Skill. Precision. Speed – all that and more at the three-day Red Bull Air Race 2014 held in Putrajaya last weekend,which I had the privilege to attend! 😀 I also got to interview pilots from the Breitling team, Nigel Lamb (who has over 30 years experience as an aerobatics pilot) and Francoise Le Vot.
I met up with a group of international journalists at the nearby hotel before we set off for the race track, which was held over the 3km man-made Putrajaya lake. It was drizzling slightly, but luckily the rain stopped around noon for the race to proceed.
First, a visit to the hangar area where all the pilots were prepping for the day’s race. Our destination was the Breitling pitstop! You can tell it apart from its bright yellow and black colours.
Nigel Lamb and French aviator, Francoise Le Vot. Lamb was very approachable and friendly, constantly cracking jokes and wowing us with his expertise from years of flying. Born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), he joined the Air Force at a young age after being inspired by his pilot father.
They explained to us about the dynamics of the race, including how weather can affect flying and how it was like in the cockpit. They have to wear suits that weigh 6.5kg – but due to strong G-forces in flight, can weigh up to 65kg! The reason why is because the suit is filled with fluid which compresses their body, preventing blood from flowing downward in the flight. Lamb also said that pilots don’t look at their controls until after the flight, because every split second counts – so they maneuver based on experience.
Speeds can reach up to a whopping 300 knots, so pilots need to be fit and know techniques to stabilize themselves, such as breathing exercises in flight.
Some of the crew were fixing up the plane behind, which Lamb would be using for the qualifying race later in the day. It’s an MSX-R model designed for speed and dexterity.
We had a few minutes to walk around the different hangars and see the other pilots/crews in action as they made final adjustments to their aircrafts. There were lots of news staff walking around with cameras, some doing on-cam interviews.
Then it was off to the actual viewing area, which was near the Marina Putrajaya building lakefront. We were given tags to be worn before entering. Since the competition is organised by Red Bull, there was free flow of the drink at several booths, plus a buffet lunch. There weren’t enough seats so some visitors sat on the staircases or standing while eating their food. There was roast duck, lamb ribs, and very delicious otak-otak popiah (deep fried spring rolls).
The rain had cleared up by the time we finished our food, so it was time to watch the exciting race!
That’s the timer floating on the lake’s surface, so spectators can see the time for each racer.
They started inflating the pillons, which the pilots will have to fly through or around. The difficult thing about an air race is that unlike a 2D track like motorsports or the F1, the ‘track’ is pretty much invisible. As Lamb said, “Pilots can be two or three meters off the track and not feel it,”
Andddd take off!
The speed and precision was amazing. The pilots were flying through the gates within seconds, turning and twisting around the pillons with perfect accuracy. The difference between them were mere seconds.
It was a very interesting experience and I’m glad I got to see it. 🙂 Wonder how it’ll feel like to speed through the air like that? Guess I’ll never know… but it was nice to watch!