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Diverse flying backgrounds fuel competition for Red Bull Air Race pilots

Our customers include pilots flying a diverse range of aircraft from many differing backgrounds. Similarly, the 14 elite pilots of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship come from all over the world, and their backgrounds are as varied as their nationalities. But which kind of experience gives these highly skilled aviators the edge?

The Red Bull Air Race pilots hail from a wide range of backgrounds – flying supersonic jets in the military, winning world titles in aerobatics and starring in the planet’s most prestigious air shows, not to mention the demanding flying of display teams, demonstrating vintage aircraft and even navigating bush flights in the wilderness. The most successful of all time, British triple World Champion Paul Bonhomme (now retired from racing), not only has extensive air show experience but regularly pilots trans-Atlantic jumbo jets.

While all the race pilots see themselves as part of the international fraternity of aviators, that doesn’t stop them – or fans around the world – from debating the age-old question: What kind of background is most likely to determine success in the season-long battle for the title? Jim DiMatteo, the Race Director of the Red Bull Air Race, shares his thoughts.

“We have had champions from all different types of backgrounds,” he points out, “but if I had to choose, I believe the pilots with a military background tend to do the best when the competition is the tightest. They are very used to competing with their peers at every level since they began flying.”
A decorated former TOPGUN Commander himself, DiMatteo continues, “If you look at 2018’s final three for the World Championship, the two military pilots, Martin Šonka (winner, Czech Republic) and Matt Hall (second place, Australia), both flew extremely well when the most pressure was on.”
Military and display team backgrounds, among others, also give pilots experience in another area that’s key to making headway on the ultra-competitive Air Racing scene: working with, and leading, a team. DiMatteo finds that – in addition to having a fast raceplane – factors most important to success in the sport include consistency in performance, avoiding penalties and having a great team around the pilot.
He emphasizes, “It is critical for a Red Bull Air Race pilot to work well with his team. As the pilots get faster and faster, the races become closer and closer. This magnifies the importance of the team working around the pilot, and those teams that tend to run the smoothest tend to do well.”
In the 2018 season, two of the standouts were relative newcomers who, despite contrasting backgrounds, both turned heads with their rapid rise: Mika Brageot of France, who joined the World Championship in 2017, is a gold medallist in top aerobatics competition, and Great Britain’s Ben Murphy is a former Team Leader of the Royal Air Force demonstration team, “The Red Arrows.” DiMatteo credits their deep experience in those fields, and he also identifies another important aspect of their backgrounds. Both came into the World Championship from the second competition category of the sport, the Challenger Class.
“The Challenger Class has proven to be exactly what we wanted when we created it in 2014. The pilots are getting a lot of experience flying in our different and challenging venues, and additionally, the Challenger Class is also very competitive. Thus, when those pilots move up to the Master Class, they are very well prepared to race. Combine that with a fast plane and you see some of them having success very quickly,” he comments.
While the Red Bull Air Race pilots each bring something different to the table, there’s one characteristic that DiMatteo feels they all have in common: competitiveness.
“Everyone wants to win,” he declares. “Every pilot is very determined to place as high as they can. That results in a very competitive sport, and that is exactly what Red Bull Air Race has become. It is extremely fun for the spectators to watch, as any given race could be won by any pilot.”

About Red Bull Air Race

Created in 2003, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship has held 90 races around the world. The Red Bull Air Race World Championship features the world’s best race pilots in a pure motorsport competition that combines speed, precision and skill. Using the fastest, most agile, lightweight racing planes, pilots hit speeds of 370kmh while enduring forces of up to 12G as they navigate a low-level slalom track marked by 25-meter-high, air-filled pylons. In 2014, the Challenger Cup was conceived to help the next generation of pilots develop the skills needed for potential advancement to the Master Class that vies for the World Championship.