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Red Bull Air Race
Rio de Janeiro
April 17-21, 2007


(Clique aqui para ler esta página em português)



No, I did not actually go to this airshow, and no, I did not take these pictures.

So why am I writing about this airshow on my website?

Because I have not been as excited about an airshow - about any event, really - for years. Many times since I was a little kid, I have dreamed (literally, at night in my sleep) about an airshow taking place with the buildings and mountains and beaches of Rio as a backdrop - I still often do. Like anyone else from Rio, I am convinced that my hometown is just about the most beautiful city in the world, thus making this the most photogenic airshow in history. The adrenaline jolt I feel when I see these pictures is comparable to how I felt the first time I went to an airshow, the first time I saw an F-117, the first time I saw an F-22, the first time I saw a B-2, or the first time I drove into Edwards AFB. You have no idea how awesome it is for me to see, literally, my dream come true: the hills and buildings and beaches of my beautiful hometown as the backdrop for aerial demonstrations...

... and it just breaks my heart that I can't be there. I am almost losing sleep due to my excitement about them actually holding an airshow over the waters of Rio, plus my frustration that I don't get to see it with my own eyes (or shoot it with my own camera). But oh well, I guess I'll just have to wait till next year. Until then, here are some pictures and video of the Rio de Janeiro 2007 Red Bull Air Race, taken by the Red Bull as publicity shots, or taken by my friends who sent them to me to post online for them. Given their backdrop, I feel condifent in saying they are among the most beautiful airshow pictures ever taken.




What are the Red Bull Air Races? They are a series of races, held over a year in about 12 cities around the world, where about 16 pilots fly small, powerful, agile airplanes around twisty courses, earning points that at the end of the year will earn one of them a championship. Much like Formula 1, but airborne. This motor sport was invented by the Red Bull marketing people, and has been going on for 3 or 4 years now, with races being flown in front of some of the world's most beautiful and recognizable locales. Pilots must fly between inflatable gates in certain orientations, and perform certain aerobatic manouvers, and any mistakes will cost them a time penalty. I won't explain this in detail, since I already do so in my page about airshow attractions (which also has tons of pictures I took at the Red Bull air races held in San Francisco). The Wikipedia entry is helpful as usual, and of course there is the official site. But I think the best way to understand what the air races are all about is to watch the following two videos:

This one explains the rules:

This one is just a nice action-packed music montage:

Not long ago it was announced that Rio de Janeiro would, for the first time, be hosting a Red Bull air race. It was the second race of 2007. Right after the end of the first race, in Abu Dhabi, a news station in Rio did a nice segment explaining how the race works and showing some awesome footage:

Red Bull even made a TV commercial for the event!

This got the people of Rio excited about what was to come.



The Course

Each "lap" sees the pilot go through a series of gates as they fly deeper into Botafogo Cove. When they get all the way inside the cove and are about to fly over Botafogo Beach, they perform a half Cuban-8 and head back out, going through the gates in a different pattern. Below is a map of the course, which also includes the location of restrooms, booths, and other good things to know:



You can download a hi-res version of that map as a PDF by clicking here.

But, again, the video probably shows it best:

So now we're all set for the big event!



Arrival & Recon

Some of the racers arrived in Rio four or five days before the race. This allowed them to fly around Rio for a day, a "reconnaisance flight" for them to familiarize themselves with the city, and also a killer photo op:

The short video of the Recon Flight is BEAUTIFUL, probably my favorite single piece of media produced from this entire event. Below is a YouTube version, but I highly highly highly recommend you check out the high-quality version here.

Red Bull released the following publicity shots, which were used by newspapers, blogs, news sites, TV shows... Basically, anyone who wanted to talk about this exciting event. And these are some of the most beautiful aviation pictures I have ever seen. You can;t go wrong with Rio as your backdrop:





Nice, huh? So, when do we see some racing?



Practice and Qualifying Flights

The pilots soon wanted to familiarize themselves with the specific course they would be competing on. It is a fast course, where a pilot must start turning into a gate as soon as he is out of the previous one, so they have to think ahead, and be ready for what's coming. The pilots spent Wednesday and Thursday trying out the course.

On qualifying day (Friday), they ran it for time, so as to decide the order they would fly in on the actual day of the race (Saturday).

Again, Red Bull was kind enough to release the following publicity pictures to the press, blogs, etc.





Red Bull's official video of the training for this race is really great: It's just about the most action-packed of all the videos on this page (which is why I also put it at the top).



Elisa Gandour, one of my best friends, lives high up in an apartment building with a killer view of Botafogo Cove, comparable to the view from any tourist vista point. After much encouragement from me, she took the following photographs of Friday's practice and qualifying runs (or, um, qualifying flights). And I'm glad she did, since her pictures are AWESOME. Thanks for letting me post them here!!! =]




And now, here are the official videos (i.e. what was broadcast on TV) of the four fastest qualifier flights. These are really cool, shot from helicopters that were being flown very aggressively, by videographers who were not afraid to zoom in and out and whose panning skills are absolutely fantastic:


Fourth place; Mangold:


Third place; Jones:


Second place; Besenyei


First place; Bonhomme:


And the last Air Race video before the acutal race itself: The "best moments" of Friday's qualifiers:


Building Up Hype

Local TV stations produced all kinds of segments to get people excited about the air race:


Below is a thorough report on how the practices were going.


There was also this neat report on how the air gates were conceptualized, tested, and currently made. Includes cool videos of pilots hitting the gates:


Below, a video about the Air Traffif Controller who will be in charge of coordinating the takeoffs and landings, which will happen on a busy commercial airport with airliners going in and out!


For the people who have not seen the videos at the top of this page, which explain the rules, here a bunch of sports commentators talk about the rules, the race series, etc:


And here's a quick segment on G-forces and the possibility of G-induced loss-of-consciousness (it happens! And you don't want it to happen when you're doing 250mph and 15ft from the water with the plane on its side!).


Next up, a nice profile of Peter Besenyei, a Hungarian aerobat who helped to think up, organize, and execute the very first Red Bull air races, and a current favorite in the championship. He seems like a nice guy.


Sports commentator Armando Nogueira is himself a pilot. Here he talks about how the kind of flying done by most General Aviation pilots is very different from the kind of flying done at the air race. He talks about Brazilian aerobats who are applying to the Red Bull races, and about the tricks they can do.


And finally, interviews with celebrities who have nothing to do with aviation. Pointless but kinda amusing.


Diego "Alemão" Gasques won a reality show (for some inexplicable reason, Big Brother is actually extremely popular in Brazil) and so he got to ride with one of the pilots, so here is a video of him describing his experiences.

Cuca, the coach of one of Brazil's top soccer teams is interviewed as he watches the race practice from the beach.


And from the day of the actual race:


Hortencia, famous Brazilian basketball player:

Camila Pitanga, actress:

Antonio Calonni, actor:

  And so, what's left? Oh yeah, the actual race...



The Race!!!

And now, the moment we had all been waiting for... the actual Red Bull Air Race!

First, here are some more publicity shots that Red Bull released to newspapers, magazines, news sites, blogs, and anyone else who wished to help them publicize the event:



Red Bull then put on their site this cool video about the race setting, focusing on the HUGE crowds that went to see this race:


My good friend Victor Chaves went to Botafogo to take some pictures of the race, and he sent me many of his favorite shots. Like Elisa, Victor has an ultra-zoom stabilized fixed-lens (i.e. non-SLR) digital camera, and like Elisa he had never used it to shoot airplanes. However, his pictures came out very well; It is clear he knows how to get the most from his camera. Independently of this, I appreciate him having sent me his pictures, so as to add yet another point of view to the many perspectives (none of the mine...) shown on this page, regarding this awesome event. Thanks, Victor!



And, finally, the videos of the air race!

Peter Besenyei, a favorite for the championship, did very badly because he hit a gate!

His team-mate Kirby Chambliss did not have a good day either. While taxiing at the airport, he hit the brakes hard in order to avoid another airplane, and his nose pitched down so much his prop his the ground! There was some damage to the prop, and probably some damage to the engine as well:


And here is each segment of the race as shown on TV:




The final:


If you would prefer the narration to be in English, here are the videos from the Red Bull website showing each of the top three pilots earning those positions with their best times:

In third place, Mangold:


In second place, McLean:


Bonhomme for the win:



Post-race: Results, Summaries, and Looking Back


Here is a series of videos looking back on this fantasticly successful event:


Here's Red Bull's retrospective, including the awards ceremony:


A nice, concise, but thorough segment by a local news show:


And a nice review of the flying, by a Brazilian sports channel:


And another news report, where many spectators were interviewed:


And finally, a cool music montage, which includes footage of the awards ceremony:


Now all that's left are Elisa's pictures of the race! Well, actually, I searched for new blog posts about the Red Bull Air Races (Google updates its Blog Search index in pretty much real time, so I got to read what Rio's bloggers wrote about the air race right away), and many bloggers took some REALLY neat pictures of the event. I'll be asking some of them about posting their pictures here, with due credit being given of course, and probably links to the originating blogs. We'll see.




In Conclusion

It was very odd for me to write this page about an airshow I did NOT go to. But I think Rio is so beautiful, and I enjoy taking cool-looking airshow pictures so much, that I could not help myself: I obsessively gathered all the media I could find about this airshow... So I thought I might as well post it here.

A big thanks to my great friends Victor and Elisa, for sending me so many pictures and links to so much great media, and to my grandmother Monica, who lives right by the water and would call me and ask me if I could hear the airplane noises over the phone. (I could not, but I took her word for it). It was really neat to get so many of my friends and family - heck, most of my hometown - to finally participate in my favorite hobby: Watching airshows and capturing some exciting flying on camera. I really hate the fact I could not be there for it. But I won't miss next year's Rio de Janeiro Red Bull Air Race!

Until then... Valeu!

- Bernardo






Red Bull Air Races (video, images, information)

OpiniõesOnline (images, information) (videos)

Globo Esporte (images)

YouTube (video hosting)


All images & text © Bernardo Malfitano; Unauthorized use is a violation of copyright law, so if you want to use any of this content, please ask.