The latest hot modification? Water cooling

The hard-working engines of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship need super-efficient cooling to be competitive. It is an ever-present concern for the 14 international teams, and the sport’s Technical Director Jim “Jimbo” Reed reveals that many have a new method for addressing the issue.

The standardised Lycoming “Thunderbolt” AEIO-540-EXP engine used by all teams in the World Championship is air cooled. “A cooler engine delivers more performance, so teams put great effort into trying to cool their engine efficiently, without creating excess drag,” explains Reed.

Not only aerodynamics, but also weight must be considered when adjusting any system in a raceplane, and teams have typically attempted to improve engine cooling with innovative air intake designs for their engine cowling. But over the past year or so, Reed says, “Some clever teams have added water cooling systems to aid in keeping their engine temperatures optimal.”

Pointing at a small silver nozzle inside the raceplane cowling of French pilot François Le Vot, Reed describes, “The advantage is achieved by spraying water into the airflow, cooling the engine.” The nozzle emits a very fine mist of water upward, right where the air is channeled to the engine during flight.

As always, it takes a combination of factors to win races, and no single modification is the be-all and end-all. The water cooling system for pilot Mika Brageot was not ready until the fifth stop last season, yet despite having flown without it in 50% of his races, the Frenchman still finished 2018 in an impressive fourth place overall.

However, the majority of teams are using a water cooling system now, and Reed feels that the technical modification was indeed a “key factor” in aircraft performance in 2018. While not every team wants to reveal their cooling secrets, it is generally known that many of the pilots at the top end of the 2018 standings used water cooling systems. Furthermore, Reed concludes, “Those teams that have put the most effort into perfecting their systems have been working quite a lot more efficiently than their counterparts.”

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