Wednesday, April 19, 2017



     When I heard that the Red Bull Air Races were coming to San Diego, I really did not know what to expect. I only knew that the Red Bull beverage was way over-caffeinated for me. I had never heard of the air race. However, since they were held in San Diego from 2007 to 2009, many seemed to know about them. I heard mixed reviews. For people who lived near the bay it was generally negative. There were complaints about noise, crowds, possible plane crashes, and the fact that it was being held on Easter weekend. Others looked forward to the entertainment and, of course, returning to the quiet of their homes in the suburbs when the show ended.

      When the time came, tens of thousands of spectators came from all over to view one of the most amazing aerial events in the world. Some compare it to NASCAR races in the air. I have to agree that it was a spectacular show.

     San Diego is the second stop on the Red Bull World Tour schedule that began in Abu Dhabi in February and goes on to Japan, Hungary, and Portugal from here. It ends in Indianapolis on October 15 when the 2017 Red Bull Race Champion will be decided. The competing 14 masterclass pilots are considered the best in the world, with numerous flying achievements in their backgrounds. Their planes are streamlined to perfection and at the forefront of light aviation technology.

      The races were launched in 2003 and have been held annually, except for 2011-2013. During that time they were they were stopped for safety improvements following a fatal crash in 2010.

     The conversion of quiet San Diego Bay into an air racetrack started many days before the official event began on April 15-16. Large platforms were installed on the bay to mark the track, and to hold the pylons so that the pilots could swoop down and fly between them. The course covered the area between the San Diego Convention Center and the North Island Naval Air Station.

     The official viewing area was at the Embarcadero Marina Park with tickets starting at $20. A perfect place to be if you wanted to know who was racing, what their backgrounds were, and how the competition was scored. However, the visual spectacle of high speed, low altitude, and extreme maneuverability could be observed free from just about anywhere along the bay.

     The planes were based at Brown Field Municipal Airport and approached the track by flying over the Coronado Bridge.

      The free practice sessions began at noon on the Friday before, and continued, almost nonstop, until 7 p.m. They stopped a couple of times to allow for the military ships that needed to pass by. Otherwise, no luck if you were hoping to enjoy some boating on the bay, ride the Coronado Ferry, or even enjoy a conversation. It was the loudest day without much time in between the practice flights. I was beginning to understand the nay sayers.

     The event included a large black helicopter that was used for taking photos and videos for the news media. It was televised all over the world. Some said the helicopter was louder than the planes, and I think they were correct.

     Not surprisingly, San Diego provided near perfect 70 degree days, sunshine, and a mild breeze for the event. It was spectacular to see these small planes, flying at speeds up 230 mph, quickly changing directions, spinning around in the sky, and then swooping low through the pylons, circling again and repeating the maneuvers, all in a record speeds of 1-2 minutes. It was impressive. The downtown skyline in the background made it even more so. The planes were colorful. Some of the wings had stripes and other interesting designs which you could see as they flipped over and flew sideways.

      About 3 p.m. on Sunday we decided to walk down to the
Coronado Ferry Landing to observe the round of eight/final four races. There were thousands of spectators gathered in both directions along the water from the landing as well as many standing on the dock. I heard estimates that there were 40,000 spectators enjoying this event over the weekend. The winner of this event was Yoshihide “Yoshi” Muroya from Japan.

     One of interesting sideshows that took place on both days was the Red Bull helicopter stunt show. I didn't know they could fly upside down and flip around just like the small planes. Also, I used my binoculars to view parachuters drifting down from overhead and landing in a precise spot on the Embarcadero amongst the crowds.

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      It's the day after the Red Bull Air Race in San Diego and there's an incredible crew out there that is busy handling the logistics of moving the entire infrastructure of the race track, the planes, the pilots and their teams, race crews, and tons of materials to the next stop which is Japan. 

     I appreciated my peaceful walk along the bay more than usual and secretly hoped that the races don't return anytime soon.

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