Little changes that could make big differences

What the pilots are doing to make their raceplane fast in Wiener Neustadt

Sonka's new addition

It's been less than three weeks since the raceplanes of the Red Bull Air Race were flying over Kazan for the fifth race of the 2018 season. Now the pilots are in Austria preparing for Round six.

With so little time between races, there has been no time for the teams to make big modifications to their raceplanes, but a couple have been making little tweaks here and there.

At the start of the season, pilots are only too happy to talk about what their technicians and aerodynamicists have done to the raceplane, but now as we're getting to the business end of the season, they're keeping tight-lipped about anything new. However during a quick glance around the Race Airport in Wiener Neustadt, a few things were spotted.

On the tail of Martin Sonka's raceplane there was a very small addition. It's only around 7cm long and might not have been spotted if it was the same colour as the tail. When we questioned Sonka about it, he said: "I don't want to speak about it, it's secret! There are other teams using it, but I don't want to point to mine to show them how to use it properly."

So what exactly does this small addition do? "It's there to reduce drag and turbulence from the back of the tail. It's almost like a micro-winglet," explained Sonka. "There's no difference in the handling, it's so small, it just gives me a better feeling that my aircraft is aerodynamically clean, there might be a micro-influence."


There were also rumours floating around the teams about something Kirby Chambliss has been working on to help optimise the fuel mixture in his raceplane – this is essential to make sure he can get the best entry speed in the track from the standing start.

With something that could be this important, clearly Team Chambliss wants to keep this quiet. "The fuel mixture is very important in a standing start. We do have a system in here that will help him with that," said Jason Resop, Kirby Chambliss' technician. "I can't really talk much about it. We've had it since part of last season, and we keep refining it."

The problem for Resop to implement this piece of technology is that every location is different. "We've been testing it over several races, when you can actually fly around in the air and figure out the mixture settings, but we're at a different altitude here, different temperatures. That doesn't seem to affect it too much, but it does a little bit," he explained.


The standing start creates its own challenges for the pilots and hitting that Start Gate as fast as possible here in Wiener Neustadt (and again in Indianapolis), is essential. And while this mod isn't a 'solve all', it seems it could really help with the extra data the team collects. "There's nothing automatic about this, Kirby still has to do it all. There are systems that 'help' him do it. It's an aid. Anything to take the load off him – we try to do everything so that he can worry about the racetrack. It's the same with our oil door, we flip a switch on and it closes for him when he turns the smoke on, so he doesn't have to think about that. We've done a lot of stuff so that he doesn't have to think about those things as much and can focus on going fast," concluded Resop.

It's not long until the pilots take to the skies today for Qualifying. See if these mods work out for both Chambliss and Sonka. Follow all the action HERE.