As we head to America for the final two rounds of the 2016 Red Bull Air Race season, we thought we'd take a look at one of its longest serving pilots, proud American, Kirby Chambliss.
Any Red Bull Air Race fan who doesn't know that Kirby Chambliss was born in Texas – or that he is the only two-time titleholder in the current line up – hasn't been paying attention. But after 10 full seasons of dazzling crowds worldwide with his talent, there's still plenty to discover about the pilot who was instrumental in developing the ultimate motorsport series in the sky. Such as...
1) He respects his elders
Kirby was raised by his grandmother, whom he describes as "a no-nonsense kind of woman who taught me the value of a dollar and the importance of working hard." His greatest mentor was his father, a recreational pilot and skydiver. One day when Kirby was about 12, his dad brought home a pile of sheet metal and said they would build an aeroplane together – a Davis Aircraft. Kirby got his first 500 hours of flying in that homemade aircraft before selling it, and a few years ago he found the plane and bought it back to fix up with his daughter.
The Davis aircraft Kirby built with his father and has bought back to refurbish with his daughter
2) He always knew exactly where he was going
"I never wanted to be a fireman or a policeman. I always wanted to be a pilot, and I just had to figure out how to get there," he says. Kirby's first gig was as a dishwasher, and in addition to airport jobs like fuelling planes, he paid his way with stints of physical labour including throwing hay bales onto trucks and breaking up concrete. It all paid off: by age 24 he'd become the youngest commercial pilot at Southwest Airlines.
3) When he's not flying a plane, he's jumping out of one
Kirby has 750 skydives to his name so far. He calls it his guilty pleasure.
Kirby enjoying his guilty pleasure...
4) He likes some animals better than others
Sure, Kirby is proud to be a Texas native and also loves his home in Arizona, but don't stereotype him as the cowboy type. He's not crazy about horses and gets seriously 'creeped out' by snakes. Kirby does, however, like plenty of other animals. His wife says he's even got a soft spot for his daughter's toy poodle – just don't try to get him to admit it.
5) He's still learning
Kirby is in his eleventh Red Bull Air Race season – yet the mental game never ends. Every stop is different, and he starts analysing each track a good three weeks before arriving on site. Then at the race, he spends at least a couple of hours each night reviewing time sheets and video from Free Practice sessions, analysing data from the raceplane and making sure he's flying the optimum line.
6) His favourite TV show is going off the air
When Kirby finds rare down time for video that's not race-related, one of his favourite TV shows is "Person of Interest," a science fiction crime drama (or, in the words of its executive producers, a "subversive little paranoia-inducing cyberpunk-thriller.") After five seasons, the last episode is airing this year. Sorry, Kirby!
7) He's got skills you would never expect
Although Kirby wanted to be a pilot from day one, as a child he raced motocross and – when he was just 3 – his family signed him up for tap dance lessons. You won't catch him doing a "shuffle ball-change" or a "time step" these days, though. Now the only time he cares about is his time through the racetrack.
A young Chambliss back in his dancing days...
8) He's a little bit spicy
Thai food is one of Kirby's absolute favourites.
9) His garage is a hangar and his driveway is a runway
About 15 years ago Kirby took what he says was the biggest risk of his life and bought a chunk of property in the Arizona desert that he has developed into the Flying Crown Ranch. Now with an aircraft hangar attached to his house and a runway in the front yard, it's the stuff pilots dream of. No regrets.
10) His most important "achievement" has nothing to do with winning a race
Ask Kirby about his proudest moment, and he answers without hesitation: "The day my daughter was born."