A thrilling atmosphere. Roaring engines. Tumultuous applause. Breathtaking flight skills.

Small planes scream by, improbably low, incredibly fast, banking sharply around obstacles, racing against the clock. Who will make the fastest time? This is the Red Bull Air Race, wowing fans of flight and speed. Set over the bright blue waters of glamorous Abu Dhabi, this event is second to none. This race matches the city’s character: putting on a show that leaves not only the event attendees speechless, but also the entire world.

February 2018 marks the 11th time the city has hosted this action-packed event. Airplanes zoom over the crystal clear waters of the Arabian Gulf at low altitude and high speed. As a result, spectators involuntarily hold their breath, eyes wide open and riveted on the action. The very air seems on fire. The races are on!

Abu Dhabi likes it (positively) extreme – from sports, to architecture and hotels, to culture and service.

A Breathtaking Race – Seconds Count

Faces of Air Racers

Faces of world-class pilots grace the pillars that are set up along the beach – Abu Dhabi, UAE

Monolithic pillars stretch in a line down the insanely white, powdery sand beach which the planes will race. Each is graced by an oversized likeness of one of the race pilots, smiling confidently. Yes, they are fierce competitors, expert racers, and adrenaline-fueled thrill-seekers. Nonetheless, more than that, they are artists, artists of the skies. It is what they truly are. And they are ready to go.

Suddenly, it’s go time. Thus, pilots start their engines. Then, planes surge forward and leap gracefully, and powerfully, into the sky. Now they must wait, circling around. Each pilot’s heart is racing as he waits for his “Go” signal. Nevertheless, he must be calm and steady – his plane is a highly sensitive and responsive beast. No false starts, no missteps that will cost precious time. Granted, he must keep his cool, even as the fire within rages hotter and hotter. In contrast, we can only imagine the tension, anticipation and adrenaline pumping through the pilots’ veins just seconds before the clock starts – and it’s show time.

In the Zone

Visitors line the eight kilometers of pristine beach. Here, the surroundings are as breathtaking as the action. Heads tip back, eyes look upward, while the planes seem almost within reach as they hurtle by. People’s heads swivel to follow the plane as it streaks by. On the other hand, the pilots, who have a bird’s eye view, technically have a chance to look down on the crowds. However, they have no time to admire the stunning scenery or the cheering crowds. The race is on. Focus. In the zone. Flying is serious business, especially in a 250 mph plane, racing through a slalom course with tight turns. Yes, it’s a thrill ride, but it’s more than that. These pilots live and breathe air racing. Consequently, it’s what you have to do and pour your full existence into if you want to make it (far).

The Pulse of a Moment

Tumbling Air Racer

A Red Bull Air Race pilot flying spectacular loops in the clear blue sky – Abu Dhabi, UAE

The spectators’ pulses race, along with the planes, and the pulses of the pilots. Nevertheless, the pilots are in the “zone.” For them, nothing exists but the moment: the plane, the feel of the controls, the sky, the wind, and the course around the cones or pylons. Throttle, ailerons, rudder…squeeze out every bit of speed, turn as tight and fast as possible to save distance and time. Straight, right, left, up and down. It’s a beautiful dance. But, the thrill is oh-so real; the spectator could almost get air-sick watching! Furthermore, the speed in combination with the accuracy of the highly focused pilots is mind-blowing. Every second counts. As a consequence, each little mistake will cost them valuable time. Therefore, control is everything. In other words, it is a spectacle only those who are part of it can actually understand and feel.

Perspective Is Everything

Pilot at the Air Race

A pilot on the finish line at the Red Bull Air Race – Abu Dhabi, UAE

From earliest times, we have envied the birds. Think of the legend of Daedalus and Icarus, the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. Seeing that, the skies are not our element. Nonetheless, we sought that sense of freedom, the thrill of soaring above earth and sea. Therefore, engineers and inventors conquered gravity and found a way to get us up in the air. So, for over a century, flying (first in balloons and then in planes) has fascinated humankind. Hence, a remarkable achievement that has triggered a change in our perspective.

Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change. – Wayne W. Dyer

We are talking machines. Accordingly, planes are heavy. Even these relatively small and light racing machines weigh almost a ton. In spite of this, pilots maneuver them gracefully over the exotic setting under the Abu Dhabi sun. Awe-inspiring. Given that, this thought is almost as mind-boggling as the experience first time visitors have in this glitzy UAE city. Only the sky is the limit – or beyond.