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Red Bull Air Race Brings Aviation Celebration to New York City

By James Wynbrandt

June 24, 2010 — The Red Bull Air Race (RBAR) brought a glorious celebration of aviation to the Hudson River in New York City on June 19-20, a location associated with aerial disaster and near-disaster in recent years. When competition ended on Sunday afternoon, Britain’s Paul Bonhomme in his Edge 540 had taken first place (1:10:01), continuing his hold atop RBAR season rankings. Bonhomme’s countryman Nigel Lamb in an MXS-R came in second (1:12:06) and America’s Kirby Chambliss, flying his Edge 540, placed third (113.31). Michael Goulian, of Massachusetts, cast in the role of local favorite for the event, was flagged with a penalty on his Super Eight run and denied a position in the final four, finishing seventh overall.

“It’s very good,” Bonhomme said on the winners’ podium. “And what a setting. I can appreciate the view now that I’ve finished racing. I concentrated on me, my airplane, and the track. And now I think we can celebrate a bit.”

Chambliss, who squeaked onto the podium after a pylon hit penalty against favorite Hannes Arch of Austria, remarked, “As an American, I’m very, very proud. It’ll sink in in a while. I have to personally thank Hannes for hitting that gate. Thank you, Hannes.”

In the Super Eight heat Goulian appeared to cross the finish line with a final four-worthy time, but he was docked two seconds after an official review for an improper knife edge going through one of the gates, sinking his chance to advance.

“Today was about survival, so I guess there is a sense of relief now,” Goulian said. “I knew we had to push it to try to get into the Final Four, so that’s what I did. It was probably just a little too hard. We were either going to go for it or hit something, and that’s the way to do it. It’s not a Final Four airplane and we just have to push it like crazy to get there.”

The course, just north of the Statue of Liberty, was comprised of eight barges with inflated pylons, which the pilots maneuvered through and around. A crowd estimated by RBAR officials of 75,000 watched the race from viewing positions in New Jersey and lower Manhattan. EAA Chairman/President Tom Poberezny and his wife Sharon, and Dale Klapmeier, co-founder and Chairman of Cirrus Aircraft (an RBAR sponsor) were among the many aviation figures who traveled to New York for the historic event.

Large screens erected at New Jersey’s Liberty Park, the official race site, carried the coverage aired live on NYC TV station Fox Five.

dvertisements featuring aviation products and events were inserted into the on-site broadcast feed during commercial breaks. Combined with the sight of experimental aircraft streaking across the sky against a Manhattan backdrop, it seemed as if the crowd had been transported to an alternate, GA-centric universe.

Going into the competition, pilots expressed concern about the compact layout of the three-mile course, which contrasted with the linear layout of the course in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, site of the last RBAR. Pilots entered the course at speeds approaching 230 mph, and pulled up to 10Gs as they yanked and banked their way through the course at speeds averaging close to 180 mph.

New Jersey’s Linden Airport served as the race airport, the first time RBAR has used a non-towered field as its race headquarters. Controllers acknowledged that they had no authority over the facility, but had spent months working out details with airport tenants, and operations proceeded smoothly.

The RBAR has 15 pilots in its corps and normally three are eliminated in qualifying time trials the day before race day. But with three pilots out of the New York field – Australia’s Matt Hall, Brazil’s Adilson Kindelmann, and Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya – all race-ready teams flew the first heat of 12 aircraft on race day. Arch, who won the last three events, stayed the favorite with the best time in Saturday’s qualifying runs.

Matthias Dolderer (Germany), Alejandro Maclean (Spain), Sergey Rakhmanin (Russia), and Martin Sonka, (Czech Republic) did not make it into the Super Eight.

With little time between runs, the possibility of vapor lock in the hot, injected engines and the resulting difficulty of restarting them was a major concern. Oil cooler doors were opened and compact box fans placed over them as soon as the aircraft rolled to a stop for fueling after each run.

Super Eight qualifiers Peter Besenyei (Hungary), Nicolas Ivanoff (France), Pete McLeod (Canada), and Goulian failed to advance. Arch had the best time entering the finals, which gave him the added advantage of making the last run. The Austrian three-peater had a great one going and was about to become the first RBAR pilot to win four consecutive races when he clipped a pylon. The six-penalty denied him a place on the winner’s podium.
“It was a good run,” Arch said. “It was just a couple of centimeters that made the difference. I would rather lose here like that in style - going for it - than completely screw it up. So I think those guys in front of me owe me a beer.”

Over the last decade, an observer at the race site’s vantage point could have witnessed airplanes carrying out the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, the fatal collision of a GA aircraft and sightseeing helicopter, and the miracle ditching of an airliner. RBAR banished those images, at least temporarily, with one weekend of thrills and displays showcasing incredible piloting skills and aircraft performance.

This was fifth of eight RBARs this season. The next stop is Lausitz, Germany, August 7-8.

View the photo gallery.

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