Flying on the Edge

How the series' most successful raceplane continues to undergo development

The Edge 540 has been part of the Red Bull Air Race since the sport first took to the skies in 2003. Kirby Chambliss was the first pilot to bring the Edge 540 V2 to the Air Race, with others following closely behind.

It did not take long for the Edge to make its mark as Chambliss finished third in his inaugural race, and in 2004 he took the championship title. Mike Mangold also joined the series with his Edge for the final race of the 2004 season and clinched the top spot on the podium. The legend of the Edge had begun.

The Edge was a race winner right from the start but in motorsport, if you stand still, you move backwards. Eric Zivko, of Zivko Aeronautics – the makers of the Edge 540 – believes this philosophy is why the Edge has become the leading race winner of the Red Bull Air Race. “At the beginning there were three different aeroplanes being used in the Air Race; Edge 540, Extra 300S, and Sukhoi 26/31 – all full-on competition aerobatic aircraft. We at ZAI (Zivko Aeronautics Inc.) were pretty proactive in the early days, and made sure the Edge 540 was the lightest and most agile,” explained Zivko.

The V2 has played a vital role in eight title wins since the series began, winning every year from 2004-2010. The tubular steel frame and a mix of composite and fabric coverings make it ideal for modifying, which teams love to do.

The V2 is still a very competent raceplane used by several pilots in the Master Class, and since 2018 it has been the aircraft used in the Challenger Class, although with only basic modifications and restricted power output. More recently teams have been converting to the Edge 540 V3; although it is structurally the same as the V2, there have been several changes that make it more of a racer than aerobatic aircraft.

The new V3 version, which was designed after various modification requests from pilots, has the same tubular frame as the V2, but is more streamlined. It’s also been designed to help the team technician – the raceplane is much easier to dissemble, making it an ideal tool for the Air Race. The V3 has started to come into its own, flown by every World Champion pilot since 2016. When asked if a V4 is in the pipeline, Zivko said: “Currently there are no plans to develop the aircraft further… unless a customer would like us to do so.”

Zivko went on to explain why he believes the Edge is so dominant in the series. “An advantage of the Edge aircraft is the wing design. We had the airfoil designed specifically for aerobatics in 1989. It makes for a very easy and honest aircraft to fly at its limits, which pilots appreciate in a competition aerobatic aircraft. This ease of flying is also why it has made a good raceplane, as flying low and fast, the pilot doesn’t want to be fighting a difficult plane to fly.”

Currently there is only one other aircraft competing in the Master Class: the MXS-R, flown by Mika Brageot in #11Racing Team Eyetime. The MXS-R is a fully composite monocoque raceplane – harder to modify compared to the Edge and all its removable fairings. The MXS wing is also very stiff in bending, so the plane’s ‘feel’ does not change much during high-G manoeuvres.

With 13 teams plus the Challenger Class pilots competing in an Edge 540, the aircraft is here to stay. Since the start of the Red Bull Air Race, the Edge has been responsible for 73 race wins – that's a strong pedigree!

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