Kirby Chambliss, air racer

Disagreeing with Carnegie on the virtue of leisure, Kirby Chambliss, champion air racer, explains how he answers those who ask what it costs to race: Everything. “It takes all you have,” says Kirby. “If you’re trying to be the best in the world at something, no matter what it is, you need to dedicate your life to it. You can be sure your competitors will.”

Is it dangerous to fly under bridges going 200 mph? “You live and learn, or you die and you don’t. … You may forget the danger, but every few months, one of your buddies reminds you by killing himself.”

[March/April 2007 Pilot Journal]

5 thoughts on “Kirby Chambliss, air racer

  1. I have never really understood the whole air racing concept.
    The dangers invloved seem tantamount to making a death wish and the sport looks to be incredibly difficult for spectators to watch from the ground and then actually know what’s going on.
    Just curious, have you ever attended one of these events?


  2. I have never been to an air race. I did fly the R44 today for 3.8 hours in 25-knot wind gusts. The scariest part was a photo mission in which a 6-year-old kid came along in the back seat. I tried to discourage his father, but he said that the kid would be okay, which he was for about 1.3 hours. After that, he said “I feel sick”. We have the cloth upholstery so it was fortunate that he did not actually throw up.

    Anyway, that is enough of a thrill for me!

  3. Phil,
    Come to Reno this September. I went to the air races because I thought they’d be cool, but fell in love in the first ten minutes. I’m not even a pilot(yet). The F7F alone is worth the price of admission. It doesn’t usually win, but it sounds exactly like you’d think a giant piston twin would sound. It’s exilirating. I can’t reccomend it highly enough.

  4. The technique there is to have the passengers sit in a large plastic garbage/leaf bag and tell them that if they feel sick, just pull it up over their head.

  5. There are differing levels of risk for air races other high-performance events. Aerobatic competition is the safest. Sanctioned competitions have been accident free since day one, to the best of my knowledge. And day one was half a century ago. It’s highly structured and controlled.

    The Red Bull events do have a higher level of risk, but keep in mind that to even attempt to quality for the Red Bull circuit, you have to have been a top level Unlimited competitor on the international circuit. The people who are flying the RB events are the best of the best. Red Bull is low risk in many ways. For one thing, only one aircraft on the course at a time. That means the midair risk is zero. The aerobatics are not complicated. There are no spins, snaps, or other unpredictable maneuvers. And the flying is closely monitored by race officials.

    Reno is more dangerous. They’re pushing the engines extremely hard, and constantly experimenting with the airframes. Occasionally things go bad.

    But if you really want to see risk, visit an airshow. Airshow flying has an astronomical fatality rate because it’s fairly uncontrolled. As long as the pilot has the waiver and keeps the airplane (and its energy) pointed away from the crowd, pretty much anything goes.

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