In The Wings – keeping vigil underwater

When the Red Bull Air Race is taking place over water there can be ten barges floating on the surface that all have to stay in position. They are kept in place by anchors weighing up to 1000kg. When the pylons are inflated they can cause a force on the anchor and chain that's up to 1.5 tonnes.

So the Racetrack Operations team, headed up by Ivanka Kösters and Marko van Es, need to make sure not only that everything is in place – but it's going to stay there. To do that they have just employed a new team member: the VideoRay Pro 4 ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle).

The VideoRay can go down to depths of 300m and will send live images back to the system's monitor and separate laptop that's on a boat above the surface. "We've had the ROV for a while but we only used it for the first time in Rovinj," said van Es. "We use it to check the anchors, especially in the case of bad weather. We want to make sure everything is right and none of the anchors have shifted. You can't always send a diver down to check everything that easily," he added.

Using an ROV saves a lot of time and doesn't require a diver to 'kit up'. "You just drop the ROV over the side of the boat and within five minutes you know the situation regarding the anchor. It gives us a better view of the situation and we can see if we have a risk of the anchors coming loose.

"Sometimes on the barges we use smaller anchors (which are easier to transport to the locations), where we could use heavier ones. So we have to check these more frequently and make sure they're holding their position. That's where it comes in really handy," said van Es.

When there is very little visibility and when the human eye wouldn't be able to see anything, the team can still use the ROV. "If there is no visibility you can connect a sonar system to the bottom of the ROV. You can see the anchors on the sonar display, without this we could be down there for a long time without seeing anything," said van Es.

If the team spots a problem with an anchor they pull it up and start again. "We rarely send divers down to adjust anything, as all the equipment down there is too heavy for them to move," he said.

The team won't be using the ROV for Budapest. It works better in open water. "The Danube has a strong current, and the visibility isn't very good. Also Budapest is a completely different situation as we break down the track every evening and take the barges back to the bank. We have 120 people helping us clear the track within the hour," said van Es.

But the ROV is already proving its worth. "It's such a handy system. In Rovinj – one guy lost his smartphone in the water and we found it and got it back for him," explained van Es with a smile.

Related articles

The people behind the pylons

The Airgators are the unsung heroes of the Red Bull Air Race. Without them looking after the unique pylons, there would be no racing. Thomas Brandstätter (pictured a...
Read full article

Pilots get water wings in safety session

Ahead of the first round of 2016, the Red Bull Air Race Master Class and Challenger Cup pilots were put through their paces in Abu Dhabi with a series of underwater em...
Read full article

Flying under the bridge

With the Red Bull Air Race returning to Budapest, audiences will be treated to one of the most exciting spectacles of the entire series – the pilots flying under the S...
Read full article