In the Red Bull Air Race, the Master Class pilots enter the track at 200kts (370kmh, 230mph), and by the time they reach the first Vertical Turning Maneuver (VTM) they could be going even faster. They pull back hard on the stick and try to turn their raceplane around as quickly as they can, without breaking the rules of the sport and exceeding the 12G limit.
Every millisecond is vital and can be the difference between winning and losing, so the pilots will push as hard as possible, and sometimes that puts them in a penalty situation. When testing the boundaries of a racetrack, pilots can incur a two-second penalty for an “Over G” (if they pull over 10G for more than 0.6 seconds) or a DNF (Did Not Finish) if they exceed 12G – the margins are incredibly tight!
When a pilot exceeds the 12G limit, he is given the order by the Race Tower to “RTB” (Return To Base), as his raceplane will need to undergo a G-inspection.
The Technical Director of the Red Bull Air Race, Jim “Jimbo” Reed, used to be the technician for French Master Class pilot Nicolas Ivanoff and knows what it feels like to suddenly have a G-inspection added to his agenda; but now he is on the other side, and part of his role is ensuring that the technicians are doing the job correctly.
“The G-inspection is the responsibility of the team technician,” Reed explains. “They will strip the airplane apart, carry out all the checks, sign each section of the check sheet to say everything is good, and then I, or a delegate, will go and look at the raceplane and determine if we find that it’s good as well. So it’s their inspection, and then the final check is done by me or a delegate. If they do find anything, we of course will look over it together.”
Reed mentions “delegates” – qualified members of his onsite team – because at the recent race in Abu Dhabi, the track was so fast that a lot of pilots were pulling more than 12Gs, and therefore a lot of raceplanes needed inspecting in a short amount of time.
Although the technicians have got the G-inspection down to a fine art, it is still a process they would rather they did not have to go through. It begins with stripping back the raceplane as far as the manufacturer has recommended.
There are specific checks for each variation of raceplane: the Edge 540 V2 differs slightly from the V3, and the MXS-R is a different process altogether.