RAS TANURA: Sharqiah Season has featured a lot of firsts for Saudi Arabia. First-time concerts for stars such as Pitbull and Akon. First-time events such as the performance by Cirque Eloize in Dammam. But the season also provided some great first-time experiences with the Red Bull Air Race offering a chance to fly in one of the most exciting planes on earth.
When the Red Bull Air Race, the world’s fastest and most intense air contest, held a demo event in Dammam in its second week, Arab News was invited to ride with the pilot and enjoy a front-seat view of the aerobatic “flips and turns” that take your breath away.
The pilot, Patrick Strasser, has more than 20 years’ flying experience and told Arab News he knew he was destined to fly when he was a child.
Strasser began flying when he was 14, and has flown commercial aircraft, air ambulances and now aerobatic planes.
As an aerobatics instructor and trainer, he has won national aerobatic championships and represented Austria in the European Aerobatic Championships.
“I can fly any kind of plane, but these are the kinds I like best,” he said. “There’s nothing like it.”
Strasser is competing in the Red Bull Air Race for the first time, making his Challenger Class debut this season. “There are just a few pilots in the world who are allowed to do this, and it’s an honor to have the trust of Red Bull Air Race,” he said.
Although Strasser races in an Edge 540 V2, the plane Arab News flew in was an Extra 300 LX. This tiny aircraft looks like it could barely seat one person, let alone two, but with a powerful 300hp engine it can fly at speeds of up to 340kph.
The flight lasted about 30 minutes, 10 of which were spent in stunt flying. However, the intensity of the stunts, as well as nervousness, made the flight seem much longer than it actually was.
The stunts were nothing short of phenomenal. The experience of having a plane you’re sitting in suddenly flip upside down, or to look up and see seawater right above your head through the transparent aircraft canopy, is difficult to describe. However, the adrenalin rush is exhilarating, provided you remember to stay relaxed and breathe steadily.
Strapped tightly into a tiny airplane seat, clutching the straps of the parachute you pray you won’t have to use, you are utterly helpless as the plane races through the air. A blue air sickness bag is tucked up your sleeve, and you pray you won’t have to use that either. But the views? Utterly stunning.
During such a high-intensity flight, five times the normal amount of gravity are applied to the body, mainly the head and neck. Pilots normally wear liquid-filled pressure suits to ease the effects of gravitational forces, so it stands to reason that they would have an easier time of it.
Strasser is no exception. With enviable nonchalance, he returned to the communications room to fill out his flight log, seemingly oblivious to the fact he had been corkscrewing a plane through the air a mere 10 minutes earlier.
To sum up, this Arab News reporter can only say the Red Bull Air Race season finale in November can’t come fast enough. And it’s obvious who the newsroom will be cheering on to take home the gold.