ABU DHABI // The capital’s downtown shoreline rang yesterday with the sound of thudding helicopters and the moaning hum of single-propeller planes diving through the air as part of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship 2015.
The high-adrenaline aerial competition drew thousands of onlookers to the Corniche beach and breakwater. They watched in amazement as the small acrobatic planes twisted and turned at high speeds between large inflated pylons floating on the water.
It was Britain’s Paul Bonhomme who claimed victory once again, edging out second-placed Australian Matt Hall by just 0.084 seconds.
Mr Bonhomme took the top spot in Abu Dhabi last year.
“It’s amazing, it’s interesting,” said Tanya Gorkova, a 23-year-old Russian who visited the public viewing area along the breakwater with friends. “I’ve never seen this show before. It’s more about emotions because you see the aircraft so near to you and it’s just amazing.”
Ms Gorkova, who works and studies between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, said she was not worried for the pilots’ safety because of their expertise, but at least one other fan was excited by the element of danger inherent in zipping through narrow pylons above the water in a small plane.
As the wind picked up during the Master Class race, pilots were challenged in avoiding flying into the blowing pylons. One pilot, Frenchman Francois Le Vot of the Breitling Racing Team, zigzagged through most of the course but then clipped an air gate, deflating the pylon and earning a two-second penalty.
“It makes it fun,” said Alex L, a 28-year-old Romanian living in Abu Dhabi. “Seeing the pilots go up, spinning, doing all the tricks, it’s very interesting.” The spectacle also attracted dozens of amateur photographers, who mounted their large cameras on tripods along the fencing surrounding the water to catch the best angle.
Johan Ersson, a 41-year-old Swede, had his Nikon pointed toward the pylons waiting for the best shot. He was joined other photographers who aimed their cameras at the sky as the planes shot in their direction, before making a sharp turn back towards the track.
“It’s tricky,” said Mr Ersson of trying to capture the planes. “They go very fast.”
For photographers such as himself, the challenge was to capture the planes in motion.
“You don’t want to have a fast shutter speed because you don’t want the propeller to freeze, otherwise it looks like it’s on the ground.”
Like many spectators, Mr Ersson was impressed by the pilots.
“It’s nice to see because it’s not that easy to fly this course, to keep within the regulation time and to be flying fast.”
The hot afternoon forced many people to crowd under whatever shade they could find. Rashmi Sharma, of India, stood under a palm tree that offered shade to about 20 other people.
Mrs Sharma said she was enjoying the event together with her husband and three-year-old son. She said: “For kids, and for all of us, it’s pretty exciting.”