Standing on the runway at Cloverdale Regional Airport in Northern California, one could barely make out the line of helicopters hovering at 8000 feet in the air. A voice came through over a loudspeaker: “Three, two, one… Jumpers away!”
Suddenly, four tiny black dots trailing colored smoke radiated from the most distant helicopter. The dots accelerated across the sky towards a series of rope pylons hanging below the other helicopters. The dots zipped left around one pylon, right around the next, and left again before zooming in a straight line towards two final pylons. The crowd cheered, celebrating another successful run.
After having a blast at the inaugural event in 2014, in October 2015 Replay XD returned to attend the second ever Red Bull Aces: the world’s only fourcross wingsuit race. The black dots in the sky were some of the most experienced wingsuit pilots on the planet, and over the course of the event these top-tier athletes flew dozens of race runs. Watching the athletes carve through the air at over 150 miles per hour was awe-inspiring, and even spectators who never left the ground shared in the excitement of being part of the future of airsports racing.
“I’ve been skydiving for almost 25 years and have been to a lot of competitions. I’ve always wanted an opportunity to run one myself, so when Red Bull told me they wanted to do a wingsuit event, I jumped on it,” Aviation Director Luke Aikins explained. “Here was a chance to put a new spin on wingsuit racing with the fourcross format,” he said, referring to a race where four athletes start simultaneously and fly through a course to be the first to the finish line. “You don’t need to know anything about wingsuiting beforehand – all you need to know is what winners and losers are. Knowing how to watch a race is almost instinctual, and that’s what I wanted to show with Red Bull Aces. Someone might not know who each individual pilot is, but they probably care about who’s fastest in a race,” said Aikins.
Replay XD was proud to be the official camera provider for the event. Prime X cameras were mounted on every athlete’s helmet, as well as on custom-made rigs suspended at the bottom of each pylon. Replay XD and AerNow Marketing Director Shane Ruiz collaborated with Jeff Tiedken of Monkey Likes Shiny to fabricate these rigs. “With any event our objective is to ensure that all aspects are captured in the most quality way possible,” said Ruiz. “So we needed a design that was functional, straightforward, and rock solid as they were suspended below the choppers for hours at a time.” Simple components were combined into an innovative solution: a bucket lid secured with weights and duct tape provided a modular platform from which to film. Tiedken’s expert welds solidified the steel structure of the rigs, and allowed Prime X cameras to capture incredible footage throughout the races.
The five pylons marking the course all received a camera rig, with five Prime X’s mounted on each rig. “After two trial runs we found the perfect angle to point the cameras,” said Ruiz. “The Prime X’s Hyperion CinePrime X lens is the world’s first half-inch format lens to incorporate an aspherical, multi element all-glass design, with SLD components, CineAR Anti-reflection coatings, and superior chromatic correction, all optimized for a cinematic look and feel,” he explained. “It provides a field of view of 140 degrees, so we set them up to record a high-definition 360 degree view of the pilots passing each gate.” The final design of the rigs captured some awe-inspiring shots and provided the perfect solution for the production of Red Bull Aces.
Given that this was only the second time there’s ever been a fourcross wingsuit race, Red Bull, Replay XD, and the pilots all improved by doing over the course of the event. “There’s been a lot of learning from last year, and it’s a special treat to return to Red Bull Aces,” said Scott Palmer, who ended up snagging fourth overall in the field of 40 pilots. “The format is better, logistics have improved, and it’s great to be racing somewhere so scenic – flying over the Sonoma wine country is just amazing. We can even see the ocean from the start line.”
Unlike a land-based racetrack, the Red Bull Aces course shifts constantly. “Racing like this is unique because every time we start a run the course is different. The gates move as the wind blows, so there’s not a lot of pre-planning we can do,” explained former World Champion Mike Swanson. “We know we’ll have a gate on our left or right, but besides that it’s on-sight. As soon as we jump out of the chopper we’re trying to find the gates and charge as hard as we can. It comes down to our expertise and technique to fly the fastest line to the finish.”
The Prime X’s low-drag profile made it the obvious choice for this race, where every shred of aerodynamic efficiency means an advantage. Pablo Hernandez has been jumping out of helicopters for more than half his life and immediately noticed the difference. “I can feel the drag on my helmet with a more boxy camera, but the cylindrical shape of the Prime X means I don’t feel any tugging or pulling as I’m flying. Distraction from my equipment is the last thing I want when I’m in the middle of a race,” he said.
Aikins agreed: “Replay XD technology is perfect for this application. Its aerodynamic design improves performance for the athletes when they’re carving through gates. The support we’re getting from Replay XD is unbelievable. We’ve got cameras on everything, they’re all working perfectly, and the footage looks incredible.” The helmet cam shots allow pilots and spectators to relive and replay the action, and the custom-built camera rigs recorded some epic video as racers cut as close to the apex as they could.
The Prime X’s sleek design is no coincidence. Replay XD has conducted extensive scientific analysis using the same methods that define the finest airplane and wing shape profiles in the world. Replay XD engineers collaborated with staff members of the San Diego Air & Space Technology Center Wind Tunnel for extensive testing and research to prove who really is the leader in performance.
The testing analyzed multiple popular action cameras, and concluded that the small surface area of Replay XD technology results in the lowest drag force of any. This leads to a better focal point and improved conditions to capture images when the camera is moving through the air – especially important for wingsuit athletes flying at terminal velocity.
Replay XD Staff was in full momentum during the event. Scott Bridges, Tanner Stauss, Dave Green, Elliott Lorincz, Alex Leanse, and Paul Welsh provided a smooth workflow while managing nearly 200 Prime X cameras on athletes, pylons, and a fleet of helicopters. “Our task was mission critical for the athletes and Red Bull, so having such a hard working team of individuals go all-in was rewarding for myself and the brand,” said Ruiz. “For an event like this that relies on point-of-view action shots, we executed with precision and exact mathematical calculations to ensure perfect angles and production of exceptional content.” “I couldn’t be happier with how Team Replay XD performed,” Ruiz continued. “They all had to be at 100% from 6:30 am to 8:00 pm every day, and I can say that we stepped it up to 150%. Replay XD employees have exceptional camaraderie and teamwork, so we all help each other. We nailed it, and can’t wait to see the final Red Bull Aces product set to release in the next few weeks,” he said.
There’s no question that these athletes are fierce competitors, and margins got slimmer as racers were eliminated round by round. After hours of flying and dozens of runs, defending champion Andy Farrington secured another overall victory. The elation on his face was obvious as he sprayed champagne from the podium, but every other pilot was just as stoked for him. The sense of camaraderie and fun was stronger than anyone’s desire to be the fastest.
At the end of it all, Red Bull and Replay XD helped pull off a flawless event. “This is the future for wingsuit racing. Fourcross brings a new level of excitement for spectators and competitors, and we want to make a worldwide series out of it,” said Aikins. Airsports veteran Avery Badenhop said he couldn’t wait to race next year. “People love competition – who’s the best, who’s the fastest, who’s the most badass. Just when you think it can’t get any faster, someone develops the technology to push performance to a new level. Events like this help develop that. People see wingsuit pilots and think ‘Those guys are crazy… Let’s watch them race!” Expect more fourcross wingsuit race action soon, with coverage provided by Replay XD.