If you ask any one of the 10 Challenger Class pilots how they feel about switching to the Edge, the same word comes up over and over again: "Excited."
The Red Bull Air Race demands skills like no other type of flying or motorsport competition. The Challenger Cup was conceived in 2014 to help the next generation of highly talented pilots build on their experience and develop Air Racing skills under the guidance of former pilots Klaus Schrodt, Sergey Rakhmanin and current Race Director Steve Jones.
The feeder series has proven to be a great success, with seven pilots promoted into the Master Class so far (including Great Britain's Ben Murphy, who joins the World Championship in 2018). Four of them have already claimed podiums.
From the birth of the Challenger Cup, the pilots flew the two-seat Extra 330LX, sharing three Extras among them at each stop. Although the Extra did its job well, for 2018 the trio of raceplanes have been replaced with single-seat Edge 540 V2s.
As Wade Hammond, Technical Manager for the Red Bull Air Race, explains, "The Edge is easier to work on from a technician's point of view, and it will also help the Challenger Class pilots to better train for potential advancement into the Master Class."
The Edge 540 V2 boasts exceptional performance capabilities and safety standards. Also, as opposed to the Extra, which was originally designed for aerobatics, the Edge is a fully dedicated raceplane. Further, Hammond's expert team can put cameras in the new raceplanes – bringing fans much closer to the Challenger action.
But perhaps most exciting for the Challenger Class contenders, and another reason for making the switch, is that the vast majority of the Master Class teams race a version of an Edge 540; albeit those raceplanes in the World Championship are thoroughly customised. When British Red Bull Air Race legend Paul Bonhomme clinched his record third World Championship in 2015, what raceplane was he flying? An Edge 540 V2. And at that point Hammond was Bonhomme's technician, so when he says, "These planes will help the Challenger Class pilots assimilate into the Master Class," he knows what he's talking about.
In fact, the three new Challenger Class planes already have a race heritage. Hammond explains, "They have all previously been owned by Red Bull Air Race pilots at different times, and they were all at different stages of modification, so we had to strip them back and make sure they're all the same."
To produce the uniform standardisation necessary to ensure a level playing field in the Challenger Class, Hammond and his team devoted almost a year to working on the three Edge aircraft in Salzburg, Austria.
"The new raceplanes have the same engine and propeller as the Master Class pilots – but with slightly different restrictions. They will have slightly less power and some other small changes," he reveals. "They've all been given new engines and new components, new wiring – and we've added new wingtips."
Challenger Class pilot Kenny Chiang of China has already flown more than 40 types of aircraft in his aviation career, but still his anticipation for flying the Edge 540 is high. "I have only a handful of hours in an Edge, so I am really looking forward to getting to know more about this raceplane," Chiang states. "I think this will make the Challenger Class racing even tougher, and an even better stepping stone to the Master Class."
The Challenger Class will get their first opportunity to race the new Edge 540 V2s at the season opener in Abu Dhabi, UAE on 2-3 February 2018. Get your tickets HERE.