After a successful premiere in 2014, Red Bull Aces will return to the skies of Northern California with the goal of crowning the world’s best all-around wingsuit pilot. As the first-ever wingsuit-cross competition, as well as the first to incorporate slalom-style gates in the sky, the milestone contest heralds a spectacular new era in aerial sports.
Wingsuit flying is nothing short of astounding, as it allows humans to finally realize the age-old dream of personal flight. Pilot skill and wingsuit technology have grown by huge margins in recent decades, enabling the innovative Red Bull Aces format that sees wingsuit pilots racing head-to-head in four-person elimination heats.
At the 2014 event, Americans Andy Farrington and Noah Bahnson took first and second place, respectively, with South African Julian Boulle in third. For this year, the event will feature an elite international field of the most skilled men and women in the sport – including the full 2014 podium – taking to the skies to face-off against each other.
“This is the future, and the buzz about Red Bull Aces in the flying community is huge,” says Farrington. “It was incredible to be involved last year, and I can’t wait to participate again.”
Red Bull Aces Chris McDougall (AUS) – Portrait
When Red Bull Aces returns to Northern California, a world-leading roster of 40 athletes from 19 nations will take part. Qualifying will cut the field to 32 who will then compete in the Finals. The heats of four will jump from a civilian version of a Bell “Huey” helicopter at 7,500 feet above ground level and race through five 100-foot-long gates suspended from other helicopters at positions from 6,000 to 3,500 feet above ground level. The winner is based not only on how quickly the finish line is crossed, but also on how many gates he/she correctly passes through. All the gates are equipped with GPS positioning, and the competitors will wear a GPS transmitter to determine whether they pass through each gate properly. Computer systems on the ground receive the information in real time, making the judging immediate.
“Being the fastest while also making all the gates really tests the skills of the pilots,” says Red Bull Aces Race Director Luke Aikins. “I think it’s safe to say that we’ve never had the ability to judge a wingsuit competition so accurately before – and in addition, as the result of refining and testing our camera systems, we’ve been seeing some amazing images in testing. I’m very excited to show people what these athletes are capable of.”
While the event looks to push the evolution of the sport of wingsuit racing, it does so while keeping the safety of the athletes in mind. Each athlete will wear two parachutes, a main and a backup reserve, and every reserve has an automatic opener, just in case a pilot doesn’t deploy his/her parachute at a predetermined safe altitude.
Stay tuned for photos, video and results from the event.