Red Bull Air Race this weekend; Tucsonan Kirby Chambliss still running for World Title

By Harry Alexander / SoAzNewsX

Red Bull Air Race pilot Kirby Chambliss this weekend could snag his third World Title in the Red Bull Air Race Championship. The pilots are flying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in what will be the closing race of the 2017 season.

Chambliss is currently in fourth place in the overall standings. Only 11 points separate him from leader Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic. With the point spread so close, it’s going to be anyone of the Top 4 pilots race to win. Chambliss is just behind Canadian Pete McLeod, Japanese pilot Yoshihide Muroya, and Sonka.

Chambliss moved from Texas to Arizona because the area between Tucson and Phoenix proved to be one of the best places to practice aerobatic flying. He discovered the area while as a captain for Southwest Airlines. His flights took him from San Antonio to Phoenix. Moving to the Phoenix area was a no-brainer.

“I’d get back to San Antonio and the weather seemed like it was bad and I wasn’t going to be able to fly,” he said in an exclusive sit-down interview with the Southern Arizona News-Examiner. “In Phoenix, you can pretty much fly any day you want. So, should I move to Phoenix? Yes!”

Chambliss grew up racing motorcycles and still does so in what off time he has. And, he likes to skydive. He started flying at age 13 and by time he was 24 years old, he was the youngest captain in Southwest Airlines. By time he reached 28 years old, his aerobatic flying skills were enough to get him to regular competition.

“I like to have a lot of fun,” he said. “I try not go out and do anything dumb. I try an calculate everything out and the way I look at it, life’s a calculated risk.”

To prepare for the rigors of aerobatic flying, where in a climb the pilot can pull upwards of 10G’s, Chambliss constantly exercises. He also tries to fly a minimum of once a week–more if he can squeeze it in.

He flies the Edge 540 V3, which is a mainstay among the Master Class Pilots.

The computer optimised, steel tube frame makes the Edge 540 an extremely light, very durable and easily repairable raceplane.

Using an unconventional straight-edged wing, the Edge 540 sparked much interest in flying circles around the world, particularly after Kirby Chambliss began using it for aerobatic competitions. The aircraft has since evolved into the highly refined and technologically advanced version of the original prototype, with the radical wing now acknowledged as a pioneering feat of design, according to the Red Bull website.

It has an increased tolerance of G-loads. The body has been finely tuned to increase aerodynamics and reduce drag. Modifications range from a sleeker canopy design and improved exhaust, wing root and rear wheel fairings to enhanced winglets, shorter landing gear legs and upgraded cowlings

Red Bull Air Racing, Chambliss says, has gotten more technical over the years. Pilots and air crews are always looking to shave a 100th of a second off a lap time. That 100th of a second can mean a win or second place.

Getting ready for race day, Chambliss does a series of mental exercises as well as physical exercises.

“I still set up a bunch of Red Bull cans in the shape of the course,” he said. “I walk thru that course to see what angles I need to take thru the race gates for my best time.”

Most of the Red Bull Air Race tracks are set up over water. A couple of them, including Indianapolis, are set up over land. Is there a noticeable difference in flying a race over water versus over land?

“Depth perception is always an issue over water.” he said.  “Depth perception over land is an advantage for me.”

And, he says, he prefers flying over land at nearly 200 miles per hour and less than 100 feet off the ground because it’s easier to set down a plane with mechanical problems on land than on water. But while in the cockpit and racing, all he thinks about is the aircraft and completing the course in the fasted time possible without any penalties.

“I don’t think about this or that or family or anything else,” he said. “I don’t have time. I’m focused on one thing–what’s the fastest way to get from here to there and how can I shave fractions of seconds off the time.”

Chambliss credits his success this season to his team. They consist of Crew Chief Jason Resop, Race Engineer/Tactician Paul Iscold, Team Communications Coordinator Kayla Layton and Team Assistants Grant Goathouse, John Hanlon and Jay Stewart. Everyone on Team Chambliss is a pilot, too.

“Mathematically with the race coming up in Indianapolis, it can happen,” he said. “Basically, if you win the races and get enough points, they say ‘hey you’re World Champion again.’ Cool!”

As far as plans for retirement, Chambliss scoffs at that notion. He wants to fly for as long as he can and race for as long as he can, too.

The Red Bull Air Race Championship will be televised with a delayed broadcast on NBCSP. Check your local listings for the provider that will broadcast in your area. You can also follow the race at Red Bull Air


Harry Alexander is the Managing Editor of the Southern Arizona News-Examiner and a huge aviation buff.


Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2017 Southern Arizona News-Examiner