_ Everything you need to know about men flying planes at ridiculously fast speeds for your entertainment… _
Formula One isn’t the only high-octane sport worthy of your attention. Now in its 9th year, the Red Bull Air Race is quickly becoming the quickest way for extreme sports fans to mainline adrenaline.
Taking place over eight stages from February to October, at locations across the globe, the competition pits the worlds best pilots against each other to find the world’s champion.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet…
01 The skills
Unlike Top Gun, where it’s all about pilots showing off stream-lined fighting skills at altitudes of 1000s of feet, the Air Race pilots have to complete an obstacle course made of inflatable pylons known as ‘Air Gates’, each no higher than 25 metres.
At that height, it’s not just about who can go fastest, but who’s got an eye for tactics and reactions sharper than Tom Cruise’s smile.
02 The planes
It’s up to each pilot which plane they use and the modifications they play around with, but all planes have a wingspan of less than 7.6 meters and can reach top speeds of 265 mph. They all also make satisfying ‘yeeeeowww’ noises as they shoot past.
03 The pilots
Because flying at this level takes a long time to perfect, most pilots competing in the Master Class category come to the sport after spending decades in the military or commercial aviation where they learn the basics of flight manoeuvres.
58-year-old Great British pilot Nigel Lamb served in the Rhodesian Air Force from the age of 18 while Hungarian pilot Peter Besenyei (also 58) has used his training as an aerobatics pilot to win 25 podium positions over nine seasons. American pilot Kirby Chambliss, meanwhile, has a name that suggests he needs his own sitcom.
04 The race
After a qualifying round the previous day, the 14 pilots compete in a series of head to head heats, with the winner from each heat plus the ‘fastest loser’ staying on to form the final eight.
This group is whittled down to four in the same way, and from that we get a winner. So far British pilot Paul Bonhomme has won 2/3 with Austrian Hannes Arch taking the title in the Master Class in Croatia.
05 The penalties
Winning isn’t as simple as bombing around the track and hoping for the best. In order not to pick up a two second penalty, each pilot must fly with their wings level between each air gate, with at least their head inside the red, topmost section. Clipping a pylon with your wings also incurs a penalty.
When a wing-clip does happen, there are no dramatic, Hollywood-style mid-air explosions, instead the inflatable pylons simply deflate, much like the pilot’s heart as his chances of victory slip two seconds further away.