When the Red Bull Air Race returned to the skies in 2014 there was only one pilot using winglets rather than wingtips on the edge of his raceplane's wing, Nigel Lamb. They caused a stir at the race hangars, but not too much attention was paid to them. By the end of the 2014 season Nigel Lamb had been crowned World Champion and a new craze in winglet aerodynamics had been born.
When the pilots returned to Abu Dhabi for the start of the 2015 season there were a few different designs of winglets on the pilots' raceplanes. Matt Hall had a similar design as Nigel Lamb, Matthias Dolderer had a smaller 'shark fin' style and Pete McLeod had a flat, extended wingtip.
All through the 2015 season pilots tried to adapt and adjust to flying with different wingtips and winglets. Any aerodynamic alteration to the raceplane will change the handling characteristics of the raceplane, so pilots have to relearn how to fly their raceplane.
The next person to make the biggest change was Kirby Chambliss who at the penultimate race in 2015, in Fort Worth, showed up with the bigger winglets. His team had worked so hard on producing them that they hadn't even had time to paint them.
When 2016 came around, Dolderer had swapped his shark fin winglets for the more traditional style used by other pilots. Although the winglets can't take all the credit, Dolderer started performing well and it was to be his season.
Other teams were still trying to find the perfect solution to suit their pilot's flying style. In Budapest last year, Peter Podlunsek turned up with a completely different take on winglets. He had them pointing downwards, which was met with derision from other pilots, but at the most recent race in San Diego, he proved them wrong.
The winglet wars
This year it seemed as if the winglet craze was over, but at round two in San Diego, four more teams arrived at the race hangars with new winglets. Juan Velarde, Pete McLeod, Michael Goulian and Nicolas Ivanoff had added winglets to their raceplane.
Velarde seemed a little unhappy with his winglets, but won't give up on them yet as he believes they will improve his flying. "We will look at revising what we have done with winglets to see if we can improve them," he said.
So as we head towards Chiba there are only a couple of pilots that have not converted to winglets. Yoshihide Muroya, who won in San Diego hasn't added winglets, but he isn't discounting the option. "We want to have winglets, but it takes time to design and manufacture, so one day we are hoping to have them – maybe by the end of the year. Our wingtip is kind of working for now, so we will be ok," he said.
To see who might have winglets in Chiba, you can be there on 03-04 June. Tickets are available HERE.