A High-flying Audiovisual Backbone, Part 1

Roaring planes, a huge crowd, and excitement building faster than g-forces in a tight turn: the Red Bull Air Race with live video and sound right from the cockpits 10/12/2010 8:00 AM Eastern

A High-flying Audiovisual Backbone, Part 1

Oct 12, 2010 12:00 PM, With Bennett Liles

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Roaring planes, a huge crowd, and excitement building faster than g-forces in a tight turn: the Red Bull Air Race with live video and sound right from the cockpits. Riedel Communications set up sound, video, communications, and data for this huge event, and Thomas Riedel is here to tell us how they pulled it off and got the IBC Innovation Award.

Thomas, thanks very much for being with me here on the SVC podcast. Riedel Communications is just back from IBC in Amsterdam, and I understand your luggage was a little heavier on the return trip. What did you bring back with you?
Thomas Riedel:
Well, we are very proud that we got the IBC innovation award this year, which was really unexpected, and well, that was heavy! [Timestamp: 1:09]

In more ways than one! And Riedel got the IBC innovation award for your setup and support of the Red Bull Air Race.
Yeah, we've been the supplier, official supplier, for the Red Bull Air Race for quite some services, but this really—this award is for the signal distribution with our MediorNet product line at the show. [Timestamp: 1:32]

A huge job. This thing occurs over such a wide area, just the logistics of getting everything there and set up. Not to mention all the planning that had to go into it. And it's always great to have people in the business who know enough about the behind the scenes technical work to be able to appreciate everything you did for this. What all did you provide for the Red Bull Air Race?
Well on one hand it's about all the communications infrastructure. This includes intercom systems, radio systems, but all kind of IT stuff as well. On top of that, everything which is RF, so radio signals, is our topic as well. So not just the walkie-talkies, but also all kind of point-to-point video links, wireless cameras, as well as the onboard systems on the plane. And the third area of our work, basically, it's about the signal distribution—making sure that all areas of the event are connected on fiber and have the signals they need and can send also their signals, which is based on our MediorNet product portfolio. [Timestamp: 2:35]

And you mentioned that you've been doing this for quite some time for this show, but you actually changed some things about the way you set up the show this time, bringing in your MediorNet system.
Well, really we did it with a fiber product more on a point-to-point basis how it usually fiber infrastructured are pulled in. But since we are the inventor and manufacturer of MediorNet, we really felt we should use that product. And it was a really a big advantage, a big saving in time and cabling and all other efforts. [Timestamp: 3:06]

And not possibly a more high-profile show to be having your MediorNet technology used on and actually proving itself. You can't get much more high-profile than Manhattan right over the Hudson River, with several miles of race course and thousands of people lining both shore lines.
Yeah, exactly. It's not just one event it's a whole series which really starts in Abu Dhabi, then it went to Australia, Brazil, Canada, then to the U.S., and the last race this season was in Germany, so it's a whole series of shows. And over the years, in some locations, we have had a million-plus spectators—so really lots of people. [Timestamp: 3:48]

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And you've got to go into some areas that are pretty challenging. Most events at least take place on solid ground. You've got a lot of people and a huge load of equipment. How did you go about getting all that in there? What's involved in getting all the physical components in place?
Since this is all over the globe, you can't put it on trucks—that's why it's on aircraft containers. And we have bought 10 of these containers, which basically are shipped together with all the other equipment, including the aircraft itself, basically in large aircrafts for full transportation. [Timestamp: 4:22]

I've seen this show several times, and as a former aircraft owner myself, this really fascinates me in terms of the cameras that you have live on the planes, in the cockpits, and some are mounted right on the leading edge of vertical stabilizers, showing the whole top of the plane in flight. And anybody who has seen the Red Bull Air Races is familiar with this. What type of cameras were used on that, and how did you install those? That would seem to me to be something that would require aircraft modifications that would have to be officially approved.
Yeah, exactly. Basically, we couldn't really extend the plane to make the cameras—some standard cameras—work for the planes so basically, we needed to modify the systems on our end. We had lenses developed with 110-degree angles to really make both tips of the wings visible. So mounting on this was also not such an easy task, so we had really special mounts and some partners involved, which are really specialists on aviation—especially the safety aspect on this is pretty crucial. So really not just the cameras, but also the whole installation on the plane needs to be approved. That's why it was really hand-in-hand with these experts to build one system. And we have put together a group of engineers on our end, and they worked with engineers from the aviation area to build that system. [Timestamp: 5:51]

And these are obviously very small cameras, but they have to produce very high-quality video too. What sort of cameras are they and how much did they weigh? Is there some kind of official weight limit? You must have to assure them that you're doing the same thing in all the planes.
Yeah exactly. We've had a weight limit, and the weight limit was on the whole system including all cables. So basically, we got that limit and we needed to work towards that limit and build the special box around the equipment, which basically holds up to 20G before it breaks. The planes can only go up to 12G, but again, our box certainly needs to be more rugged at that point. So it was a requirement telling us exactly the weight as well as the maximum g-forces and the whole system was developed towards that requirement. [Timestamp: 6:45]

A High-flying Audiovisual Backbone, Part 1

Oct 12, 2010 12:00 PM, With Bennett Liles

I can imagine all the calculations that would have to be done, because not only do they have to figure the weight in the g-forces, but they also have to calculate the arm that is the distance of the weight from the center of gravity, which would have a big effect on how nose-up or -down the plane wants to fly. Now I understand you also set up a complete mobile airport with control tower and everything. How long did it take for you to set that up, and how many people were involved in that?
We have a team of 22 people doing this project, and it takes about 10 days to set up. And then you have some days of rehearsals and the show, and then another couple of days for de-rig, so basically it's about 14 to 16 days in one location in total. [Timestamp: 7:30]

And you're not only providing communication for the production crew along with video and live sound from the aircraft, but you were also providing communication for the control tower and handling the aircraft.
Yeah sure. That's something really special in this event. While you usually find independent setups for the broadcast guys as well as the event and the safety and security people in completely independent systems, at the Red Bull Air Race, this was built up in one solution. So basically the firefighting department could listen to the TV director as much as the local organizers could talk to TV guys or to the safety person. I think this is the only way to make such an event work when a large group of people—and it's around 400 people in the core team, plus 1,000-plus local people on top—to really have them communicate efficiently needs to be done in one solution, and that's exactly what we have set up. [Timestamp: 8:33]

And the control tower—I assume they have show supervisors, and do they also have FAA air traffic controllers as well?
Yes, yes it's a team of people in the tower. And the tower really acts as a real tower at an airport, but this is combined with a group of people for the local event for the competition as well as the side acts. So you have a group of experts from the aviation end, as well as from the event and entertainment broadcasting end, all working together. And yeah, basically, FAA people are involved here as well, and that really makes the whole setup very unique too and really have that group of people also mixing global people—meaning that's really a part of the team which does all the events together with local people, which are only for that one event in that group. [Timestamp: 9:29]

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Yeah, just the air-space situation is considerable. Most of these air races happen over highly populated areas, and of course that's why they put them over the water. They've got commercial air space right over where the race is going on. I've always been curious about one thing in watching these, though. I know the pilots want to hear their scores right away. I know they have to hear the controllers, but who tells them their scores?
Basically, that's the race director. Technically, there are several people who could talk to the airplanes, since it's also part of how our communication's set up, but the one who really is authorized and really is capable and able to do so is the race director. We really try to try to keep the number of people who really can talk to the planes as small as possible, so usually it's the race director, and there's a couple of more people just in case of an incident who could also talk on that channel. [Timestamp: 10:22]

And that has to be laid out in planning and puts a huge responsibility on the controllers and on the communications design to make sure you don't have a big tower of Babel going on.
Well, you just said something about the air traffic and managing this. Managing all the kind of communication signals and signal distribution is a kind of complex task, which is like the task managing the air space. And basically, that is a very, very interesting picture of seeing that task being a similar thing like what we do with our MediorNet. [Timestamp: 10:56]

A tremendous job of coordination. Thomas, it's been great having you on here for part one, and in part two we're going to get more into Riedel's MediorNet and how you did the audio for the crowd and how you feed those huge video monitors. So it's been fabulous having you here and we'll see you again in part two.
Yeah, thank you very much for now.

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