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.
Red Bull Air Race Technical Director Jim "Jimbo" Reed explains new measures the teams are taking to ensure they get the best performance out of their raceplane engines.
The MX brand of aircraft first flew in the Red Bull Air Race in 2006; back then, it was still a fledging race series, and the MX2 was a two-seat aerobatic aircraft.
Nigel Lamb was the pioneer who flew the MX2 in its early form, and the factory could see the value in building a race-spec aircraft rather than an aerobatic-based one. They developed the MXS-R – the single-seat version – and in 2009 it burst onto the scene, with five Red Bull Air Race pilots choosing to fly the MXS-R.
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.
When the Red Bull Air Race began back in 2003, pilots competed in several different aircraft. Paul Bonhomme explained that it was a "run what you brung" set up. This meant whatever was in your hangar at the time was competitive enough to be flown in the Air Race.
It's a completely different story now. Pilots are backed by structured teams. The race hangars are full of tacticians, aerodynamicists and technicians all trying to discover a new way of shaving time off the pilot's run.
Since then every Master Class team has gone on to try wingtips of various shapes and sizes. From Petr Kopfstein's small wingtips to Ben Murphy's downturned version, everyone has their variation that works for them. But what exactly do they do?
When a raceplane is in flight there is high pressure below the wings and an area of low pressure above the wings created by the airflow. The area of high pressure will try to move to the low pressure area because it's unbalanced. This is what generates lift.
With each team trying to shave hundredths of seconds off their run time, they will try anything they can to reduce drag and increase speed. In Chiba Yoshihide Muroya tested a smaller vertical tail, but changed it back soon after when he realised he needed more time with it to get used to the change in handling. Let Red Bull Air Race Technical Director Jim "Jimbo" Reed explain the advantages and disadvantages of having a smaller tail...
This rule change was chosen to ensure the battle for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship was fair, as well as exciting. It's also a lot safer.
The engine chosen for all raceplanes was the six-cylinder, Lycoming Thunderbolt AEIO-540-EXP. This engine produces 300hp at 2,950rpm. The powerplant for each team has been race-tuned and customised to Red Bull Air Race's exact specifications, and built in Lycoming's Advanced Technology Centre.