Red Bull's Rodeo
Take two parts aerobatic skill, add daring, throw in obstacles and speed: Air racing's got a brand-new bag.
- By Larry Lowe
- Air & Space magazine, May 2005
(Page 3 of 5)
The three-person judging team, led by former U.S. World Aerobatic Team judge Alan Geringer, was stationed on a long, raised platform set up near the home pylon of Reno's traditional race course, on the opposite side of the aerobatic display box from the grandstand. From that vantage point, the judges observed the race and monitored the pilots for infractions, such as passing through the gates higher than, instead of below, the tops.
During the rehearsal, Kirby Chambliss dragged a wingtip through a pylon in gate three, but the touch was so deft that the judging crew didn't notice it at first. It was no accident. Chambliss had acquired more time flying through this configuration of gates than anyone at the airport. He nipped the pylon at the request of Sue Gardner, who was in the audience with the media, watching this full dress rehearsal to decide whether to let the guys do their thing in front of spectators. She wanted to see how the Red Bull team would handle a busted pylon, so Chambliss broke one for her.
As soon as Chambliss exited the course, the pylon replacement crew rushed in while the next racer was held on the end of the runway. In six minutes, they had removed the deflated pylon, uncovered and inflated the reserve, and cleared the course-a performance that satisfied Gardner that the team could recover from a pylon cut quickly without having people and raceplanes on the course at the same time.
Later in the rehearsal, however, the driver of a Red Bull pickup truck thought he heard an order to proceed, and he drove across an active runway. Fearing a language barrier, the Austrian Hannes Arch and American pilot manager Sterling Price worked for three hours that day to draft a line-by-line script to follow so that Arch could monitor Price's air traffic control and manage the supporting vehicles of the race accordingly.
Despite the runway incursion, Gardner approved the Red Bull Air Race for exactly one public performance on Thursday. Keeping the Austrian air circus on a tight leash, she wanted to watch the first heat before deciding if the team should be allowed to operate the remaining three days under the RARA's mentorship.
Overnight, all of the pilots seemed to settle into the rhythm of the course, and the race went off without a hitch. Satisfied that the race design and operations were sound, Gardner signed off on a waiver that allowed the remaining three races to proceed.
Whether it was the focused practicing, the need to convince Gardner, the intensity of race day, or the prospect of performing for a live audience, something had made the pilots sharper. During Thursday's provisional heat race, even the rookie pilots displayed a disciplined élan in the air, pausing for just the right amount of time to slice cleanly through the gates and arcing around between them with competitive urgency.
By race time on Friday, the cold and wind had arrived and it was blustering, near the limits of what was safe for aerobatic performances. Red Bull course designer Martin Jehart pumped up the pylon pressure a little and declared the course viable in the wind. Sterling Price polled the pilots, who elected to race.