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Red Bull Air Race Ascot 2016

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Aviation History

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"...exceeded the maximum G force allowed and was stopped mid race"

The Red Bull air race UK was held at the world famous Ascot Racecourse, in Berkshire, for the third year running. For those who do not know Ascot, it is situated west of Heathrow Airport and as such had height restrictions in place for the event, a ceiling of 1000 foot was in place, with the giant A380’s & Boeing 747’s taking off at very regular intervals you can understand why in this very crowded bit of sky.

Arriving at the Racecourse, the first thing that you notice when coming through the gates are two of the pylons that the pilots have to fly through. These are made of a non rip stop lightweight spinnaker material that does not damage the wings of the aircraft when hit but will withstand the air pressure holding them up. I was fortunate to be able to have a tour of a pylon, not just the outside view bit also going inside one – amazing to be in a 25metre nylon cone and when the air pressure was put at race setting you really felt the air pressure change with your ears popping.

 
 
 

There were so many things to see around the grandstands areas for the whole family, from BMX stunt show to a little ones craft making sessions, it really was a day out for the whole family. In front of the grandstand was a Merlin helicopter of the Royal Navy, with queues all day long for people to have a look inside the latest large military helicopter, inside the main grandstand was also a Red Bull F1 racing car.

Now, onto the aircraft aspect. Looking around the temporary hangers that were at the end of the grandstands the vast majority of the aircraft looked very similar on the outside but, as like Formula 1 cars, most of the really techy bits are hidden from view within the aircraft that allow these aircraft to fly and turn on a knife edge.

With a Breitling wing walkers display just before the main race start, which everyone thoroughly enjoyed. A gyrocopter and a paraglider were also present to give demonstrations of what they could do with their aircraft.

The Army Air Corps displayed two of their Historical Flight Helicopters during the afternoon in between the races.

The aircraft are pushed from their hangers onto what is really the racecourse with a temporary single runway on it.

The air race has very strict rules, designed to protect the pilots yet keep the races alive with a good competitive nature. These include a maximum of 10G load factor, maximum speed on entry through the start gate (202 Knots), flying too high, not flying level through level gates (not the chicane pylons), landing weight of the pilot and aircraft must be of a minimum weight of 696Kgs and even if the smoke is not on for the duration of the display.

 
 

The air race is run over two days with the qualifying held on day one and the races taking part on day two. The qualifying is more about the timings and where in the order they will be for race day, rather than if they will or will not race.

There are two types of races, the challenger and the masters. The challengers are the up and coming pilots that have the ability to become a master in the future. The race format is all 14 pilots race in the first session, this is then whittled down to 8 over 4 heats and the winners of each heat will then be in the final.

In heat 1, the UK’s Nigel Lamb, Breitling Team, was beaten into second place in what is his last season and this was his last home air race. Overall the pilots were very close to each other with only split seconds apart from each other.

Heat two saw Lamb get beaten and so he could not compete in the final today, he did receive a round of applause when he landed though.

The final four were Matt Hall, Matthais Dolderer, Hannes Arch & Michael Goulian and it was a good show from all four, although Arch and Goulian were both classed as DNF (Did not Finish) Hannes seemed to lose his way around the track at the last minute, so much so that at the press conference Nigel Lamb, jokingly, gave him a race layout map. Goulian exceeded the maximum G force allowed and was stopped mid race for his infringement of the rules.
Paul Bonhomme, last years overall champion, was also presented with a special award for all his time with the Red Bull Air Race over the years.
The Ascot results were: 1st Hall (Aus), 2nd Dolderer (Ger), 3rd Arch (Aut), 4th Goulian (USA)

The current World standing top 3 are: 1st Dolderer (53.25), 2nd Arch (35), 3rd Hall (33.75)

Each aircraft that starts the season will be different by the end of the season, the tech teams check all the data after each race session and, just like Formula 1 motor racing, they adjust settings on the aircraft to get those few extra milliseconds that can and do make the difference between winning and losing.

To see these amazing pilots perform such aerobatics in a very small tightly controlled space is amazing, I am already looking forward to the 2017 air race to see what new challenges they will face.

   
Review by Ian Birdsey
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