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Red Bull Air Race returns to Danube

The acrobatic aircraft race series, which was essentially conceived in Hungary, wowed thousands of spectators on its return after a five-year break.

Péter Besenyei  flies the Red Bull course over the River Danube. (Photo: Moni Lazar)

Following a five-year hiatus, the Red Bull Air Race series returned to its cradle, Hungary, for a spectacular meet over the River Danube, in front of the imposing Parliament building on July 4 and 5.

Hungarian pilot Péter Besenyei, who is often called the godfather of the race for his work in setting up the rules, flew his new plane for the first time, and with just a few flight hours with it in his log he was almost able to get into the final four, being edged out by Canadian Pete McLeod in the Round of Eight. Hannes Arch of Austria took first place in a tight race, in which pilots use a uniform-sized engine and propeller for their small agile planes.

Talking to the pilots before the race, it became evident that Budapest, with its spectacular scenery, is a favorite racing venue for many. The requirement that they fly under the Lánchíd (Chain Bridge) is definitely a landmark of the Hungarian race. While some pilots seemed relaxed about navigating the ten-meter gap between the underside of the bridge and the river, some mentioned serious mental preparations in order to pull off the maneuver.


(Photo: Moni Lazar)

For Besenyei, the stunt is well known. “The first time I flew under it was 15 years ago. Since then I have been under the bridge more than 120 times. I had a passenger with me many times, and also I have flown under it upside down, so frankly the bridge does not give me any extra adrenaline rush,” the Hungarian pilot told the Budapest Business Journal.

“You have to prepare for flying under the bridge mentally, the key is to have a plan for what happens if things go wrong,” British pilot Paul Bonhomme told the BBJ. “So if the engine stops just before the bridge you have to go under it, or if there is a bird strike you have to plan for that, but it is okay. If the gap was any smaller it would be quite exciting, but it is okay; however, it is extra work.”

For American Michael Goulian, “Flying under the bridge takes quite a lot of focus, at a time when you need to be focusing on a lot of other things. The bridge is a distraction. It is always there. It does give a little adrenaline rush, as you know you cannot miss it.”


(Photo: Moni Lazar)

In the end, fortunately, no one hit the bridge – in fact no one ever has; that fact, plus the size of the crowd, which included thousands of enthusiastic spectators, should mean there is no reason not to continue the race next year. Thus far, however, no definite plans have been announced.