Staying cool in the desert heat

The air inlet could make all the difference in Abu Dhabi

Podlunsek's air inlets

To make a raceplane's engine as powerful as possible it needs cool, dense air running through it. That's the job of the inlets on the front of the engine cowling. If you look closely at the front of a raceplane you'll notice that every team has a slightly different look, that's because each technician has his own thoughts on the best way to cool the engine.

You can almost guarantee that the season opener in Abu Dhabi will be a hot race where temperatures can be more than 25°C. This means keeping the engine's temperature low will be essential in posting a competitive time.

The technicians in the Red Bull Air Race know that the air inlets of their raceplane can create the difference between winning and losing. The engine needs enough cool air to be sucked in and it needs to get the hot air out pretty fast as well. Optimising the airflow over the cylinders and the oil cooler is a difficult challenge for every track and climate.

Think of when exercising, if you're running in high temperatures, at low density (meaning high altitude), you'll find it difficult to breathe and not perform at your best. A clear, cool day, close to sea level is what you need for good running. A highly tuned race engine works the same way, but the 'breathing' has to be a compromise – make the inlets too small and the engine will get hot and lose power, make them too large and they'll be too much drag, slowing the raceplane down. Unfortunately the pilots can't change the weather, so it's the job of the technicians to make the engine run as cool as possible. They have difficulty working out what will be best on the aircraft because the type of flying in the Red Bull Air Race is unique and can't be compared to anything else.

An example is from Kirby Chambliss who spent an offseason developing a new engine cowling. "We thought it would give us an extra 2kts, but when we tested it there was no difference at all. So it's in the back of the hangar, we didn't even bother to paint it," said Chambliss. "You can spend a fortune trying to work out the most efficient aerodynamics," he added. Looking at the different air intakes on the raceplanes, it seems as if all the teams are still trying to discover the perfect version. When they do, you can be sure that almost every team will start to develop a similar look...

You can see how the pilots fight the heat in Abu Dhabi on 10-11 February, get your tickets HERE.