Behind the scenes: judging the pilots

Using the latest technology makes for a fair playing field

The judge and the panel

As with any motorsport, fairness plays a huge part in making sure everyone races on a level playing field and in the Red Bull Air Race, the judges make sure the pilots are keeping within the rules.

The judges can be found in Race Control, along with the Race Director and Head Judge. Each has their role to play. The Race Director will call the pilot into the track safely and handle communication, the head judge will watch the pilot fly through the track and the judges will watch the pilots' every move using the Judging Terminal.

It's not just the raceplanes that are filled with the latest technology, but the judging panel terminal is also a highly specialised piece of equipment. It was originally developed in 2014 and is constantly being improved.

Currently in its third generation, the Judging Panel uses information from the cameras, lasers, and timing equipment to give live feedback to the judges. "It's taken a lot to get the equipment to this level," explains Álvaro Paz Navas Modroño, the Red Bull Air Race's Sport Technical Manager. "In the first year we used transponders, as a timing backup in the raceplanes, but it wasn't accurate enough. However, lasers taking up to 100 readings per second and cameras that can produce 10,000 frames per second are our main timing systems. We've now also added timing information gathered in our on-board Position Reporting Unit cross-referenced with our high precision Gate Trackers," he adds.

The screen shows the judges where the pilot has made a rule violation

Should the pilot make a mistake or rule violation in their run, the Judging Terminal will flash up with the pictures and the potential penalty using on-board sensors. The judge is then given the option to approve or decline this. For example, if the equipment gauges that the pilot has flown through a gate at an incorrect angle it will flash up on the panel's screen, along with a set of consecutive pictures of the pass through that gate that the judge can rewind and play forward to see if the pilot had actually infringed that rule. The judge then has around five seconds to decide, and if they choose to penalise the pilot they will approve the penalty and the Race Director and Head Judge will be made aware. The pilot will then hear the buzzer in his or her cockpit and know they've infringed.

The judging system has been developed over the last four years and it is still being improved all the time – the judges' feed back to the developers for any updates that might improve the user interface and ease of use (information placement, text and buttons size), but it is a foolproof way to ensure that everyone flies the racetrack fairly.