Getting the raceplane to the race

The first race of 2016 is just weeks away. The raceplanes will start their journey to Abu Dhabi soon…

Nigel Dickinson reassembles Arch's raceplane

When the 2015 season ended, all the teams were desperate to get their raceplanes home to start modifying them. This is a massive undertaking, which DHL handled, and saw raceplanes shipped from Las Vegas all over the world.

Now that the modifications have been completed, it's time to get the raceplanes to Abu Dhabi ready for the first race on 11-12 March. So how do the techs prepare their team's most precious commodity?

The technicians are the highly skilled heroes of the Red Bull Air Race. In such a closely competitive World Championship, each tech has to make sure their team's raceplane is finely tuned and running at optimum performance, which can only happen if it is stripped and packed properly. Assembling and disassembling is a gruelling task that has to be done before and after each race.

Nigel Dickinson is about to enter his third season as Hannes Arch's technician and knows the process inside out. "It takes about six hours to take apart, wrap and box, and about eight hours to rebuild," says Dickinson. "I have a simple plastic box with dividers in so I can separate the different bolts and label where they came from." In case Dickinson isn't able to be present for the reassembly, the team can be confident they can still rebuild a fully functioning raceplane without him.

When it comes to detaching the wings, it can require help from two, or more, other team members. "The wings aren't too heavy but they're awkward because you have to disconnect the controls from the stick. You also have antennas in the wing and a pitot tube for the speed, so all that has to be disconnected.

"On top of that, your fuel tanks and fuel lines need to be disconnected and the wing tanks need to be drained and blanked off. All that makes it a little bit fiddly!" Dickinson explained.

Then there's the task of shipping. If shipping by sea freight, a raceplane can fit into one container by putting the wing box in first and then the tail box on top before sliding them down to the end of the container. The frame of the raceplane is then pulled in by the tail, and the tail wheel is put on top of the wing box so that the airframe is level. Finally, the toolbox is placed at the front of the container. However, this doesn't always go to plan... "We have had some issues," said Dickinson. "In Chiba last year we used new tie down cables and they came loose. The aircraft suffered some cosmetic damage. It wasn't a show stopper but it was an eye-opener as to what can happen." The team now use 12 straps to keep it all down, preventing any damage from happening again.