At only 22 years old, Tom Fitzgerald is the youngest technician in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, but there's an old head on those young shoulders.
As anyone with the slightest interest in motorsport will know, it's not just about the athlete behind the wheel, in the cockpit or gripping the handlebars, there's a whole team in the background at work. In the Red Bull Air Race, most teams consist of a team coordinator, a tactician and a technician. These are usually people with many years' experience in a wide range of fields, but there's a group of experts that have infiltrated the series and proven that if you're good enough, you're old enough. We'll look at the young guns of the Air Race over the coming months but, to start with, we'll look at Nicolas Ivanoff's technician, Tom Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald was born into aviation. His parents own an aviation maintenance company and it seems as if he was on the path to become a technician early on. "My mother and father knew Nicolas for a long time and he came to visit us and said he needed a new technician, so I started in 2015 as a second technician," explained Fitzgerald.
With one of the best teachers guiding him, Fitzgerald was working under Jim "Jimbo" Reed, who had been a long time tech in the Red Bull Air Race, but is now better known as the series' Technical Director. "I had a year with Jimbo and then a year with Takashi [Nishimura] before becoming the team's technician in 2017."
To be a fully-fledged technician at the age of 21, you have to be focused and know what it is that you want. "I started my qualifications at 16 years old and studied at one school for two years, then went to another school for my final year. I was qualified to work on European aircraft by the age of 19," Fitzgerald continued.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) covers the European Union and has responsibility for civil aviation safety. It carries out certification, regulation, and standardisation. Although for the United States that falls under the jurisdiction of the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority), so for a technician to work on a raceplane at every race, they need both qualifications. Fitzgerald didn't waste any time gaining this and was qualified to work on aircraft by the end of 2016.
Fitzgerald shows maturity beyond his years, and knows how important his job is. "The most stressful part of the job for me is that first flight after we've changed something, to make sure it has improved the raceplane," he explained. The season opener was stressful for Fitzgerald. "Abu Dhabi was really hard; we had spent two months building the plane from zero and then after 10 minutes of flying it was all gone [Ivanoff's winglet came off after contact with a pylon]. It was heart breaking because you have to do all the work again. We had to take everything apart, but we're all good now!" Fitzgerald concluded.
Next up for Team Ivanoff and the rest of the Red Bull Air Race is Budapest on 23-24 June. Get your tickets HERE.