When I woke up the morning I was to ride with Kirby Chambliss, one of the best acrobatic pilots in the world, I made a conscious decision not to eat anything. I'm sure you can figure out why. My assignment, which I chose to accept, was to experience flight in a Red Bull Air Race stunt plane with Chambliss at the helm. A half-hour before take-off I took a prescription anti-nausea pill, donned my Red Bull fireproof flight suit and parachute (Wait, why do I need a parachute?!) and climbed into the plane.
Chambliss took me up in a two-seat practice plane, tipping the scales at less than 1,500 pounds. The 300-horsepower engine quickly got us up to 1,500 feet, where he took me on the best roller coaster ride of my life.
It's tough to tell you the maneuvers we did, as it felt akin to being thrown into a clothes dryer on tumble high for 18 minutes. We went from 6g to -3g during the flight, all while I screamed with delight, laughed with abandon, and OK, maybe "unswallowed" into a plastic bag. Once. Alright, twice. I barfed twice.
The Red Bull Air Race series pits 14 master pilots against each other over a 6-kilometer racetrack. Pilots must fly at high speed and low altitude, maneuvering their planes through a series of air gates. The planes fly through chicanes and pull up to 10g on the course, making for a heart-pounding race.
During the actual Red Bull Air Race series, Chambliss campaigns an Edge 540 V3 plane. This baby can sustain over 15g during acrobatic moves. Those fancy-pants NASA astronauts only experience 3g when they launch into space, while Chambliss does it all at an altitude of less than 100 feet. Chambliss has two Red Bull Air Race World Titles and eight race victories in the series, which puts him tied for third on the all-time wins list.
The most recent race in Lausitzring, Germany has Chambliss sitting in fourth place. You can catch him stateside in Indianapolis, Indiana on October 1-2 or in Las Vegas October 15-16. Tickets are available at www.redbullairrace.com.