Kirby Chambliss recently found himself surrounded by 40 of the world best wingsuit pilots. And he couldn't have been happier.
For a race pilot who calls skydiving his "guilty pleasure," watching the Finals of Red Bull Aces, the global championship of wingsuit four-cross, was a perfect way to spend a Saturday.
"I'm a skydiver, and I haven't flown a wingsuit yet, but it's cool watching these guys zip through the sky," Chambliss said, looking upward as a heat of four wingsuit pilots sped though a series of airborne gates suspended by helicopters. "I think it would be a lot of fun, but that's a whole other level, so I just enjoy. It's right in my backyard!"
The third edition of Red Bull Aces took flight on 17-19 November in the desert outside Phoenix, Arizona – just a few miles from Chambliss's home at the Flying Crown Ranch, where he and his team are busily preparing for the 2017 season of the Red Bull Air Race.
Red Bull Aces took place near Chambliss' house
"We have about six weeks in our offseason to do modifications to the raceplane, so we're trying to maximise what we can do in that short period of time," Chambliss explained. "We changed the winglets a little bit – we think they're going to be a little bit better – and I've been able to make some small modification to the cooling system, which is going to help us."
Team Chambliss technician Jason Resop has additionally lightened the weight of the raceplane, and Chambliss estimates that the Edge 540 V3 "should be right at the minimum weight this year, which will help us also."
Fascinated by the tight slaloms that the wingsuit pilots like eventual Red Bull Aces winner Noah Bahnson (USA) were achieving at speeds approaching 260kmh/160mph, Chambliss acknowledged that flying in a wingsuit is quite different than flying in a machine.
He also noted what the two aerial sports have in common. "One of the similarities between what they're doing with the wingsuits flying around the pylons and I'm doing in an raceplane is that you both have to be on that perfect line," he pointed out. "But they are exposed to the elements. It's a cool feeling, I'm sure, to be zipping around the gates with just your body and your arms out, so I sure enjoyed watching it."