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Handicapped Air Racing
This should not be confused with formula-type pylon racing where aircraft of similar type race round a very short circuit, nor indeed Red Bull air racing which is for specialised aircraft and is more of a time trial than an air race.
Handicapped air racing’s roots reach right back to the early days of aviation. As always in human endeavour, when aircraft were invented it wasn’t long before people/pilots were pitching their craft and skills against each other in races. Initially these were conducted at max performance but it became obvious that for different types of aircraft to compete in the same race some form of handicapping was going to be necessary. The King’s Cup was perhaps the first air race in the world to be run on a purely handicapped basis.
What does handicapped mean? It means that any aircraft propeller-driven that is capable of maintaining over 100 miles per hour in level flight can compete. Strangely these rules have remained unchanged since the 1920’s and what happens is that each aircraft is tested for its maximum level in-flight speed and a handicap applied to the aircraft so that when the race starts (the race circuit is typically around 20-25 miles 4-5 laps), the slowest aircraft start first, the faster ones later and if everyone flies a perfect race and the handicapper gets his or her job right then all the aircraft would cross the finish line at the same time. This, however, is where skill comes in as no one flies perfect laps and there is much technique in turning the aircraft round turn points and jockeying with wind gradients, convection currents and managing passing maneuvers.
In essence the handicapping levels the playing field and from a General Aviation perspective opens exciting prospects of a broad range of aircraft being able to compete from the slowest such as Cessna 152’s and Rollason Condors, through to faster aircraft like Sia-Marchetti SF260’s and Beech Barons. This leads to an exciting spectacle for spectators and participants alike.
Air races are conducted at seven or eight venues per year, typically over a Saturday and Sunday, with a practice on the Saturday morning, race on Saturday afternoon, social function on the Saturday night and a race on the Sunday.
As well as exciting racing the Royal Aero Club is renowned for its social side, which is inclusive of not only pilots and navigators but supporters and volunteer helpers.