Around 60,000 plane enthusiasts have gathered in Interlaken, canton Bern, to marvel at breathtaking aerial aerobics in the Red Bull Air Race 2007.
Set against the stunning backdrop of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains, 13 of the world's most skilful pilots took to the Swiss sky on Saturday. The fifth race of the season was won on Sunday by British pilot Paul Bonhomme.
Race organisers said they were satisfied with the turnout over a scorching two days – 20,000 on Saturday and 40,000 on Sunday – despite having expected a total of up to 140,000 spectators.
"Since it's the first time a race has been held in Switzerland, we couldn't base our estimates on anything," said Red Bull spokeswoman Nathalie Lüthi, who denied that protests by environmentalists regarding the amount of carbon dioxide and noise created by the planes had played a role.
Mindful of that criticism, however, the organisers said they would compensate for the carbon dioxide emissions caused by the race – which was approved by the Federal Office of Civil Aviation – by buying so-called climate tickets, money from which goes towards environmental protection programmes.
The race brings together the world's most talented pilots in a race based on speed, precision and skill.
Flying individually against the clock, pilots have to execute tight turns through a slalom course consisting of specially designed pylons, known as "air gates". They compete in knockout rounds with the two fastest pilots going head to head in the final.
But the competition is not just about speed: precision is crucial to success because any mistakes incur penalty points which are then added to the pilot's time.
Flying low to the ground at speeds that can reach 400km/h while attempting difficult turning manoeuvres and enduring forces up to 12G requires immense skill that only a certain number of pilots in the world possess. For this reason the pilots are hand-selected based upon their expertise and experience.
Battle of Briton
Bonhomme retained his position as leader of the series after beating US rival Mike Mangold. The Briton celebrated his second victory of the season. He now leads the series with a total of 26 points, followed by Mangold with 24 points.
The stop in Interlaken, the fifth leg of the ten-race series, was the second of the season in Europe. Previous races were held in Abu Dhabi, Rio de Janeiro, Monument Valley in the US, and Istanbul. The next stop is in London on 29 July.
swissinfo with agencies
In 2005 Red Bull, an Austrianised Thai energy drink, decided to create the first ever Air Race World Series, which consisted of seven events across the world.
Eight worldwide races took place in 2006 with 11 pilots competing – the pilot with the most points at the end of the series being crowned world champion. US pilot Kirby Chambliss was crowned world champion in the final race in Perth, Australia.
In 2007 the Air Race pilots were joined by two rookies and the World Series is travelling the globe, touching down in ten locations.
Red Bull Air Race World Series 2007:
April 6: Abu Dhabi, UAE
April 21: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
May 12: Monument Valley, US
June 2: Istanbul, Turkey
July 15: Interlaken, Switzerland
July 29: London, Britain
August 20: Budapest, Hungary
September 1: Porto, Portugal
September 22: San Diego, US
November 4: Perth, Australia
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