13 October 2009

2009 Red Bull Air Race in Barcelona

The Red Bull Air Race hit Barcelona 2 weekends ago, and the airspace over the beaches and sea was filled with buzzing little planes and pursuing helicopters as the pilots tested their planes and practised on the course.

Held in conjunction with the Air Race was the 2009 Festa al Cel - Air Festival - which treated us to lots of different aerial displays by numerous interesting aircraft.  It was also the 90th anniversary celebration of the first commercial flight into Barcelona which originated in Toulouse, France.

We had read that the last Barcelona Red Bull Air Race leg in 2006 had attracted 1.3 million people to the beachfront, and certainly the archived photos on the Red Bull website attested to that.

Although the air-race part of the calendar wasn't due to start until 3:30pm on Saturday 3rd Oct which was qualifying day, J and I prepared our food and drinks and set out early, determined to be in the front row on the beach.  We arrived just before 11am and staked out our bit of sand with our beach mats and towels.

We were fortunate to have arrived when we did, because it didn't take long for the beach to fill.  We were then treated to humanity at its finest, as one group of people after another made their way to the front of the beach, prepared to plonk themselves down in the prime positions in front of everyone else who had been waiting there for at least 2 hours longer.  Thankfully, they were either removed by the excellent security personnel or shouted at by the crowds and made to retreat.  It left a lot of people shaking their heads in bemusement and exasperation; incredulous at how stupid, selfish and rude some people can be.

Part of the crowd at qualifying
At mid-day, the airshow started with a few excellent parachute jumps from Spanish airforce and civilian teams, all landing on the beach about 30m away from where we were seated.  They even had a couple of guys in flying squirrel suits jump out of a helicopter and glide across the sky before deploying their 'chutes.

I was a little disappointed with the altitude and distance that most of the aircraft flew at during the airshow.  Flying too far off the beach and too high meant that good photos were hard to get, and an overhead sun in the 1 o'clock position meant that lighting was at its possible worst. I've been at airshows where the planes have thundered in, seemingly within touching distance which certainly adds extra excitement and thrills to the aerobatics displays and fly-bys.

Next up were vintage and classic aircraft.  With Airbus just over the border in Perpignan, the EADS Historic Flight Museum flew in all sorts of aircraft.  EADS (parent company of Airbus) has an excellent History of Aviation on their website.  Although clumsy to navigate, it's worth it if you're an aviation buff.  The Historic Flight Museum holds some of the finest examples of airworthy classic and vintage aircraft, with special emphasis on maintaining a working catalogue of Willy Messerschmidt's planes.

The first to fly in had me stumped - I had no idea what type of aircraft it was, and listening to the Català commentary didn't enlighten me at all.  It took a lot of website trawling to discover that it was a Spanish-built assault/trainer - a Hispano Aviación HA-220 Super Saeta, built in the 50s and 60s (with help from one Willy Messerschmidt) and operated predominantly by the Spanish and Egyptian airforces.  Little wonder that I hadn't come across it before!

Hispano Aviación HA-220 Super Saeta

Next into the beachside arena was a bevy of civilian and military workhorses - the first 3 doing duty in both modes.  First up was the Douglas DC-3 - my most favourite aircraft of all time.  My maiden flight was in one of these operated by Fiji Airways.  This one was decked out in old Air France Livery and she was beautiful.

Douglas DC-3 in early Air France livery

The DC-3 was followed by a Junkers Ju 52 (a.k.a. Casa C-352L), an Antonov An-2, a Harvard AT-6D and a Chance Vought F4U Corsair.  

German Junkers Ju 52

 Russian Antonov An-2 (Hungarian registered)

AT-6D Harvard

Chance Vought F4U Corsair

Breitling received a lot of attention at this show, mainly because of their sponsorship of the Red Bull series and with their investment into the Breitling Jet Team.  Stationed in Dijon, France, this is the only jet aerobatic team (flying seven Czech-built L-39 C Albatros aircraft) in the world that is flown by civilians.  Their tight formations were impressive, but again, and perhaps governed by local safety constraints, they flew just that much too far away to have a real heart-stopping impact on the beachfront crowds.

 360° En Canard manoevre

Avenger Formation 

Percussion Manoevre
The Spanish Airforce have 2 precision aerobatics teams. Patrulla Águila is their jet team, and Patrulla Aspa is the helicopter formation team.  Flying their Eurocopter EC-120 Colibrí helicopters, they put them through an impressive range of formations.

Flying into the arena in formation 

Tio Vivo manoevre
Dos contra Uno manoevre 

Cruce a Dos manoevre
A couple of aerobatic displays in planes similar to those flown in the Red Bull races followed, and by now, we along with a lot of others in the crowd were hot, starting to get sunburned, and just waiting for the main event to start.

Coming out of a corkscrew 

Red and Blue symmetry 

Breitling also have a beautiful DC-3 and she was the last plane to fly over and show her shape and colours to the crowds.

The sexiest wingspan silhouette in my opinion!
It was then time for the Red Bull pilots to thrill us.  15 pilots have been battling all season, and the last race was to be decided in Barcelona.  

The championship race was also close, and there were 2 pilots with a chance to win it all.  Paul Bonhomme (on 55 points) from the UK has been racing in the series since 2005 without a championship win.  In both 2007 and 2008, he finished an agonising 2nd, and in 2009 he came to Barcelona only a few points ahead of defending champion, Austrian Hannes Arch (on 51 points).  Arch joined the series as a rookie in 2007, and the following year, he won the event.  That was pretty unheard of, as up until then, rookie pilots had generally needed at least 2 seasons to settle in before perhaps even gaining a podium finish in a couple of races.

Arch flew first, and at the 3rd gate, he hit a pylon as the next image will show.  That put him out of contention for 1st place, and at the end of the first round he was in 13th. 

Hannes Arch hits a pylon during his first qualifying round 

Round 2 saw Arch fly beautifully and he grabbed 1st place with a flawless and very fast penalty-free round.  With the win, he also gained an extra point which put him within 3 points of Bonhomme.

Bonhomme's second round was over when he hit a pylon on a relatively easy gate, and he finished in 4th behind Frenchman Nicolas Ivanoff in 2nd and Australian rookie Matt Hall in 3rd.

Nicolas Ivanoff finishes 2nd in qualifying

Australian rookie Matt Hall flying into 3rd in the qualifiers
Paul Bonhomme knifes through the quadro on his way to qualifying 4th

By now, it was past 6pm.  We were tired and a little red from the sun, and our posteriors and backs were telling us that we had been sitting on hard sand for the better part of the last 7 hours.  We headed for home with thoughts going through our heads that we would have to do this all again tomorrow - and arrive even earlier to secure a good vantage point.

Sunday morning, and we were not up with the lark.  Still a little burnt out and sunburnt from Saturday, we decided to give the beach a miss, and instead watch the event on TV.  Yes, we're getting old!

In all honesty, the main reason for not going back was so that we didn't have to argue with the stupid, rude people who tried to sit in front of those who had been there for a few hours in order to gain the best position.  We had been threatened by a guy the day before, and then had to watch our backs as he sat behind us with his mates.  I did disarm him in the end, as I took his photo and made sure that he knew that I had it.  But it wasn't a good feeling, and lot of us in the front row were quite angry and exasperated by the selfish behaviour of a few who thought that the world owed them.

So we watched the Final Day on TV, in comfy chairs and close amenities - and vowed that if the race comes back next year, we'll buy grandstand seats!

After elimination rounds, the fastest 4  - Bonhomme, Arch, Nigel Lamb (UK) and Matthias Dolderer (German rookie) - raced for the Barcelona trophy. 

Bonhomme needed to finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd in order to win. The 4 pilots were in a holding pattern and no one was told of the results until after all 4 had flown. Lamb flew first, Dolderer next, followed by Bonhomme and Arch last.  After Bonhomme flew into the #1 position and secured the championship, Arch had still to fly.  Another pylon hit at Gate 3 put paid to his chances, and Bonhomme celebrated his win with an exuberant roar!

You can watch the final 4 on this excellent video:

If the viewer doesn't load, go to the Red Bull Air Race website to view it.

The podium for Barcelona was Bonhomme 1st, Lamb (first podium for 2009) 2nd and rookie Dolderer 3rd.

The 2009 Championship podium was Bonhomme 1st, Arch 2nd and Australian rookie Matt Hall a distant 3rd on points, but an impressive performance in his first year of racing.

Congratulations to British Airways 747 captain Paul Bonhomme.  We hope to see you again next year if the Red Bull comes back to Barcelona!


Robin said...

Wow! You got some excellent shots despite the worst photographic conditions. It brought back memories of the Al Ain Air Show each January and also of the Dakota DC3s. They were perhaps the most reliable aircraft ever built, but a shit of a thing to fly in. No airconditioning and as slow as the second coming. My last trip in a DC3 from Darwin to Halls Creek in Western Australia was the worst trip I ever had ... even after six years in the Air Force, nothing was ever as bad as the DC3 trip.

Pandabonium said...

Fantastic. I'm green with envy. I'd like to see a Junkers 52 (Iron Annie) up close some time. What a great show. Thanks for sharing all those pics.

nzm said...

Robin: thank you. I never did get to see the Al Ain show which was a pity. It always seemed that I would get to hear about it AFTER the event and never in time to attend! DC3s were/are bone rattlers that's for sure, but my (perhaps) romantic memory of them will persevere!

Pandabonium: come on, you got to see the airshow at the Hyakuri Airbase - that must have been something!

I do admit that seeing all these old vintage planes from this part of the world is a thrill for me - especially the old Junkers and Messerschmidts. When living in Berlin, we were close to Templehof, and before it closed last year, it was home to a lot of old aircraft. There was a very old Junkers biplane which flew out of there. I swear that I could hear each cylinder firing on each of its 3 massive engines! And of course, Templehof was home to the raisin bomber DC3s which brought food into war-torn Berlin.

Elle said...

I agree people are so selfish and self absorbed. That's one reason I hate going to anything that involves crowds.

Samantha@ Living In The Sun said...

I went to the air race 3-4 years ago what a show, and all the old airplanes from way back I live in Portugal but if the air race comes to Barcelona I will definitely be attending