How Technology Informs Analysis

Understanding the software behind the scenes increases enjoyment for all

Technology leads the way in the Red Bull Air Race, and not just in the track and hangars, but behind the scenes as well. 

The now-famous Ghost Plane shows the viewer exactly how the pilot in the track is performing compared to the pilot that has set the fastest time up to that point. But there is additional software designed to provide insight to the TV Director about where the Ghost Plane will have its best effect. And that software is known as the RaceAnalyzer, developed by Stefan Auer of ADEV – a software solutions company. 

 

Although the RaceAnalyzer has been developed for the Air Race, it began life in the military, much like some of our pilots. “It was originally for a different purpose,” says Auer. “It was originally designed to be used in military debriefs many years ago. I was asked if it could be used in the sport and a lot of code I had already written could be used in the Air Race, because there are some similarities as we are comparing the flight paths, and it’s worked quite well.”

The RaceAnalyzer’s key strength is that it helps Auer determine where the key sections of the track will be before anyone has even flown it. Auer explains: “If you take Kazan this year, there was the Vertical Turning Manoeuvre where some pilots went straight up in the first lap and then they flew flat in the second. Other pilots did not fly in that manner, so this was something I could brief the TV Director on and tell them: ‘look here is the huge difference in flying styles. Whenever you have the possibility to show the Ghost Plane at the VTMs, please do so, as you will see the biggest difference.’ It showed where the pilot would win or lose the race.”

The program shows the differing lines

The RaceAnalyzer’s key strength is that it helps Auer determine where the key sections of the track will be before anyone has even flown it. Auer explains: “If you take Kazan this year, there was the Vertical Turning Manoeuvre where some pilots went straight up in the first lap and then they flew flat in the second. Other pilots did not fly in that manner, so this was something I could brief the TV Director on and tell them: ‘look here is the huge difference in flying styles. Whenever you have the possibility to show the Ghost Plane at the VTMs, please do so, as you will see the biggest difference.’ It showed where the pilot would win or lose the race.”

The RaceAnalyzer doesn’t just help with employing the Ghost Plane, it can help the commentators and reporters of the series with the analysis it produces. Auer receives a full data package (which includes speed, altitude, heading, G-force, yaw, pitch and roll) every 20 milliseconds. “As everything happens so fast in the Air Race, you need that ability to analyse everything,” says Auer. “The program helps me understand why someone is so quick and why another pilot is slower – I am able to find the mistake. The mistakes can be ever so minor, and you wouldn’t notice them with your eyes, but they can have a huge effect on the speed and timing.”

The RaceAnalyzer can also display the different terrains

Auer continues to explain how it works: “A good example comes from Indianapolis last year. The VTM wasn’t a 180-degree turn straight back. It was a VTM and then a 90-degree turn to the next gate. Some pilots were significantly slower than others. It turned out they were testing a little trick. They tried to yaw (controlling with the rudder) their raceplane to turn quicker. But in fact this manoeuvre slowed them down. It’s something you cannot see with the camera, it’s only there in the data. It’s just five to ten degrees. It’s the only way you can find out why some pilots were slower. So some pilots tried this trick, but it didn’t work.”

Auer is given access to the Track Planning Tool, which was devised by Red Bull Air Race’s aviation team. This helps the analyst to prepare before a single raceplane has flown in the new track. “After I have loaded the data of Track Planning Tool into my program I am able to find out where the tricky parts are,” explains Auer. “This is also when I am able to use my program for the predictions. For example, in Balaton the first flat turn will be really tricky, so this is where a lot of mistakes will happen and a lot of penalties will occur. I can see that by using both tools.”

The RaceAnalyzer is perfect for predictions and helping the TV team, but Auer says it has its limits; the pilots seem to be able to outsmart it. “Before anyone has flown the track I’m ahead of the game, but the pilots develop over the weekend. So they start with the same information I’ve been sent, but of course, after they have flown the track they know how it feels and what is possible and what is not. Never forget that a computer uses generic data and is never as smart as a human. So the interesting thing is that my simulated runs are slower than the quickest runs made by the pilots.” concludes Auer.

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