Relive 12 sky-high moments from the Red Bull Air Race

Courtesy of Red Bull Media Service Team

Here’s a look back on some of the aerobatic series’ key turning points.

More than a decade and a half after the series’ debut, the curtain has come down on Red Bull Air Race with Australian pilot Matt Hall crowned the final champion in Chiba, Japan on September 7–8, 2019.

2003 – Red Bull Air Race is born

The first race took place in Zeltweg, Austria on June 28, 2003, after lengthy negotiations and plans came to fruition. Péter Besenyei was the guinea pig for the series with its first test flight through the specially developed Air Gates made up of the pylons – later to become an icon of the sport. And, aptly, after two years’ worth of planning and development, it was the Hungarian who was hailed the inaugural title victor after winning the season’s two races in Austria and then Budapest in Hungary.

2005 – The series goes global

After going global in 2004 and building its reputation for spectacular settings around the globe, the Red Bull Air Race was granted World Championship status in 2005. The USA’s Mike Mangold was unstoppable, winning five of the now seven-race season to claim the first World Champion title, while Besenyei took second and Mangold’s compatriot Kirby Chambliss finished third.

2009 – Record crowds flock to Barcelona

Red Bull Air Race enjoyed its best-ever crowds, with a million spectators estimated to have flocked to Barcelona, Spain, for that year’s race, which also doubled up as the season finale. 15 pilots lined up to take the title, but Paul Bonhomme of Great Britain made no mistake in the climax to proceedings, ending that campaign with 67 points to the 60 points of runner-up Hannes Arch of Austria.

2010 – Big Apple takes its bow

The global appeal of Red Bull Air Race widened further with one of the world’s most iconic cities added to the calendar for the first time: New York. Planes scythed to a backdrop of the Statue of Liberty in a season that saw another chapter in the rivalry between Bonhomme and Arch and concluded with the Briton becoming the first pilot to take back-to-back World Championships.

2014 – Red Bull Air Race returns with added Challenger class

After a three-year hiatus, the Red Bull Air Race was relaunched in 2014 and came out more competitive, more compelling and even safer than before. And it now had a feeder class. The Challenger Cup was introduced to help outstanding pilots develop the Air Racing skills that could potentially put them in the World Championship. Eleven pilots took part, with six earning a place in the winner-takes-all final, where Czech ace Petr Kopfstein was crowned the inaugural Challenger Cup Champion.

2015 – The ‘ghost plane’ thrills viewers

Red Bull Air Race has never been a stranger to technology and perhaps it was embraced to the greatest-ever effect in the series’ history with the introduction of the Ghost Plane. Each Red Bull Air Race pilot flies through the racetrack alone against the clock, for obvious safety reasons. Yet since 2015, viewers have thrilled to the sight of World Championship opponents racing wing-to-wing thanks to this technological innovation. More than a graphic, the so-called Ghost Plane overlays a computer-generated representation of the current leader onto the live-action run of another competitor in the track. So spectators see two race planes at once, witnessing every lead change as it happens until one pilot edges out the win.

2015 – The birth of the simulator

As pilots and teams try to eke out whatever advantage they can, race simulators are used for the first time. Using GPS coordinates of the Air Gates and data from the planes, the specially developed computer software allows the series’ teams and pilots to find the best racing lines through the track even before a race weekend.

2016 – More firsts

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is accustomed to high speed, but, rather than the racing on the ground in the iconic Indy 500, the racing instead turned to the skies overhead. The Brickyard witnessed another milestone of the Red Bull Air Race: Matthias Dolderer of Germany wrapped up that season as first pilot ever to win the title with a race to spare.

2016 – A new curve to the Red Bull Air Race

Winglets have been a highly visible modification and become commonplace among the fleet of raceplanes in the series, with a variety of different approaches tackled by the respective teams. Their introduction raised some eyebrows and fuelled a debate about effectiveness: the winglets increase lift and drag at the same time. Today teams usually have a range of winglets available to suit the differing characteristics of each racetrack.

2017 – Muroya edges end-of-season thriller

Yoshihide Muroya had announced himself as a proper contender with a maiden win in 2016, seven years after first racing in the series. The Japanese pilot had been the pacesetter in the skies in the early part of 2017 but issues with his plane saw him four points behind Martin Šonka of the Czech Republic heading back to Indianapolis. But he turned the tide when needed to win the race in a time that not even the simulators deemed possible and, with it, the World Champion title.

2018 – Red Bull Air Race LIVE VR wins Webby Award

Red Bull Air Race teamed up with Google to create the world’s first virtual-reality flight experience powered by real-time data. Using live data from the cockpit while the plane is flying on the track, the app re-creates the flight in a 360° virtual reality and allows viewers to see the racing from a pilot’s point of view. The experience was awarded in the category Mobile Sites & Apps, Technical Achievement at the 2018 Webby Award edition, the international awards honouring excellence on the internet.

2019 – Experience a race plane in your living room

Apple’s latest augmented-reality technology lets Red Bull Air Race fans get creative with animated 3D raceplanes – in the Red Bull Air Race Augmented Reality Challenge. High-quality animated AR files of actual Red Bull Air Race planes are available to download for free at www.redbullairrace.com/AR exclusively and work on any Apple mobile device running iOS 12 and higher – no app or plugin needed.

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