Red Bull Air Race World Championship

15 Oct 2017

Red Bull Air Race 2017: 'Persistence pays' says Chambliss

Kirby Chambliss is one of the longest-serving members of the Red Bull Air Race family having started in 2003. He’s won it twice, and stood on the podium 27 times. 

A Texan native, he has his own runway in his own backyard at his home in Arizona. He first climbed into a cockpit when he was just 13-years-old, and became a commercial pilot with Southwest Airlines when he was only 24. He has a long pedigree in Aerobatics competition, with some 13 World Championship medals to his name. 

“I was on the US aerobatics team for many years,” he said while standing in his hangar at the Red Bull Air Race in Indianapolis. “And in fact I got into aerobatics because of safety. In my early 20s I was flying a business jet and the chief pilot said, ‘All my guys get aerobatics training, that way if the jet ends up upside down with the CEO on board, you should be able to fix it without killing everyone.’ I thought that makes sense to me.”

From his first aerobatics lesson he was hooked.

“I rolled the airplane upside down and I was like, ‘Wow! That is the coolest thing ever!’ Everything I had wanted to do in flying was gone, and all I wanted to do was aerobatics. I loved it.”

He added: “I went 100% into it. That took me into aerobatic competition, which took me into the US aerobatic team.”

When the Red Bull Air Race started the organisers came knocking. “You had to be in the top 15 in the world standings, and I was the only American in there. I got a call and invited over.”

Kirby was into all sorts of sports as a youngster, including racing motocross bikes. “I loved speed, I was skydiving. I did a lot of low-level display flying before that, so the Red Bull Air Race really suited me. 

“I was super comfortable going close to the ground fast, I loved these gates whizzing by and all that. I joined, and later I helped bring the Red Bull Air Race to the States. I've been doing it ever since.”

What advice has he got for young people who are looking for a way to get into air sports?

“The first thing is you have to learn to fly. Then get into aerobatics, and low-level display flying. It's quite a long road to get here, to take something that is relatively dangerous and make it somewhat sane. The only way you can do that is to balance it with experience, so you need to get that experience.”

And never give up.

“I recommend anyone who wants to fly to be persistent. People automatically assume, 'Oh, you came from a rich family,’ but no, actually not, but I was super persistent.”

He added: “I look back on my career and realised I would bang on the door. Maybe the first one didn't open, but then I'd bang on the next one, and somebody finally opened the door. 

“I didn't realise it at the time, but when you are passionate about something, and you want to do it, people want to help you. All the time people opened doors for me, and that will happen to you too. Just go for it and follow your dream.”

Photo: Predrag Vuckovic / Red Bull Content Pool