Courtesy of Red Bull Air Race Media Service Team
In the second of a two-part series, we look at how the unique designs of the Red Bull Air Race raceplanes are achieved, as well as their effect on performance.
When it comes to the raceplanes of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, beauty is more than skin deep. Because placements in the competition can be determined by mere thousandths of a second, a design has to be functional as well as fabulous.
Making it stick
Some teams create their design entirely in paint, while others incorporate stickers against a painted background. Germany’s Matthias Dolderer uses stickers, and not only for ease in adding partner logos. “Every time you paint a plane completely, it most probably adds weight, and we are at the maximum limit already,” Dolderer says.
Matthias Dolderer Racing did have to undertake some strategic repainting, however, due to aerodynamic modifications to the fuselage. “If you want to paint a raceplane completely, it takes a lot of time, so we just painted parts of the airplane that we worked on. You have to sand down to the material, put a primer on, and then put the paint on as light as possible. It’s a lot of man hours and has to be really smooth,” Dolderer describes.
Next came the sticker application, another painstaking process. “First of all, the surface has to be really clean, free of all oils and polish,” Dolderer outlines. “And an airplane is curved, so that makes positioning the stickers really difficult and challenging.
Most important are the implications for the raceplane’s performance. “The stickers have to be as light and as thin as possible – just the right material to not add too much weight and not dramatically change the aerodynamics,” the German notes. “If they are too thick, it breaks the airflow a bit.”
Aiming to shine
French pilot Mika Brageot and his #11RACING team were excited about a chrome paint they envisioned for their raceplane, but how the paint would perform technically was a big unknown. They were not even sure it would adhere to the MXS-R raceplane.
“The black chrome effect requires a very specific technique and products, and this had never been done in the Red Bull Air Race before,” says Brageot. “We spent the off-season developing a black primer that significantly increases the adhesion of the paint on our carbon fiber structure.”
Noting that the paint is somewhat delicate, Team Coordinator Victoria Griffiths adds, “A big question was also the temperatures. For instance, the difference from the low temperature in the cargo plane to the high temps on Abu Dhabi tarmac.”
Even the tape used to cover drag-inducing gaps between the wing and the fuselage can potentially mar the perfect surface of their new paint job, so the crew has to be extra careful when removing the sticky stuff during post-race dismantling. But both the team and fans love the finished look, and Griffiths points out a racing advantage: “We managed to save weight with this paint scheme.”
Finding the balance
So can a raceplane’s aesthetic design really make a difference in performance? Take Matt Hall Racing: When the Australian team had their raceplane repainted to feature a new sponsor for 2018, the fresh design should have been the crowning touch after a yearlong process of dialing in a brand-new raceplane. Instead, the new paint added more weight than expected, which in turn led to a difference in handling at the season opener in Abu Dhabi. Hall later explained, “The tail was quite heavy, which made it sensitive to pitch and that led to some over-Gs.”
With two months before the next stop in France, Matt Hall Racing sprang back into action with another repaint. But did it lighten the load enough to restore the speed and balance that had helped Hall to strong performances at the end of the 2017 season? When he topped the time sheet in only the second Free Practice session on the French Riviera, the team knew the answer, and the Aussie went on to win the Cannes race.
“This plane is now basically back to the way it was in Indianapolis and Lausitz last year, and at both of those races I won Qualifying,” Hall stated. “It is feeling that way again, and it goes to show we are back to being fast again.”
Check out the raceplane designs against the backdrop of the Pacific, when the Red Bull Air Race returns to Chiba, Japan on 26-27 May. For tickets and all the latest, visit www.redbullairrace.com.
Red Bull Air Race 2018 Calendar
2-3 February: Abu Dhabi, UAE
20-22 April: Cannes, France
26-27 May: Chiba, Japan
23-24 June: Budapest, Hungary
25-26 August: Kazan, Russia
6-7 October: Indianapolis, USA
About Red Bull Air Race
Created in 2003, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship has held more than 80 races around the globe. The Red Bull Air Race World Championship features the world’s best race pilots in a pure motorsport competition that combines speed, precision and skill. Using the fastest, most agile, lightweight racing planes, pilots hit speeds of 370 kmh while enduring forces of up to 12G as they navigate a low-level slalom track marked by 25-meter-high, air-filled pylons. In 2014, the Challenger Cup was conceived to help the next generation of pilots develop the skills needed for potential advancement to the Master Class that vies for the World Championship.