sábado, 20 de mayo de 2017

Ramón Alonso: A Living Legend of World Aerobatics

Text and Photos : José manuel Serrano Esparza 

World Champion of Aerobatics in Armilla, Granada (Spain) in 2007, European Champion of Individual Unlimited Aerobatics in Istra (Lithuania) in 2002, 20 times Spanish Aerobatics Absolute Champion between 1987 and 2001, Champion of the FAI AI-Ain International Aerobatic Competition in 2008 in United Arab Emirates (a competition reserved for the best eight pilots in the world), and Runner-Up (only behind France) in the Team World Championship held in Armilla, Granada (Spain) in 2007, the latter being a very important title, because it was fruit of the points attained by Ramón Alonso (1st), Cástor Fantoba (6th) and Juan Velarde (12th), managing to beat the until then unbeatable Russian Team (which was third).

This is the impressive background of Ramón Alonso, one of the best aerobatics pilots in the whole history of this sport.

Something exceedingly praiseworthy in this tremendously demanding competition, both physically and mentally (in which maximum feasible geometrical precision in every manoeuver and beauty are particularly valued), which was called by José Luis Aresti (inventor of the aerocryptographic code bearing his name and which was adopted by the FAI in 1961) art in pure state, and in which Spain has been a major world power with pilots like Ramón Alonso, the sadly demised Alex MacLean (one of the most brilliant aerobatics pilots in Europe, Diploma Paul Tissandier of FAI and within the cream of the crop of the Red Bull Air Race, equivalent to the Aerial Formula 1), Cástor Fantoba (European Champion in 2014 and six times Champion of Spain), Juan Velarde, Sergio Plà, Anselmo Gámez, Jorge Macías and others.

It all with far fewer available resources than other highly consolidated superpowers countries in the scope of aerobatics such as Russia, France and United States, though it shouldn´t be forgotten that Spain was one of the begetters of the aerobatic competition flight and the FAI Trophy bestowed to the Aerobatics World Champion bears the name José Luis Aresti.

Ramón Alonso with his Sukhoi Su-31 sponsored by Adventia, one of the most prestigious flying schools in the world (in which the laureated pilot was a pupil), located in the Aeronautic Campus of Matacán (Salamanca), which always trusted on Ramón Alonso´s exceptional gift for aerobatics and has been a key factor in the development of his professional career.

This formidable Russian single seater aircraft is built with carbon fiber, kevlar and titanium and was created by the Sukhoi Design Bureu in Moscow for the highest aerobatic competition, with a dry weight of 700 kg (maximum of 1050 kg in takeoff), fixed landing gear and an air-cooled 9 cylinder Vedeneyev M-14PF radial piston engine delivering 400 h.p enabling it to reach a top speed of 450 km/h and a climbing rate of 24 meters / sec, while its stall speed is 106 km/h.

It is the most agile and powerful aerobatic plane currently existing in the world, also standing out in its exceedingly sturdy structural integrity making possible for the pilots to repeatedly generate load factors between -10 g and + 12 g, the destructive load of the aircraft being 24g, while its roll rate is 401º / sec.

The stunning lift and manoeuver ability at low speed attained by Ramón Alonso´s Sukhoi Su-31 is conspicuous in this image in which the performance of the 400 CV Vedeneyev M-14PF engine proves to be sensational.

This fabulous powerplant introduced in 2002 is the diachronic world benchmark among the radial piston engines optimized for aerobatic aircraft and the technological apex of more than fifty years of evolution of 9 cylinder air-cooled radial piston engines started in 1951 with the 260 CV Ivchenko AI-14R, the Vedeneyev AI-14RF whose power output was increased by Ivan Vedeneyev up to 300 CV in 1959, the Vedeneyev M14-P series 1 whose production began in early seventies in the Voronezh Mechanical Factory, and the Vedeneyev M14-P series 2 likewise delivering 360 CV and whose manufacturing began in early eighties with significant improvements regarding its inner components, in addition to changes in the configuration of the cylinder heads.

This latter 360 CV engine boasts an excellent weight / power ratio, but the 400 CV Vedeneyev M-14PF engine featured by Ramón Alonso´s Sukhoi is an utterly mechanical wonder of aeronautical engineering whose performance is better and truly awesome.

The Sukhoi Su-31 great climbing rate of 26 meters / sec enables the pilot to gain height at a very fast pace, with the extraordinary reliability of the 400 h.p Vedeneyev M-14PF whose origin stemmed from a power output increase of 40 h.p in comparison to the series 2 360 h.p Vedeneyev M-14 P, modifying the supercharger gearbox in such a way that the turbocharger is turned at 10.5 times engine speed rather than 8.25, so though the same turbocharger compressor and other systems are used, the turning of the supercharger impeller is made at amazingly high 30,000 rpm to yield the highest levels of boost necessary to get the huge power it sports.

Inverted flight performed by Ramón Alonso. Aerobatics developed by the great Spanish pilot tickle the vary abundant audiences attending to see this real " artistic flight ".

The lightness of the Sukhoi Su-31 plane, currently the most advanced aerobatic aircraft in the world, in synergy with its Vedeneyev M14-PF powerplant make up a virtually unbeatable binomium,

enabling a very comprehensive array of manoeuvers with utter reliability and fast response of controls,

as befits an airplane built with the most advanced, sturdy and light available materials, boasting a state-of-the-art four stroke piston engine connected to a large propeller and able to reach the 3010 rpm/minute, as well as featuring an extraordinary thrust/weight ratio enabling it to fulfill some manoeuvers typical of helicopters at incredibly low speeds. 

Needless to say that its climbing rate is likewise awesome.

Ramón Alonso appears here in full vertical rising.

The hugely stout and reliable Vedeneyev M14-PF is entirely made at the Voronezh Mechanical Plant (Russia), one of the international yardsticks in metallurgical production, castings, highly accurate and greatly handcrafted broaching and grinding of metallic components with aerospace industry alloys, along with the manufacture of specific tools. 

Therefore, in practical terms, the Sukhoi Su-31 results in a perfect symbiosis between:

a) A breakthrough technology regarding the constructive quality and lightness of the materials and alloys used in its airframe, together with the very deep studies carried out by top-rate  Russian aeronautical engineers. whose labour throughout decades has hugely improved the prototype S42 Sukhoi-26 — with which was born the breed of Sukhoi aerobatic aircraft replacing the Yak-50, whose performance and security levels were far inferior — started in 1983 by the Sukhoi Design Bureau under the direction of V.P.Kodratyev and the aircraft designer M.P.Simonov, subsequently being enhanced from May 1984 by B.V.Rakitin.

b) A radial piston engine being the pinnacle in the whole history of aviation of this classic type of powerplants for propeller driven aircraft and which concerning the sphere of aerobatic flight provides the Sukhoi Su-31 the key qualities that made them well-known already during the golden age of aviation in thirties, forties and fifties: a formidable power / weight ratio, superb reliability, very easy functioning, simple maintenance, reference-class torque and a remarkable fuel efficiency.

And it must be added the major aspect of the Sukhoi Su-31 Vedeneyev M14-PF engine air cooling, unlike the liquid cooled piston engines (needing a higher weight, a much more complex construction with many more components and whose thrust / weight ratio is less favourable).

But the fact remains that radial piston engines need to have a very large front area to make the most of their cooling through impact air during flight, so the aerodynamic resistance of that forward zone is much bigger than in the liquid-cooled V or W piston engines, whose design makes possible smaller fron areas.

It gives a very clear picture of the tremendous power and reliability of the 400 CV Vedeneyev M14-PF engine, which outperforms the output of each of the two 325 hp Vedeneyev M-14C-26 engines of the Kamov Ka-26 light helicopter with coaxial rotors and the 320 CV Vedeneyev M-14C-26V engine of the Mi-34 light helicopter.

Without forgetting that unlike the turbo systems of the V or W engines only needing a conduct for the compressed air to reach the whole powerplant block after crossing the turbine, radial piston engines need specific conducts for each cylinder.

But all of it would be worthless without the most important factors to be a world champion of aerobatics like Ramón Alonso: the intensive training throughout many years, little by little, and an unswerving love for this sport, along with the huge experience acquired throughout decades and a thorough physical conditioning enabling to tackle aerobatic competitions successfully executing a comprehensive choice of higly complex manoeuvers, among them startings with descending snap rolls with rotation speeds of 570º / second. 

After becoming Aerobatics World Champion in Armilla, Granada (Spain) in 2007, Ramón Alonso decided to pull out of competition events in which he took part throught nothing less than 23 years, facing the best aerobatic pilots on earth (Mikhail Mamistov, Sergey Rakhmanin, Zach Heffley, Victor Chmal, Renaud Ecalle , Svetlana Kapanina, Oleg Schpoliansky, Jurgis Kairys, Klaus Schrodt, Xavier de Lapparent, Eric Vazeille and others), having focused since then on aerobatic exhibitions in which he goes beyond himself once and again enthralling the spectators as a golden brooch to an exceedingly brilliant professional trajectory in which he has amassed more than 3,000 flight hours as an aerobatic pilot and more than 19,000 as a commercial pilot of different aircraft.

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