Aerobatic plane racer keeps 'pushing the envelope'

Fri Sep 25, 2015 10:32am EDT
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By Steve Keating

ELOY, Arizona (Reuters) - Hanging on the wall of Kirby Chambliss's sterile hangar is a laminated Sports Illustrated article with the attention grabbing headline "One Mistake and You're Dead."

Below is a picture of Chambliss in an aerobatic plane flying upside down about 60 feet above the tarmac. If you look closely you can see him smiling.

To say Chambliss, a commercial and stunt pilot who competes on the Red Bull Air Race circuit, lives life in the fast lane would suggest he shares the highway with the likes of Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton.

But Chambliss's road is one far less traveled, much of it spent upside down at 230 miles per hour (370 km per hour) pulling chest-crushing G-forces that would impress astronauts.

The Red Bull Air Race, which makes its first of two U.S. stops this weekend in Fort Worth, Texas, followed by the Oct. 17-18 season finale in Las Vegas, which Chambliss promoted this week by landing his plane on the Las Vegas Strip, is extreme sport that mixes cutting-edge technology with old-school fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants skill and fearlessness.

The price tag to compete on the globe-trotting series is also not for the faint of heart, with the experimental exhibition category of aircraft costing close to $1 million.

First staged in 2003, there has never been a fatality on the Air Race circuit but for the daring competitors, mostly middle-aged men, it is sport where danger lurks at every high speed twist and turn.

"I have been doing this so long that you kind of forget that it is dangerous then every six months or so one of your buddies comes along and reminds you by dying and you go, that's right it's dangerous," Chambliss told Reuters. "In aerobatics I have lost a lot of friends. I have a saying 'you live and you learn.'   Continued...