TENS of thousands of people gathered along the Bratislava riverfront on August 10 to watch two pilots – Austrian Hannes Arch and Hungarian Peter Besenyei – in souped up, single-engine aircraft compete in a slalom race as part of an air show over the River Danube.
The pilots, members of the Red Bull Air Race team, demonstrated incredible skill as they guided their aircraft through five gates at speeds of up to 275 kilometres an hour without allowing their wings to touch the inflatable pylons.
The flyers began the programme by cruising through the 3,100 metre route that ran between the Nový and Lafranconi bridges, soaring high overhead then going into steep dives before running past the slalom course.
Speed was important but not the only factor in the competion. As the flyers zoomed along just above the river surface the judges could add penalty seconds for missed gates and other mistakes.
The crowds that lined the banks and bridges along the course oohed and aahed at the pilots' skills.
Also impressive was the surge of sound as the aircraft swooped upward from river level.
Arch won the competition, but the performances of both pilots were impressive.
“The pilots flew at a speed of 400 kilometres an hour, and withstood forces of up to 12 Gs,” Andrea Zerrerová from the Red Bull team told the Nový Čas daily.
“I was surprised and excited to see how many people showed up,” Arch said, as quoted by Nový Čas.
The Bratislava crowd was estimated at around 100,000, more than viewed the show in London or Rotterdam, Zerrerová told the daily.