Sunday, June 30, 2013

Red Bull X-Alps 2013. Technical Innovations

Athletes line up for the start of the Red Bull X-Alps 2013, will be carrying some of the most advanced flying gear ever, unimaginable to those racing in previous years.

Here’s some of the key progressions in ten years of racing:

1. Pack Weight
If athletes from the 2003 race could time-travel forward, they’d be gob-smacked by just how light their successor’s equipment has become. Race favourite Chrigel Maurer has shaved his equipment down to a mere 7 kg – that’s 65% lighter than the 20 kg monster bags the first racers set off with. Indeed the Red Bull X-Alps has inspired a new industry in lightweight paragliding gear with several of the advances made during gear development being taken forward to market.

2. Glider Line Layout
Recently paragliding design has gone through a revolution. New ‘two-liner’ technology has drastically reduced the number of suspension lines. Just like road bikes, less drag equals more performance. Some new gliders have as little as 188 metres of line – compared with an average 300 metres ten years ago.

3. Increased Aspect Ratio
Today’s wings are skinnier and slicker than ever. New arc layouts and more stable profiles have increased the wings’ aspect ratio from around 5.5 to 7.75. That means they glide better and cleaner through turbulence. Today’s wings glide at around 10.5:1 to 11:1, compared with around 9:1 back in 2003. So, with no wind, from an altitude of 2,000 metres, an athlete will glide a 23 km, compared with 18 km back in 2003.

4. Glider Stability
Paragliders fold away nicely on the ground, but you don’t want them doing that in the air. New leading edge profiles give a stronger, boxier shape which mean athletes can fly faster, with more security. New rules mean this year all athletes must fly fully-certified wings which have been through structural and flying tests to ensure their safety.

5. Harness Technology
Stream-lined ‘pod’ harnesses - which feature a neoprene full body fairing – were only just coming on the market in 2003. Heavy and cumbersome, no athletes chose to use them in the inaugural race. Now, advances in fabrics mean most will be flying super-lightweight pod harnesses weighing between 1.5 to 2 kg.

6. Live Tracking
In 2003, no-one knew where anyone was! Live Tracking was introduced in 2005, and hundreds of thousands of spectators now watch the race develop online. The system also means athletes and supporters can watch their rivals and adjust their tactics to try and out-wit each other.

7. Airspace Technology
It’s the one big untalked about subject. Every year several athletes get penalized or even disqualified for infringing forbidden airspace – even Chrigel Maurer got served a 24-hour penalty in 2011. In the first race, a plastic map and chinograph pencil were all athletes had to navigate around these complex, invisible zones. This year, athletes will benefit from the Flymaster Live navigation system which gives visual and audio warnings.

8. Supporters
Let’s not forget the true heroes of the race. They quietly get on with the cooking, cleaning, navigating and blister cleaning… all while driving thousands of kilometres, with little sleep themselves. Organisers have realized how massive a job being a supporter is and this year athletes are allowed two.

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