Chambliss Conquers Challenging Course, Conditions in Detroit

After a disappointing “wind-out” that grounded pilots on Saturday, Kirby Chambliss, EAA 261512, of Flying Crown Ranch, Arizona, scored a thrilling first-place finish during the Red Bull Air Races’ first visit to Detroit, Michigan/Windsor, Ontario, Canada last weekend. A crowd estimated at 750,000 turned out to watch the high-performance flying and aerobatic competition from both sides of the Detroit River.

Saturday’s scheduled qualifying races for the 12 competitors had to be canceled due to sustained high winds. The race’s ground crews, dubbed the “Air Gators,” struggled to inflate the fifteen inflatable, high-tech fabric race pylons mounted on barges moored in the river. At one point, a gust that peaked at 59 mph was clocked just prior to the toppling of one of the 65-foot-tall pylons.

The Red Bull Air Race is a timed event, pitting each competitor against the clock, while requiring them to perform aerobatic maneuvers such as high-G turns and knife-edge flight. The 3.8-mile course was made especially difficult by its layout, requiring pilots to fly the course “forward,” then reverse course and fly back the other way. Hungary’s Peter Besenyei, who finished fifth in his Extra 300 SR, commented favorable about the new layout. “It’s interesting and I like it,” he said. “It’s challenging and it keeps us busy, which is good.”

Conditions on Friday’s practice day were challenging as well, with wind and turbulence making flying the already difficult course even more so. The pylons, which are designed to disintegrate when impacted, suffered 10 hits during the practice session on Friday, including a spectacular hit by Britain’s Steve Jones, whose Edge 540 impacted a pylon right on the spinner, instantly bursting it into pieces of spinnaker nylon confetti.

Sunday’s weather proved to be superb, allowing the race organizers to start the day with a single run of qualifying, then jumping directly into the semi-finals. A total of 16 race runs were made and when it was over, Chambliss posted the winning time of 1:12.08 in his Edge 540, with Paul Bonhomme of Great Britain only .15 second behind in his Edge 540 (1:12.23). Sophomore pilot Arch Hannes, of Austria (Edge 540) placed third with a time of 1:12.73. American Mike Mangold, EAA 308276, (Edge 540) posted the best overall time, but was assessed a three-second penalty for flying at an excessive knife-edge angle through the “Quadro” gate.

This was the second of two U.S. stops for the 10-event series. Next on the schedule is Stockholm, Sweden, July 5-6, with events scheduled in six more European cities before early November’s finale in Perth, Australia. For more information on the Red Bull Air Races, visit

- by H.G. Frautschy