Yoshihide Muroya moving through the Abu Dhabi course. He took ninth place overall. Photo: Red Bull
The craziest men in all of motorsports may well be the guys in the propeller planes in a Red Bull Air Race. Competing in an Air Race is like racing in Formula One, but with barrel rolls and g-force-induced tunnel vision.
Many pilots who compete make their living flying 747s, but come race day, they push their single-seaters to more than 200 mph, flying barely 80 feet above the ground, passing within inches of the pylons. It’s enough to make even Sebastian Vettel nauseated.
The 2014 season opened in Abu Dhabi after a three-year moratorium to make the event safer. It seems the flight patterns flown between 2003 and 2010 were too intense even for Red Bull, so race organizers took a timeout to reassess the rules and course design. The biggest changes were raising the gates about 5 meters to 25 meters, reducing maximum allowable g-forces from 12 to 10, and requiring everyone to use a Lycoming boxer engine with a Hartzell three-blade 7690 propeller.
The nine air-filled pylons dotting the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) course. The conical pylons have a base 5 meters in diameter, narrowing to 0.75 meters wide. The sailcloth at the top of the pylons is lighter than printer paper.
As for the hardware, everyone flies single-prop planes outfitted with the same 300 horsepower engine and propeller. The Zivko Edge 540, made in Oklahoma, is the most popular airframe. It weighs 1,155 pounds dry. It has a wingspan of 24.4 feet, and a length of 20.7 feet, which just lets it slip between the gates. These things are fast. Crazy fast. They can ascend 3,700 feet in one minute–a Cessna Skyhawk‘s best is 730 feet per minute. Top-placing competitors completed their runs in just under a minute, often with tenths of a second separating their times.
First place went to a Brit named Paul Bonhomme, a 49-year-old commercial airline pilot for British Airways with two other first-place finishes in 2009 and 2010 to his name. He complete the course in 56.439 seconds. Second place went to Austrian Hannes Arch, who completed the course just a flash behind Bonhomme. Arch won the Red Bull Championship in 2008.
The Red Bull Air Race’s next stop is Rovinj, Croatia, followed by five more international stops, including the final race in China. Red Bull also signed an agreement with Abu Dhabi, so expect the race to be held there again for at least the next three years.
Left to right, Hannes Arch (AUT) took second place, Paul Bonhomme (GBR) took first, and Pete McLeod (CAN) took third. Photo: Red Bull