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Anyone who accepts the honor of being selected to the Challenger Class of the Red Bull Air Race needs more than highly promising skills. As in every season since the Challenger Cup was introduced in 2014, the eight pilots in the lineup this year must incorporate global travel and the demands of learning an entirely new motorsport with their already busy personal and professional lives.
Here’s what the Challengers have to say about some of the lifestyle and professional changes that are part of working toward the dream of earning a position in the Master Class that vies for the World Championship.
Mélanie Astles (France)
For my living I’m a flight instructor but at the moment I have taken some unpaid leave. This is allowing me to really live my passion for a while; competing in the Red Bull Air Race and also becoming a professional aerobatic pilot and fly in air shows. Making this transition is hard work though – I train a lot both physically and mentally because when I get in the track it’s important to be good immediately. I guess the biggest change for me is that the Red Bull Air Race is my focus and I’m working on it every day. Also, working with the Red Bull Air Race team has really changed my professional career, it’s easier for me to find sponsors and as I mentioned, I am fully living my passion!
Francis Barros (Brazil)
I’m an airline captain on the Airbus A330 for Avianca, the national airline and flag carrier of Colombia. In terms of handling, the Challenger race plane (Extra 330LX) is obviously very different from the A330. The discipline of flight is also completely different but in terms of drills, it’s similar – I have a checklist in my mind for everything I have to control. It’s a dream to be able to be able to fly a race plane!
Florian Bergér (Germany)
My current job as a first officer on the Airbus A320 is my second biggest dream. Becoming a Master Class pilot is my first! It’s pretty tough adding the Red Bull Air Race to my already tight schedule but I use all my vacation for the races and aerobatic training camps. I’m fortunate that my company is supportive and they give me unpaid time off when I need it. My schedule is very, very tight but I love the way it is – I don’t want to do anything else.
Cristian Bolton (Chile)
In 2015 I retired from the military so now I’m an aerobatics instructor, an air show performer and a race pilot. At an air show, I want to fly in the most aggressive way possible, depending on the display but when it comes to the Red Bull Air Race, I have to put this to the back of my mind and be as smooth as I can be. Every input on the flight control creates drag and in #racing, this is what we try to avoid. If your time is slower than your competitors, your do try to be more aggressive but you can’t do that, it isn’t beneficial.
Kevin Coleman (USA)
At the moment I’m doing three different types of flying. I fly in air shows full time in the United States, I compete in aerobatics and now I’m competing in the Red Bull Air Race in the Challenger Class. This means that I’m in an Extra 300 aircraft every day of my life. For me it’s hard to turn your brain off from the style of flying in an air show and #competition aerobatic flying and adapting to race flying. It’s a totally different style: you handle the airplane differently and it’s a different set up. On the first day of a race weekend I say to myself “Ok, I’m in race mode now and not aerobatic mode.”
Luke Czepiela (Poland)
I’m a captain on the airbus A320 so I’m very busy between races. Most races are during the high season in the airline industry so I’m flying a lot of hours. As with some of my competitors, I use all of my vacation to compete at the Red Bull Air Race and on my days off I try to train. Of course it’s a sport so there’s always something on my mind, how you can be faster and so on. It takes a lot of sacrifice but I love what I do.
Ben Murphy (Great Britain)
I work as a business development manager for a US defense company – which is quite different from #racing. I also do some part-time flying for a display team in the UK, so that gives me some time in the Extra, which is always good. One difficulty is that you can’t really practice for the race until you can fly through the pylons. I don’t get as much time in the raceplane as I would like, but I’m hoping to change this later in the year when I go back to flying full time.
Daniel Ryfa (Sweden)
When I’m not #racing, or flying air shows with my Sukhoi or vintage airplanes, my "day job" is as captain on a private jet. This is a great combination with all the elements of flying that makes aviation my full-time job as well as my passion. Working for a very flexible and understanding private jet company (with a CEO who is an aerobatic pilot himself) allows me to get time off for the Red Bull Air Race. Life is very busy, constantly traveling somewhere for #racing, air shows or commercial private jet operations.
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