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Watching the Skies

Watching the Skies

~ZZ Troutski

 

Yes, there are foot races, horse races, a nice jog through the woods…all types of racing is found in the U.S. and around the globe. Even the car has its chance to shine in the world of NASCAR. But there is one other sport – what may be seen as a truly controversial and somewhat frightening sport, indeed – that allows racers to take to the air.

 

Photo: Allen Hess

Photo: Allen Hess

The sport of Air Racing is not new, however. Believe it or not, there were speed chasers a long time ago that created the sport to begin with. In fact, air racing came about almost directly after the plane was successfully built. Long-distance flight events were well known, proving that both pilot and little plane could go from America to England or on to Australia. It is actually because of this frenzied flyers that commercial and passenger flights came to be. After all, once it was proven that a plane could take anyone anywhere without dropping into that big, wide ocean, the industry went monumental and has never stopped.

 

There are also those air races that are pure acrobatics. The stunts that frighten the people on the ground are done by the best wingmen on the planet. And even though there was a drop-off for just a bit with this sport because of bad news and accidents, air races have slowly grown in popularity once again. These pilots fly their small planes through a series of obstacles for the entertainment of the crowd and apparently their own exhilaration, keeping the plane close to the ground as they attempt. ‘No fear’ is the mantra of these men and women who wish to flip a plane every which way, and the amount of skill it takes to do so is beyond understanding.

 

One championship that many actually make sure to fly to in order to not miss is the Red Bull Air Race World Championship. These are a series of races, not just one, where pilots fly singly through a series of pylons, or air gates. The thrill of watching is beyond imagination.

 

Depending on the championship you watch and hold your breath at, the actual motorsport win can be accomplished from either the shortest time spent to do the trick, or given to a pilot who completes the event with the most points, or comes closest to a previously estimated time.

 

One of the most fun historical air races to look back on was what people still refer to as the first ‘heavier-than-air air race’. Back in 1909, in the Prix de Lagatinerie, a quartet of pilots entered, with two starting and nobody completing the full distance. Truly international fun, these original air races brought out all types of people to watch the magnificence and craziness being performed in the air. Makers of aircraft at the time, as well as pilots, came out for an education – to learn things that perhaps could be helpful for the common man to enjoy. But these hard-working and creative folk were also joined by celebrities and royalty who loved to see the planes do their thing.

 

Aviation was an industry that was growing back then as quickly as the Internet and social media has grown in the 21st century. In fact, before WWI, aviation was ‘the’ sport to watch, with a myriad of air races taking place all across Europe. There was even a seaplane race that is credited for advancing the design of the airplane so significantly that aerodynamics and engine design jumped ahead of the pack, allowing for some of the most innovative fighter planes to be flown in World War II.

 

The United States jumped on board in 1921, by bringing about the National Air Races, adding the Women’s Air Derby as part of the circuit.

 

In other words, male or female, aerodynamics geek or pilot extraordinaire – air racing is still one of the most heart-stopping and thrilling sports you can possibly watch.

 

 

 

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