On 18 November 2018, Luke Czepiela reached the pinnacle of his aviation career so far when he clinched his first Challenger Cup Championship – also the first Red Bull Air Race title for his home country of Poland. Back in the Challenger Class lineup for a fifth season in 2019, he is flying all out to defend his crown.
Czepiela is living a boyhood dream that began when his father took him to an air show. Fascinated, he eventually became a "hangar rat" at the local airfield, working to earn glider lessons. By 15 he was pursuing an engineering degree with the goal of a career in aviation.
Czepiela served as an aircraft engineer, worked in flight operations for a flying school and was crew chief for the UK's prestigious Honda Dream Team. He also took up aeroplane aerobatics. In only his second year of aerobatic competition (2010), he won the Advanced category at the L. Marchelewski Memorial and took third place at the Polish Advanced Aerobatic Nationals. He also has twice represented his country at the World Unlimited Aerobatic Championships.
Czepiela first raced in the Challenger Class in 2014 and then took a season's hiatus. In 2016, he earned his inaugural race win with an impressive performance at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the following year he stood on the overall podium in third. Heading into the 2018 season finale, Czepiela was in second overall thanks to three podiums in four races – including a win at the iconic stop in Budapest. Calm under pressure, the Polish pilot flew a smooth Race Day run that gave him first place and the Challenger Cup by a thrilling 0.052s.
When he is not in competition mode, Czepiela flies as a commercial airline captain on the Airbus A320 and performs in top air shows – including piloting his aeroplane in formation with a helicopter flown by his fiancée. An outdoor enthusiast, much of his training incorporates sports in nature, such as hiking, mountain biking and windsurfing.
"It's absolutely amazing to be racing in the Red Bull Air Race, not only due to achieving my dream of being a race pilot, but also because to be the first, and so far only, pilot for Poland is a huge privilege," Czepiela confides. "This season will be super tight, and it'll be hard to defend the title. But I'll do my best."