red Bull Air Race World Championships will air live on Red Bull TV via the web at www.redbull.tv, or through its iOS and Android applications, In select markets, the races can be seen on Apple TV, Xbox 360 and Smart TV devices. Also Fox Sports will broadcast in the USA. Keep watching for updates on the Red Bull Air Races website. http://www.redbullairrace.com/en_US