Top guns

Prepare for two days of thrilling aerial stunts as the Red Bull Air Race finally returns to the skies. Words Sarah Riches

Pete McLeod
Pete McLeod

Prepare for two days of thrilling aerial stunts as the Red Bull Air Race finally returns to the skies.

If a little turbulence has you squirming in your seat then hold on tight because the Red Bull Air Race is about to charge into the UAE. Blasting off the 2014 world championship, the Abu Dhabi event will hurtle between the Breakwater and Corniche from Friday February 28 to Saturday March 1.

Twelve pilots will wow spectators as they navigate a specially designed 5km obstacle course at top speed against the clock in a thrilling show of aerobatics. To win, the pilots must combine speed, precision and skill to manoeuvre through a series of air-filled pylons, known as air gates – some of which are just 10m apart. In case that’s too easy, they’ll also have to fly 20m above ground.

Originally designed as a two-race contest, the event was established by the energy drink company Red Bull in Austria in 2003. More races, destinations and pilots were added later and in 2005 it became known as the Red Bull Air Race World Championship Series. After a few near misses, Red Bull cancelled all events worldwide in 2011 following safety concerns.

Now, after a three-year hiatus, the championship is back – and where better to launch it than the UAE?

The pilots will fly high-performance aerobatic planes such as the Zivko Edge 540, Extra and MXS, each of which has a wingspan of less than 7.6m – and they’ll be flying up to 426kmh. This year also sees the introduction of some new rules for the pilots. Standardised engines, propellers and exhausts have been introduced to level the playing field, pilots must fly in the upper 40 percent of the air gates, and they’ll receive a two-second penalty for flying too high.
Dhs195 for grandstand both days and concert, Dhs850 with food and soft drinks at Breakwater race club, Dhs3,300 for Sky Lounge on March 1, food and concert, Dhs4,800 for both days. Race starts 2pm Friday February 28 and finishes 11pm Saturday March 1. Abu Dhabi Corniche, tickets from

Time Out catches up with Pete McLeod, one of the championship’s pilots in the event this year

Why did you become a pilot?
My granddad and dad were both pilots so I went in the family plane at three weeks old, and took the controls at three! I’d always been exposed to aviation so becoming a pilot was never a conscious choice. I got my licence at 16, before I could even drive, and started aerobatics training then. I’m now a professional racer.

Why do you like flying so much?
It’s part of me. I like the freedom of being in a plane. When I start the engine and head to the race track, the world stops around me.

What’s your signature trick?
I like doing them all. I go upside down, do doughnuts – circles in the sky – and air rolls – a kind of somersault. But when I race it’s the speed that counts.

Have you ever crashed?
No, but I’ve had a few close calls.

What part of the Abu Dhabi race are you looking forward to the most?
I’m excited about the race because it’s the first of the season. It’ll be good to be back. One thing that’s new this year is the Take to the Skies initiative – 2,000 people will see their photo printed on my plane, an Edge 540.

Spread your wings

Abu Dhabi’s Corniche will host an activity zone from Thursday February 20 to Friday 28 with a DJ from 7.30pm-11.30pm daily and performances by BMX riders, motorbike stunt riders and drifters (drivers racing an obstacle course). There will also be a concert opposite St Regis Nation Towers on February 28 featuring Nancy Ajram, Ramy Ayach and soft rock band Wust el Balad.

Soar above town

Scale the dizzy heights of Dubai with these heady experiences:

SkyDive Dubai
Parachute into the emirate with a tandem jump at SkyDive Dubai. Pick the marina drop zone for incredible shoreline views. (04 377 8888).

Take a scenic tour of the city in a seaplane. Landing and taking off from the ocean, you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of Dubai. (04 883 2999).

Enjoy a helicopter ride around the city. This company also offers a night flight tour so you can see Dubai’s impressive lights. (04 208 1455).

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