Sunday, May 10, 2009

Red Bull Air Race

For the third year in a row, the Red Bull Air Race came to San Diego this weekend. I first saw the race two years ago, and it was so cool I was disappointed to miss it last year. So this year, when some of my family decided to make a weekend of it and go camping in Coronado (across the bay from San Diego) to be close to the big event, I definitely wanted to join the fun.

Picture small planes flying 200+ miles an hour through an obstacle course that floats on the water. They must fly low enough to pass through each gate, but high enough not to end up in the drink. It's quite impressive to watch.

My cousin Michael is a huge fan of all things aeronautical, and took these terrific photos. This is what really fast looks like:

For some of the gates, the pilots must fly through at a 90-degree angle, they call it "knife edge." There's a 2 second penalty for not executing the angle precisely. One of the final four flyers dropped from 2nd to 3rd place due to receiving this penalty.

Other targets must be flown through exactly level, like this one. Because the turns on the course are quite tight, it's a balancing act to pass through the gates in the correct orientation and maintain the speed required to win. This particular gate was hit several times on Saturday, essentially shearing off the top of the cone. The gates are inflatable, and can be replaced in under 5 minutes by a team that arrives at the floating gate by boat. (Sorry no photos of a destroyed gate.)

For all the targets, the pilot must fly so that the cockpit is vertically between either the red or blue areas on the gate. In both of the above photos, the pilot is positioned correctly. The penalty for flying too low through a gate is bigger than the penalty for flying too high through a gate. The penalty for flying too low other than at a gate is an unscheduled swim, and this pilot came really close. There were scuba teams ready throughout the race to go diving after sinking pilots, just in case.

Interested in seeing more? Check out this video from the race website, it shows the planes in action.

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