Red Bull Air Races – Detroit – Sunday – USA’s Chambliss Wins!

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Check out the link above to hear the episode that Rod Rakic and I recorded early this afternoon before the racing started. A little hangar flying there at the media center on the Detroit riverfront. Couldn’t have asked for a better setup.

Full catering and all the Red Bull we could drink. You guys know me. I’m a full-time lawyer, writer, aviation nut, etc. who tries to do all that a proper 21st century renaissance man should do. I owe it all to caffeinated beverages. Put me in a full media center with high-speed (1Gb) Internet, access to a great photo vantage point, and all the Red Bull I can drink? By noon, I couldn’t feel my face. Everyone was walking around in slow motion. Yeah, baby!

American Kirby Chambliss, flying the No. 4 Red Bull-sponsored Edge 540 took the series leader Paul Bonhomme with a time of 1:12.08, just 0.15 seconds ahead of Bonhomme. Bonhomme remains the points leader for the series and both flew a great event.

Airspeed favorite Mike Goulian netted two points with his eighth-place finish in today’s combined qualifying and racing event. Here he is splitting the final gate on the track and pulling her up for a reversal to attack the second half of the flight.

Organizers claimed that the event drew 750,000 people total taking in the festivities. 100,000 tickets for viewing areas sold out days before the show. Here’s a shot of the crowd immediately in front of the media vantage point. A very cordial crowd that lined the riverfront and packed Hart Plaza and any other place where you could stand, eat, drink, and make merry. No thrown elbows here. Everybody pretty much having a good time.

And I have to thank the City of Detroit for having wireless Internet available. My only complaint about the media center was that the wired Internet access apparently had a standard workplace filter on it, which prohibited access to (of all things) Blogger, Twitter, and other services that are pretty necessary to some of us media types, especially the new-media 2.0-ers. At least they didn’t block Libsyn, so I was able to post an episode over the high-speed line. We got the blog post up over the city’s wireless Internet service, but it was a bit intermittent and we couldn’t get pictures up onto the site reliably.

All that said, Red Bull treated Rod and me like kings. Good food, free priority valet parking, shuttles, to important stuff, and, of course, free Red Bull. The wired Internet issue is minor and we got around it handily, if on a limited basis. Way to go, Red Bull! Thanks for the hospitality!

The Canadian Harvards also made an appearance each day, doing a three-ship aerobatic routine. The light was pretty good, too, by the time they flew and I got several really good shots of them. Nice scattered puffy cumulus clouds against which to photograph them.

They had an F4U Corsair and an F/A-18 Super Hornet do a heritage flight and then each did a couple of individual passes. The Hornet did a mach pass ostensibly 12 KIAS below the speed of sound that caused nice condensation around the wings and positively delightful noise (which I featured at the tail of the episode). Don’t know if the speed was that precise, but I’m not going to second-guess a Super Hornet. Alas, the passes were under an overcast, the light sucked, and the auto-focus on the 200mm lens of my Nikon D40X was really off, so the pictures aren’t really good enough to post. So you’ll have to make do with the sound. (Which is okay with me – Tasty audio, that.)

We avoided a major goat rodeo when the valets identified us by our media badges and got our respective vehicles lickety-split. You have to understand that there was perhaps a 30-minute line to get to the valet window to even begin the process of getting your vehicle. Have I mentioned that Red Bull really took care of us?

We ran into a group of four people (who apparently also identified us by our media passes), who asked what Airspeed was and, more to the point, could Airspeed get them to Detroit City (Coleman Young) Airport? We allowed as how it (it being Rod) might be able to do just that. I complimented one gentleman on his very nice Cirrus-logo pullover and they shortly indicated that they were all Cirrus folk from the plant in Duluth. How cool is that? A ride to KDET? Let me think about that for two or three seconds. Okay!

Rod is working on a social media project involving pilots (the title and other aspects of which I believe are not yet for publication, but about which you’ll likely be hearing soon) and there are worse things that could happen to such a guy as Rod than having a captive audience of Cirrus folk for the 30-minute ride to KDET. Plus, both Rod and I are Cirrus fanboys (see the entries for Airspeed episodes featuring a test flight of a Cirrus SR-22 G3 and my interview with Alan Klapmeier). I would like to have taken one or two, but the thought of Rod with four well-placed and friendly Cirrus personnel in a confined space caused me to hold my tongue and my car keys.

He’s on his way back to Chicago this evening. Great to hang out and spend time with him. He was a huge help in gathering background and getting his finger (hand, arm up to the elbow, etc.) on the pulse of the actual competition (as is obvious from the audio of the episode) and he made the whole experience a lot more fun than showing up solo.

Thanks, Rod! Come back anytime! I’ll have the Red Bull chilled!

One final note: Greg Summers of The Student Pilot Journal called this weekend to say that he completed his private pilot checkride (NORDO, no less!) and is a newly-minted private pilot! Bravo Zulu, Greg!

Red Bull air Races in Detroit – Saturday – Part 2

This is a regular blog post. Please check out the other posts if you’re looking for show notes or audio.

I spent a little time at the public pit walk at Detroit City (Coleman Young) Airport (KDET) this morning. Really stinkin’ neat for any number of reasons. First is the other control tower that Red Bull brought in for the event. An apparently fully-functional control tower that’s customized for the race and fully portable. Unreal! Let’s get this thing to Fond du Lac during AirVenture Oshkosh this year!

This is really neat. There’s a full pit line with all of the aircraft and pilots in an L-shape. Between 9:30 and 11:00, the public can come in and freely walk the pit line, talk to the pilots, and get autographs. The lines are really reasonable and it would surely have been possible to obtain all of the pilots’ autographs within the space of an hour or less. I didn’t really feel compelled to talk to anyone other then Mike Goulian, but I did walk right up and got headshots of all of the pilots within 20 minutes.

I think that this is absolutely brilliant on the part of Red Bull. Make the pilots and the aircraft as available as possible and build bonds between present and future fans through access. Every single staff person (even security guarding the ingress/egress and tower) was cordial and friendly. The guy guarding the media center door went out of his way to look for my media pass and proactively invited me in.

Red Bull is really nailing it with this model. The fans really seemed to appreciate it. Especially the kids. No MLB or NBA, this. Red Bull is going out of its way to give as much access as possible. I didn’t see any access restriction at all that didn’t make sense in at least some way (e.g. airport security, integrity of the aircraft, etc.). How cool is this?

I kind of think of it as NASCAR without as much ass crack and beer. Am I wrong?

On another note, with the event being held in Detroit and all, I have high hopes that the audience will include lots of black and other minority folks. You’ve heard me complain that aviation in general is overwhelmingly male. It happens to be overwhelmingly white, too. I’m sure that (at least since the 1970s) been much more de facto than de jure, but any change is going to require that we get minorities (and especially minority kids!) up close and personal with 100LL, Jet-A, and JP-8.

I was a little disappointed that I didn’t see as many minorities at the pit walk as one might have hoped, what with City Airport being right in the heart of an overwhelmingly black population. Lots of folks down on the waterfront (which is great!), but I hope that we see more at the pit walks over the coming years which, to me, would be an indicator that there’s more interest. I say that because you kind of have to work at it to get to the airport and then park and then hoof it to the flight line. The demographics of those who show up at the airport (as opposed to the waterfront) are probably more indicative of who the faithful and the obsessed are, or at least more so than the general population.

Not going to make a big deal of it, but you guys know me and know that I’m all about encouraging as many humans as possible to get into general aviation. Black, white, green, purple, Nova Scotian, you name it. If you’ll stand still long enough, I’ll tell you about GA. It there’s a population for which a special approach or more exposure would help, I’m all about it. And, by the way, I think that holding the race in Detroit in the first place is a great step.

(By the way, I tend to use the term “black” instead of “African American” becuase not everyone who’s black is necessarily American and because Thurgood Marshall preferred the term “black” and that’s more than good enough for me. I hope no offense is given because none is intended. Prefer otherwise? No problem. But you have to let me talk GA to you.)

We got to touch base again with Mike Goulian of the USA, who flies the No. 99 Edge 540. He’s also an airshow performer and appeared on Airspeed in November of 2007, featured in a July interview from the Battle Creek airshow. He finished fifth in the 2006 series and eighth last year. He hasn’t had a podium finish this year, but posted a second place in one contest during the 2007 series. He was upbeat and the only concern he seemed to have was the wind out on the course, which was exceeding 34 knots as I post this.

Kirby Chambliss of the USA, pilot of the No. 4 Edge 540 for the Red Bull team, takes time with a young fan. Kirby signed the little guy’s shirt which, from the looks of it, had already made the rounds of several of the other pilots. Chambliss finished first in the 2006 series and brought home third and fourth in 2005 and 2007 respectively. He has placed third in one contest so far this year.

Yeah, another tower shot. Not sure what this guy is doing, but who cares? A completely mobile control tower is just so cool!

Just heard that the winds caused the organizers to cancel the qualifying flights this afternoon. They’re planning to fly tomorrow and the weather looks good with mostly sunny skies forecast and winds of around 10 from around 300. I’ll be there the whole day with Rod and we’ll try to do a little hangar flying and post an audio episode from the media center.

Red Bull air Races in Detroit – Saturday – Part 1

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or audio, please check out the other posts.

We’re at the Red Bull Air Races on the Detroit River! Windy as hell with a constant breeze of about 25 knots coming more or less directly out of the south. I understand that this is pretty much directly opposite where they were for the practice runs yesterday, so all of the racers are paying a lot of attention to how that’s going to change matters.

We have a lot of riverfront upon which to do this, so this is the longest course (3.8 miles from end to end) in the four years of the Red Bull series. And the wind today is just about directly aligned with the long axis of the course, so that’ll have a big effect, depending on the relevant maneuvers.

Rod Rakic is here for the weekend and is helping out with coverage. Rod grew up in the Detroit area and did his primary pilot training at Detroit City (Coleman A. Young) Airport (KDET). He also spent a summer as an office manager at a flight school there. He’s visiting from Chicago and is going to be a key part of the Airspeed team for this event. We’re going to try to hangar-fly a little tomorrow and get an episode up from the media center on site.

The setup on the race course is pretty cool. Red Bull has brought along two of its own control towers (yeah, they brought their own control towers!). Here’s the one that’s down on the waterfront with the landmark Renaissance Center.

The High Flyers’ Club is just on the other side of the tower. As with any event like this, I like to go around seeing where my media pass will get me in. I can say with some certainty that, although it has gotten me many places, it has not gotten me into (or even near) the High Flyers’ Club. But I can hardly whine. Red Bull has provided free valet parking, lots of other access, a spectacular media center on the waterfront (and another really nice one at the airport) and, naturally, all the Red Bull I can drink. I am so wired right now I can barely stand it. And I’ve only just begun.

The sound system on the waterfront is pretty good, too. Check out this unnamed media member who was overpowered by a little James Brown during the Canadian Harvards performance prior to the racing.

A couple of cans of Red Bull with the other cylindrical icons of the event in the background. A first class event in all respects so far. More posts soon!