The specially designed aerial racetracks used in the Red Bull Air Race are unlike any other. The high speed, low altitude sport can play out over water, such as at the beautiful Corniche in Abu Dhabi, or land, such as at the world-renowned EuroSpeedway in Lausitz, Germany. Regardless, the ultimate motorsport series in the sky always takes place at the most breath-taking locations on the planet.
As many of the stops on the World Championship calendar are classed as exotic, pilots often have to battle against the elements, with extreme heats, shifting winds and harsh storms always a possibility. As a result, no two Red Bull Air Races are ever the same.
On average, the racetracks measure approximately 6km in length and are marked by race-bespoke Air Gates. The unique inflatable pylons, which form the Air Gates and define the racetrack, were first developed in 2002 and have evolved year-on-year into the sophisticated design currently used.
When the track is designed it consists of the Start/Finish Gate, three or four two-pylon gates, which the pilots have to fly straight and level between and a chicane that comprises of three individual pylons that pilots will have to bank around. At one end of the course a Vertical Turning Manoeuvre is included. This is where the pilots have to fly through the gate, then turn as quickly and efficiently as possible without pulling more than 10G in their raceplane and then fly towards the next gate. On average there will be five straight and level gates (where up to two could be for Vertical Turning Manoeuvres) and a three-pylon chicane.
The Air Gates play a vital role in the Red Bull Air Race, but must also fulfil complex and contradictory demands. They have to be delicate enough to burst the instant they are touched by an aircraft but sturdy enough to remain stationary in all weather conditions, including stormy weather and strong winds.
The early cylindrical pylons fulfilled the first criteria – and to this date have been advanced through 30 rounds of improvements to make them even easier to tear apart – but proved to be too unstable in the wind. The answer to this issue came in 2009, when powerful electrical, petrol-powered blowers were installed at the base of the pylons to allow a perfect amount of airflow and pressure to be maintained within. This meant that the Air Gates could remain steady even in windy conditions.
Since 2004, the pylons were of a cone-shaped design and stood 20 metres (65ft) high. Since 2014 however, the height has been increased to 25 metres (82ft), and the shape has been revised to give the pylons a straight inner edge, creating a perfect rectangular flight window between the Air Gates.