Homer's Travels: Smoke On!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Smoke On!

Time to catch up with what we did Saturday. We attended the Red Bull Air Races down in San Diego. I really wanted to like them. I tried very hard. But I don't think I quite made it. Here are my impression of the events on Saturday:

The day started out with us leaving the house at 7:00 am. The weather got worse as we went further south. In parts of south LA the rain turned into a downpour. I started to worry that there may be weather issues down in San Diego. The rain slowed traffic but I wasn't worried about being late as we gave ourselves plenty of time to get there. The races didn't start until 1:00 and there would be navy aviation demonstrations before and between races. As we approached San Diego the rain slowed and was gone altogether when we reached the North Embarcadero Island where we would be viewing the race. Parking, which I was also concerned about, turned out to be a breeze. We walked to the waterfront and the line to get in was already forming. We had arrived about 30 minutes before the gates opened. The gates opened and the crowd filed into the park and we grabbed a spot on the grass on the side of a slope which gave us a good vantage point for the entire race course. I went and got some burgers, chips and drinks to munch on while we waited for things to start happening.

The events started with a Naval aviation demonstration that included vintage fighters, helicopters, special forces insertion and extraction demonstrations, and coast guard rescues. I enjoyed this part of the day. The Navy demonstrations were interesting.

After the last of the demonstrations, the first race started. The race coordinator announced "Smoke On" which told the pilot he could start his run. The plane would turn on a smoke trail and head for the starting gate. The weather chose this time to scare everyone when the venue got brushed by a rain shower. Fortunately it was just a light sprinkle and didn't last long. The first few races were very interesting. The announcers, along with a bulletin handed out at the entrance, explained the rules of the race. The course was a slalom course consisting of inflated cones made of parachute-like material mounted on floating platforms anchored out in the bay. If a plane hit a cone, like this, the cone would tear away and not hurt the plane. A new cone would go back up in about 5 minutes. There were two colors of cones, red and blue. The planes had to fly horizontally through the blue cones (wings parallel to the water) and vertically through the red cones (wings perpendicular to the water). Points were deducted if they were too far off horizontal or vertical. They also lost points for flying too high through the cones or hitting a cone. The pilots took turns flying two laps around the course. The first races took the number of pilots from 12 to 8. The 8 then competed in pairs in the quarter-finals to see who would advance to the semi-finals. The the last races determined first, second, and third places. In all there were a total of 28 runs through the course.

28 races are a lot and, like most motor sport races, can be a little monotonous in my opinion. The audience gasped, oohed, and aahed during the first few races. Unfortunately the races soon became repetitive. I took over 345 pictures but, as a looked through them, I found that most of the day could be described in 45 (You can see them here). Most of the pictures I took were slight variations of each other. Heres a plane flying by a cone. Here is another plane flying by a cone ... you get the picture. The best way to describe the races is by showing a video and I happen to have made one during one of the quarter-final races. I took the video with my camera. The video lost some resolution after I uploaded it to YouTube but it gets the idea across.

The United States' Mike Mangold, leading the race coming into San Diego, was knocked down to second place after placing fifth in Saturday's races. This leg of the race was won by Paul Bonhomme of Great Britain who now leads the world series. The next and last race is in Perth, Australia in November.

The races were broken up by various flight demonstrations including the Red Bull MIG, daredevil skydivers, and the most amazing helicopter flying that I've ever seen outside of AirWolf which included flips and barrel rolls. I found these interludes more interesting then the races.

So, that's it. I liked the air demonstrations between the races and I liked the first dozen races or so but after that I was a little bored. I still had a good time and I don't regret doing it. If you have never been to an air race and you have the opportunity to go to one, do it. It is worth it. I just wish it had been a little shorter.


  1. I'll take your suggestion and attend one someday. On the life list now, it is.

    Was there anything else to do there? Demonstration booths, plane walk-arounds, you know, other airshow like stuff? Or was it just "sit here, watch planes fly through cones" type of thing?

  2. The cheap seats only got the flying demonstrations and the race. There was a pre-race party on the USS Midway where I suspect you could get up close and personal with a plane or two but there was some more money involves in that. The best seats were on Coronado Island and included food and drink and cost $900 - for that price they had better include sex.

    I did attend the point Mugu Airshow up here near Oxnard that had displays and planes to look at. I had a post about it earlier this year.