After a three-year hiatus for safety and organizational overhauling, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship is back for the 2014 season. These races pit daredevil pilots against gravity—and each other—as they guide their acrobatic single-seaters through a series of challenging "air gates" in as little time as possible. These are the planes that get them there.
Image: Montague Smith
The Zivko Edge 540 has been a staple on the international Unlimited aerobatics circuit for decades and is reigning king of the Air Races; every pilot that's won the championship, in fact, has done so in a Edge 540. It measures just over 20 feet long with a 24-foot wingspan and is powered by a 340 hp Lycoming AEIO-540 Hartzell composite engine. Weighing just over 1,500 pounds the Edge 540 can climb 3,700 feet per minute, top out at 265 mph, and roll at up to 420 degrees per second.
And for the 2014 season, many pilots are upgrading to the newest iteration, the Edge V3. Redesigns to the canopy, exhaust, wing root, and rear wheel fairings have made it faster, reduced drag, and increased its G-load tolerance. It's good to be the king.
Image: Brian Snelson
The Edge 540 faces stiff competition from the MXS-R "Edge Beater" built by MX Aircraft—a purpose-built aircraft designed from the ground up to excel at this event. Pairing advanced computer aided design and modeling software to maximize its aerodynamic efficiency with a fuselage and frame composed almost entirely of carbon fiber, the MXS-R matches the Edge 540 nearly point for point. The Edge Beater has a top speed of 265mph, climbs at 2500 ft/sec, and even rolls that the same 420 degree rate.
The MXS-R isn't the only upstart, however. The Racer 540 from Corvus Aircraft is another purpose-built acrobat built specifically for the Air Races starting back in 2007. It was devised by Andras Voloscsuk and the Hungarian University of Aviation, undergoing more than 15,000 hours of development over two years before entering the races in 2009. Unfortunately, despite its higher top speed, faster roll rate, and superior climbing ability, the Racer 540 couldn't quite get over its heavy, 6-cylinder engine. The Racer's pilot, Peter Besenyei, was unable to place any higher than 7th that shortened 2009 season.