In the Wings – giving pilots the data to win

As the 2015 Red Bull Air Race World Championship flies towards the mid-way point of the season, Technical Manager Alvaro Navas explains how custom technology has evolved and helps the pilots find that perfect line.

Inside all of the 14 raceplanes, you'll find a range of instruments that are designed to give the pilots critical information in a split second so they can make instinctive judgments about control inputs – as well as having data at their fingertips for speed and G.

A custom Electronic Flight Information System (EFIS) has been used for several years, which was initially developed from a standard piece of avionics kit and then evolved to measure specific telemetric inputs for the racing environment. This digital oracle gives primary flight display readings via a range of sensors located around the raceplane, including altitude, speed and GPS coordinates – the essentials for any kind of flying. It also has three phased screens for racing: pre-race, live racing and results.

"Pilot feedback is essential and taken fully into account with every improvement and refinement to the reporting of data," explained Navas, a telemetry specialist who has been involved in the Red Bull Air Race since 2007. "We give them specific tools that they can use to better analyse performance in the racetrack when back on the ground. The race teams can take the data from the EFIS and have access to information like trajectories between gates, speeds and G forces."

The pilots are increasingly vocal when it comes to telling Navas and his team if they want to see a certain parameter added to the mix – like wind speed and direction – and also if specific colours to aid analysis. If they want a different type of preferred gauge customisation, he takes that on board too. Once out of the cockpit, all data can be downloaded and interpreted with the associated software, giving all the teams the opportunity to absorb, alter and adapt ahead of Race Day.

"The quality of the tracking is much better now and we can more accurately monitor the entry speed, which gives the pilots a more precise feel," continued Navas. "They are all now very close to 200kt when they enter the track, which is an important part of their strategy. Also the information we can give the pilots is far more extensive than previously."

Navas (centre) leads the Technical Team and is always improving the data collection for the pilots.

Detailed timing sheets are produced after each flying session. This allows for in depth review between flights, especially after training sessions when pilots try different lines to find the most efficient.

"From my perspective, this is really the way we can make the sport much richer and definitely more fun. If there aren't tactics they won't fly faster and this is what makes it much more attractive to real motorsport fans," said Navas, who understands the significance of telemetry in sport, having worked in this field with MotoGP.

All the teams have realised the importance of data in their tactical approach and the rise of the race 'guru' has been noted. Hannes Arch and Paul Bonhomme led the way with Race Analysts, but after any session you can see nearly all the pilots looking at their laptops talking to the expert on where they can improve. "I think all the teams should have someone like this," concluded Navas.

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