The story behind Red Bull Air Race’s presence in Porto’s historic centre.

The story behind Red Bull Air Race’s presence in Porto’s historic centre

Porto. Portugal’s second largest city, some 300 kilometres north of Lisbon. An historical centre located along the Douro River and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996.

So with their 14th century buildings and azulejos facades, how did Porto and Gaia, the municipality on the other side of the river, decide to host a competition featuring planes capable of slaloming at speeds up to 230 knots?

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“Porto is a historical place with a lot of heritage, but the host city wanted to be seen as an innovative place,” explains Erich Wolf, the Red Bull Air Race general manager. “That’s what we provide.”

The event last visited Porto from 2007 through to 2009, proving popular with fans as they lined the riverbanks to witness the race. This weekend’s return is no different, with a total of 850,000 visitors cheering for the 14 propeller-driven machines.

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To keep spectators and pilots safe, the entrance speed has been reduced. “It’s a very narrow place here,” explains Wolf, “so we ran simulations to calculate what the theoretical impact point of an out-of-control aircraft would be. Hitting a spectator is a no go, so we needed to reduce the entrance speed to 180 knots.

“We’re also staying well within a 150-meter safety line and avoiding certain turns where the theoretical impact point would lead us to the public area.”

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That’s protecting people and buildings from a potential crash, but how about a less tangible impact – pollution?

“We’re not producing a lot of pollution compared to other emitters,” says Wolf. “But we’re planning for the future and are doing some research in regards to what’s in the fuel, to try and reduce pollution.

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“Thinking well beyond that, there are several electrical engine projects going on globally and we’re observing that very carefully.”

Red Bull Air Race light aviation technology versus Porto’s timeless panorama – a bold association, but one that combines the best of both worlds. 

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