Hungary’s Peter Besenyei, piloting a Team Red Bull Edge 540, beat 11 other air racers around a nine-gate airborne slalom course set up at Monument Valley, UT on Saturday, May 12, 2007, with a time of 59.87 seconds to win the third in the series of 2007 Red Bull Air Races. Besenyei, a former aerobatics world champion, attacked the race course by accelerating from a high perch position to the east in order to pass through the entry gate at 185+ KTAS. Passing through the second air gate, he had to pull 9.8Gs to reach the third air gate in minimum time.
However, such tight turns wash off airspeed and thus climb performance needed later during the run, thus energy conservation is a key to winning such events.
Besenyei then had to weave through a three-pylon air slalom and a four-pylon “quaddro” gate through which pilots must fly twice at right angles. This was followed by a half Cuban eight course reversal needed to enter the first of two final air gates.
“You have to find the ideal turn radius. If it’s too tight, you can make the gates, but you lose speed. If you have a bigger radius, then you lose time,” Besenyei explained to Aviation Week after his win. Each air gate is color coded to indicate whether pilots must pass through with wings level, in near knife edge position or in slalom attitude. Racers compete against the clock in several elimination heats to determine the final winner of the event. Penalty seconds are assessed for improper aircraft attitude passing through the air gates, flying too low, incorrect maneuvering or grazing an air pylon. Serious infractions result in disqualification. “The whole course is challenging. You have a chance to make a mistake on each part of the course, and that can cost you the race,” Besenyei said.
Steve Jones of Team Matador, for instance, overshot the third air gate on the course and flew directly through an air pylon during the quarter finals. The pylons, though, feature a frangible structure that’s designed to shred upon impact, thus there was virtually no damage to Jone’s Edge 540. After hitting the air pylon, he pulled up and out of the race and returned to the Monument Valley for post-flight inspection. Meanwhile course workers replaced the deflated pylon with a new one in just over four minutes, so there was very little delay in the race action....
The Monument Valley course was especially challenging considering the substantial changes in the base elevations of the air gates anchored to the valley floor. This required the pilots to climb and dive as well as bank and pull horizontally to navigate through the air gates. In addition, warm afternoon temperatures raised the density altitude to 8,500+ ft, thereby sapping engine performance. Most Red Bull Air Race venues are over water, so maneuvering is mostly horizontal, except for the half Cuban eight course reversal. Those venues are also at lower elevations thus density altitudes are lower, thereby increasing engine performance.
Although Besenyei beat Paul Bonhomme of Team Matador by .97 seconds at Monument Valley, Bonhomme remains the overall 2007 leader with 15 points after three races, compared to 14 points for Besenyei. But, Team Red Bull, with pilots Kirby Chambliss and Besenyei, leads the team competition with 21 points this year, followed by Team Matador, with pilots Steve Jones and Bonhomme having earned 17 points.
Eight additional Red Bull races are slated for 2007, including one in San Diego, CA on Saturday September 22nd, 2007. Other races will be held in Istanbul, Interlaken, London, Budapest, Porto, Acapulco and Perth. The race planes are disassembled between events and shipped by air freight to the next race venue.
Team Red Bull and most other Red Bull Air Race teams fly experimental class Zivko Edge 540 aircraft powered by 340 hp six-cylinder Textron-Lycoming AEIO-540 engines. Power output is boosted by fitting the engines with 10:1 compression pistons and high rpm volumetric efficiency is improved with minor internal blue-printing and hotter cams. However, Red Bull Air Race pilots, with whom Aviation Week spoke, insist that the strict engine modification rules favor reliability over maximum performance.
“You lose an engine out here and you’re cooked,” said Mike Goulian who also flies an Edge 540 for Dragon Racing. Goulian, a long time Extra aircraft loyalist, switched to the Edge 540 for the Red Bull Air Race series because of its superior performance.
Experimental class Edge 540 aircraft weigh 1,170 lb empty, according to Zivko Aeronautics Inc. All aircraft must be loaded with at least 79 lb of fuel, raising empty operating weight to 1,249 lb. This is substantially lighter than the other two aircraft used in Red Bull air racing, the MXR Technologies MX2 and Extra 300S. Ten of the eleven top finishers in the 2007 Red Bull Air Race series fly Edge 540 aircraft.
Both MXR Technologies and Extra Aircraft, though, are designing new models that will be lighter and more competitive with the Edge 540 in 2008 and later Red Bull Air Races. Extra’s 300SHP will be powered by a Textron-Lycoming AEIO-580 engine that produces 350 hp in factory stock form, and perhaps as much as 400 hp if modified. MXR Technologies is developing a single-seat MX1 that will be smaller and lighter than the two-seat MX2. Goulian said that Red Bull Air Race organizers are moving towards formula-type rules for future race aircraft designs, a move that could level the playing field for race entrants.
All air racers are world-class aerobatic pilots. Most of them favor formula-type rules that emphasize pilot skill over aircraft performance. A formula design approach also would help control aircraft costs for sponsors.
About 5,000 spectators lined the bluffs next the Monument Valley race course, an impressive turn out considering its remote location from major cities and airline hubs. Monument Valley airport, about four miles west of the race course, was closed to all transient pilots because it served as home base to the Red Bull Air Race teams. Kayenta airport, about 28 miles south of Monument Valley, was the next closest landing facility. It overflowed with general aviation aircraft, plus pilots and passengers waiting for shuttle buses to transport them to the race site.
Although the course venue was remote, its spectacular scenery made it an ideal location for video broadcasting, one of the main revenue sources for the series.
Red Bull Air Races now are carried by 97 television stations around the world, according to race executive Tino Landl. Event organizers employ several video camera operators on the ground, mini cameras in the race planes and one in a helicopter to capture the air race action. Spectators on site were treated to a made-for-TV multimedia extravaganza, with live air race video displayed on outdoor billboard-size flat-panel screens and live audio feeds from race announcers, pilots and remote crews located at the airport. Video clips also were available in near real time at the Red Bull Air Race website.
Red Bull Air Race sponsors Red Bull, Audi, Seat and Breitling teamed with the Navajo Nation to develop the Monument Valley race event venue. Landl estimates that the television exposure for the sponsors is worth up to $500-million annually, but the event has yet to reach the financial break-even point after the first two full years. Landl said that event organizers hope to secure more team and event sponsors in the future based upon the perceived value of the television coverage. Ticket sales also help to raise revenue, but net income is highly dependent upon the event site, attendance and ticket prices. Only part of the spectators at Monument Valley, for instance, paid the full $25 price for tickets. More than 1,000 free passes were provided to Navajo nation officials, VIPs, guests of sponsors and press representatives. --Fred George