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Matt Hall to revolutionise Red Bull Air Race with DRS

Australian Red Bull Air Race World Championship pilot Matt Hall and his team are in the final stages of developing the first ever aviation-based Drag Reduction System (DRS), which they aim to implement for the beginning of the 2020 season. 

Hall, a former wing commander in the Royal Australian Air Force and three-time world championship runner up, currently sits fifth in the standings after one race in 2019. Although well in the hunt for the title, the Aussie and his team have one eye squarely on the future and aim to revolutionise Red Bull Air Race aerodynamics into the next decade.

The DRS system will be akin to that used in Formula 1, which allows competitors to alter the angle of the rear wing flap to reduce drag. However, the concept being implemented by Matt Hall Racing will see the horizontal tail split in two and pop open, employing an intricate hydraulic system that will split the horizontal into a top and bottom half, creating a direct gap for air to flow through and inevitably reduce drag.

Leading the project is race tactician Peter Wezenbeek, formerly of Renault Sport F1 during their championship winning years in 2005 and 2006. After almost 24 months of work, Wezenbeek said the project is nearing the completion of the prototype phase and would be ready for the 2020 air race season.

“Well, it was quite a logical step to begin experimenting with DRS in Air Race, especially when we took delivery of our Edge 540 V3 in 2017,” Wezenbeek said.

“When we received the Edge, our primary goal was to make it more aerodynamically efficient. The advantage we found that Edge to have over our former plane, the MXS-R is that the body isn’t a monocoque, making it easier to adjust more components of the bodywork.

Wezenbeek, far left, is the mastermind behind the Red Bull Air Race DRS project.

“After adjusting farings here and there, we realised that we can reduce the drag on the tail in a straight line if the horizontal can pop open. While the gap between the top and bottom halves of the horizontal creates the largest benefit, the two halves of the horizontal also take up less surface area, and therefore produce less drag. There’s little doubt we will create a significant speed advantage with this system”

A early drawing of the theory behind the Red Bull Air Race DRS concept.

Although a technological first for air race, the creation of such a system is still awaiting official ratification from the Red Bull Air Race technical department and race committee. It’s a process that Hall is deeply involved in, especially as it will require an amendment to be made to the current technical regulations.

“Section 5.5 of our technical regulations mandates that the ‘primary flight control system must be mechanically operated and actuated solely by the race pilot’s physical efforts’, something we still largely agree with,” Hall stated.

“However it is our firm belief that the rule outlawing major modifications to the primary flight system in the form of electric, hydraulic or other systems connected to the flight controls should have an exemption written in for DRS.

“The basis for our proposition is that DRS has the potential to make the race more exciting, but only if strictly controlled by the technical department to ensure safe implementation.”

Under the proposition, internally referred to as the ‘April Paper’ by Matt Hall Racing, come recommendations that DRS could only be used when a pilot is within one second of their best time during the second lap of their run in the track.

The April Paper underscores further similarities to Formula 1, suggesting there would be a dedicated DRS activation zone. Hall and his team believe that zone should exist from the exit of the last pylon prior to the pylons marking the vertical turn manoeuvre (VTM), up until 3 metres before the VTM.

It is hoped the DRS activation zone (shown with green markers) will be a 
high-risk, high-reward element of air racing in the next decade. 

“According to our calculations, by having the DRS zone in the lead up to the VTM our plane will increase it’s speed by at least 25 knots,” Hall continued.

“That increased speed on approach will also add a risk of being penalised or disqualified due to over G.

“So, we’ll need to work out a risk analysis at each track we go to and decide whether or not there will be a true benefit in using this system. In some tracks, it may simply be too risky to carry that extra speed. Others, we’ll be looking for as much speed as we can get.”

A working model of the Matt Hall Racing DRS system is expected to be presented alongside the April Paper to Red Bull Air Race officials following June’s Russian leg of the 2019 world championship.

Should those meetings result in pre-approval, the first official flight under the guidance of the air race technical department will occur following July’s race at Lake Balaton, Hungary.

(Cover pic: Samo Vidic/Red Bull Content Pool)