Red Bull Barnstorming: Engineering A Barnstorm

Flight checks galore: a look at the precision tech that enabled Red Bull Barnstorming.
By Greg Stuart

When it comes to flying two aeroplanes next to each other through a hangar, those planes have to be pretty special pieces of kit.

For Red Bull Barnstorming pilots Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones, there was only one plane that was up for the job: the Xtreme Air Sbach XA41.

The XA41 is like a sports car for the air: quick at changing direction and with lots of power on tap for the pilots to exploit – 315bhp to be precise, the same amount as you’ll find in a World Rally Car. Bonhomme and Jones have added additional mini-wings to their planes to allow them to turn faster – they can rotate through a full 450 degrees in just one second.

Red Bull Barnstorming aviation clip, with Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones.
The pilots use the Xtreme Air Sbach XA41 © Red Bull Content Pool

It was that speed of direction change that actually made the pilots’ jobs on Red Bull Barnstorming slightly more difficult. “If you even think about pulling the stick back, the nose of the aeroplane comes up,” says Jones. “Which is great if you're at an air show, but if you're trying to stay within a foot of a required height flying close to a building, then it makes it hard work.”

Speed-wise, the XA41 can manage a top whack of 225 knots, or 416kmh, thanks to its Lycoming AEIO 580 B1A engine, has a safe load of 10g and can climb at a rate of 3,500 feet per minute.

Red Bull Barnstorming aviation clip, with Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones.
Paul Bonhomme puts some juice in his XA41 © Red Bull Content Pool

But what about the actual process of flying through the hangar itself? Paul Bonhomme noted on his first practice attempt that he had to deal with an interesting atmospheric surprise…

“We noticed that there was a slight jolt, which I think was to do with the air temperature in the hangar being probably five degrees lower than the outside,” he says.

“It was a sunny day outside, the concrete had warmed up and it was very still, so there was no air mixing. So I went through once at 160 knots and I probably did all the mixing that was required and we didn’t notice it again.”

Red Bull Barnstorming aviation clip, with Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones.
Up close with the XA41's instrument panel © Red Bull Content Pool

Like all pilots, Bonnehomme and Jones were meticulous in their planning, even working out what they’d do if any problems occurred during the flight.

“Things like ‘what if the engine stops, what if we hit a bird, what if the canopy cracks?’” says Jones. “All those decisions had been pre-made so that if everything is not absolutely right at 200 metres, you pull up over the hangar. And any crisis you have within that 200 metres, you have to go through the hangar and sort it out on the other side!”

Fortunately, it didn’t come to that!

Go see Paul Bonhomme and the rest of the Red Bull Air Race pilots compete at Ascot in August

Head to the Red Bull Matadors official website for more information on Paul and Steve's planes.

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