Courtesy of Red Bull Air Race Media Service
When 14 of the planet’s best pilots face off in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, there’s an added opponent right in the cockpit: the effects of G-force. How do they deliver winning results while enduring up to 10 times the force of gravity?
Like all top professional athletes, the pilots of the Red Bull Air Race train for countless hours to be the best – including an intense fitness regimen. There’s gym work, cardio and a healthy diet. Mental training. Visualization. But when it comes to these elite Air Racing competitors, being strong mentally and physically simply isn’t enough. They also have to sustain high Gs, more than any other athlete in any other sport. Being G-resilient is essential to the pilots.
You’ve more than likely experienced G-forces yourself, when you’ve taken off in a commercial airliner, zoomed on a rollercoaster or even, to a lesser extent, turned a corner at high speed in your car. But the pilots experience G-forces up to 10 times the force of gravity.
“It’s like having a house sitting on your chest and the blood is trying to rush down from your head,” describes American pilot Kirby Chambliss.
Fellow American Michael Goulian agrees: “It’s the enemy in the aircraft,” states the pilot. “It keeps you from being comfortable. It tries to pull you down into your seat, it tries to pull your hand off the throttle, and you have to constantly fight against it.”
According to Goulian, there are essentially only two things a pilot can do to combat the effects of G-force: “Weightlifting, which obviously makes you stronger, and building up your tolerance by flying.”
Unlike other sports training, there is nothing you can do to build up a tolerance apart from flying – unless you happen to be NASA or own a G-force simulator. “Which is fine when you’re doing it a lot,” adds Goulian. “But like any form of exercise, you lose your tolerances if you don’t train.”
When preparing to race, Goulian tries to build up his G-fitness almost straight away. “I pull lots of G and wait until I start to feel my body shut down and my vision starts to close in. As soon as I feel that, I pull out of the turn. It tenses all the muscles in the back of my neck and it gives me an extra G of strength.”
Matt Hall has a similar approach, which is something he learned in his military days.
“It’s called a G-warm,” says Hall. “I hold a five-G turn without tensing any of my body. Your blood pressure drops and when your body realizes what’s happening, your heart rate increases and tries to get the pressure back up. For at least the next hour your body is highly tuned to the G-forces. It’s your body using its natural mechanics to help you,” he explains.
The Australian pilot also has a training regime to help him cope with the G. “Good core strength is important, so lots of Pilates, but people don’t realize that you need strong thigh and calf muscles to stop the blood rushing from your head into your feet,” he points out.
A focus on safety is why Red Bull Air Race rules limit pilots to pulling no more than 10 Gs in the racetrack, and those who exceed that “load factor” for more than 0.6 seconds receive stiff penalties. But perfectly executing even one turn at up to 10 Gs is no small task, and in some of the racetracks in the Red Bull Air Race, the pilots have to cope with as many as three high-G turns. Each can last about three seconds.
Hall describes how the pilots cope: “Before the pilot enters the turn, you’ll see them take in a huge breath and hold it. They’ll also tense their lower body and push their diaphragm down to keep the blood where it is.”
Goulian has the same technique. “Turning the turn, I’ll also breathe out quickly and back in sharply while tensing. It keeps the blood flowing and makes sure I’m fit enough to compete,” he says.
“It’s like anything else, you’ve got to exercise it. So you have to get in the raceplane and pull Gs!” Chambliss agrees.
The pilots will be pulling Gs in Abu Dhabi, UAE on 2-3 February 2018, at the kickoff to the 2018 Red Bull Air Race World Championship. For all the latest news and information, including tickets, visit www.redbullairrace.com.
Red Bull Air Race 2018 Calendar
2-3 February:Abu Dhabi, UAE
21-22 April:Cannes, France
26-27 May:Europe, location TBA
23-24 June:Budapest, Hungary
4-5 August:Asia, location TBA
25-26 August:Kazan, Russia
6-7 October: Indianapolis, USA
November:Asia, location TBA
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 370kmh while enduring forces of up to 10G 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.