Planes put on stunning show in Red Bull Air Race

Planes put on stunning show in Red Bull Air Race
Peter Besenyei of Hungary performing in front of the Presidential Palace during a training session for the first stage of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Abu Dhabi.

It's breath-taking.

Planes zip through the air turning sharply, dipping and pitching wildly, moving with agility not usually associated with aircraft.

The idea of an air race evokes a bygone era where flight was in it's formative years. Pilots, simply through the risks involved, were regarded as daredevils.

Today, the races are safer, but no less thrilling.

The Red Bull Air Race World Championship claims to be the fastest motorsport on the planet.

The aircraft have top speeds of 426 kmh, yet can turn on the proverbial dime.

Each race sees 12 pilots navigate an aerial racetrack marked by inflatable pylons in the fastest time possible.

It's 12 points for a win, nine for second place and decreases until the last four places which get no points at all.

The pylons are light enough to make sure they come off worse should a plane clip them, which often looks very close to happening.

The race still has its dangers, as expected when combining high-speed manoeuvres at nail-bitingly low altitudes.

To give an idea of the speed, one image that went viral in 2009 showed just what the effect of a machine travelling at that speed can do - at a race in San Diego, a large pelican was struck by the wing of Austrian Hannes Arch's plane.

The bird was obliterated on contact. Arch's plane suffered a small hole.

Last month, the race returned from a three year hiatus to fill the skies above Abu Dhabi.

Since the series began in 2003, it is the seventh time the United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital has hosted first leg of the championship.

Subsequent races will be held in Europe, Malaysia and the United States before November's finals in China.

Abu Dhabi provided a spectacular backdrop as the racers flew against modern architectural marvels of glass and steel, as well as the magnificent structure of the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque - the largest mosque in the UAE.

It was a close run as the pilots careened and zoomed across the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf before thousands of spectators.

The locale is renowned for its searing temperatures and unpredictable winds, though the weather was more forgiving on this occasion.

In the end it was UK's Paul Bonhomme who beat long-term rivals Arch and Canada's Pete McLeod to win the inaugural race.

Bonhomme's best time was 56.439 seconds. Arch just a blink behind with 56.776.

The rivalry is set to continue in Croatia next month.

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