PART II: Bonhomme’s Air Race A to Z

One race down, seven to go. The 2017 Red Bull Air Race World Championship produced a thrilling first event that had abnormalities, upsets and tough lessons.

Matt Hall Racing went in with a rented, stock Zivko Edge 540 and despite the odds, and lack of speed that worked against the team, determination and commitment yielded an important world championship point.

Now former series champion, adversary and now commentator Paul Bonhomme shares his thoughts on everything air race, and what 2017 looks like. You can read PART I HERE. Read part II below.


All you need to know from the three-time champ on the 2017 series.

Planes travel at top speeds of 370km/h, the pilots at the controls endure forces of up to 12G, and, according to the most successful pilot in Red Bull Air Race history, it “requires nerves of steel to win”.

Paul Bonhomme is a three-time champion, victorious in 2009, 2010 and 2015, after which the now 52-year-old retired from the series.

Still no slouch in the cockpit, here’s his A to Z of all you need to know as the pilots battle it out to be champion of the skies in 2017…

M – Moving air: An aeroplane flies by ‘moving air’. The propeller will move air so the aeroplane flies forwards… the wings will move air so the aeroplane is suspended above the ground. As the aeroplane uses the air, any control movement needs to be graceful and smooth.

N – Newcomers: I loved the skill-set shown by the two newcomers in Abu Dhabi; Cristian Bolton and Mikael Brageot. Their consistency was amazing given their limited experience in the Masters. I think there is much more to come from these two, especially when Cristian has got his aeroplane modified fully for racing.

O – Outright champion: To become a world champion, you have to ensure that a whole range of factors are completed or achieved to the tiniest of detail. Picking a winner at this stage is tough but consistency is the key.

P – Precision: You need precision and discipline – it is a misnomer that to fly fast you have to be on the attack. To fly fast you must have calculated the very best lines and then fly that to the millimetre. The plan has to be precise and the plan must be flown to perfection. No mistakes.

Q – Qualification: Qualification takes place the day before race day, with two sessions and the best time counts. Martin Sonka won both qualifying and the race in UAE. I think the last pilot to do that was me!

R – Raceplane: Like most race series, to stand the best chance of success, you need the very best machine combined with the best strategy.

S – Stalling: To produce lift, a wing or lifting surface relies on smooth airflow which is generally achieved by the relative airflow approaching at low angles of attack. If the air is asked to go around a corner at too high an angle, the airflow will break away from the surface. That is a stall. It is like moving your hand in water at too high an angle to the approaching water… the backside of it will be turbulent water and that is basically a stall. In air it means a loss of lift and loads of drag. The most common stall we see is in the pull-ups or vertical turning manoeuvres.

T – Team: The sport, while flown by one pilot in one aeroplane, is most certainly a team game. That team needs to have prepared the best raceplane, worked out the best strategy and then, and this is the really clever bit, execute it to perfection whilst under huge mental pressure…

U – UAE: The season opened in the UAE where Martin Sonka showed the way first with a win in qualifying which he then converted in to a race win. Prior to the race week in the UAE, I was looking out for the pilots and teams who could demonstrate consistency and speed and Martin and co didn’t disappoint.

V – Vertical turn manoeuvre: Perhaps because of the fastest line or the local rules, a vertical pull up might be necessary at a turnaround gate. Firstly you have to angle through the gate to miss the pylons, then time your pull on the stick to make sure you fly level through the gate before you climb. The strength of this pull will depend on your speed at the time and take into account any head or tailwind. You will then have to position the aircraft towards the next gate, this could mean turn left or right whilst pulling to the optimum G. It’s busy!

W – Wobble: It’s what you want to avoid. If you see a slight wobble of the wings, means the pilot is correcting him/herself to regain smooth airflow after a stall or they are unsure of their line. Either way, it will cost them a lot of time.

X – X factor: The Red Bull Air Race is like nothing else – the site and sound of an aeroplane racing past at 230 mph and 50 feet above the ground is exciting enough. Then add the buzz of the chase… seeing if the pilots can keep their cool while pushing the limits to win. As we have seen on numerous occasions, anything can happen with the brutal head-to-head rounds, which are merciless for the teams, but make a great spectacle for the crowd.

Y – Year: In every corner of the pack this year there is something to watch out for. Can last year’s winner stay on top? Can the more experienced pilots who didn’t win last year turn their fortunes around and find the winning formula? Can the rookies impress?

Z – Zivko Edge 540: It’s the most common aircraft used in the Master Class, with only Mika Brageot opting to fly the MXS Aircraft. In contrast, the Challengers all fly the Extra 330LX.