A Day In The Life Of An Air Race Pilot
Some elite athletes can be skittish about sharing their routines and rituals, but Red Bull Air Race pilot Matt Hall isn’t one of them. The Australian provides a behind-the-scenes look at his typical day at a World Championship stop, moment by moment.
Every team has its own rhythms, and Matt Hall Racing have definitely found their groove: Hall won the July stop in Hungary and heads into September’s season finale in second overall, just four points off leader Martin Sonka. He is in a strong position to claim his first title.
A former Wing Commander in the Royal Australian Air Force, Hall runs a tight ship and keeps a well-defined schedule. “My day starts about an hour and a half before breakfast, and basically the first thing I’ll do is some stretches,” he reports.
Soon he is on a walk in the fresh air before sitting down for breakfast with Technician David Finch, Team Coordinator Andrew Musgrove and Tactician Peter Wezenbeek. Hall explains, “We start the day as a team, and we’ll have a brief at breakfast about what’s happening for the day, what our timelines are.”
Next, it is off to the Race Airport, where mornings usually include meetings organised by Red Bull Air Race Aviation to provide role-specific updates and information – separate briefings for Team Coordinators, Technicians and, of course, pilots.
“Then we get straight back into preparing for the first flight of the day. Finchy’s looking after the aircraft, I’m working on the tactics with Pete,” Hall describes. Meanwhile, Musgrove handles a range of tasks, from logistics to fielding media requests.
Hall is known for adhering to detailed checklists, so his next step is no surprise. “One hour before engine start – exactly one hour – we’ll get together and go through a checklist, making sure the aircraft is exactly where it needs to be and I know exactly what the plan is. I put myself under pressure to tell them exactly what I’m doing, so there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that I’m ready to go,” says the pilot, who uses the mind-flying technique of moving his hands in place of the raceplane’s wings to demonstrate his planned run through the track.
Hall’s next step only reinforces his reputation as one of the most disciplined pilots in the sport: while the team continue their tasks, he goes to a cot in a secluded section of the hangar and lies down – for precisely 18 minutes. “It’s a little bit of self-meditation, and just really bringing my heart rate down,” he shares.
As the clock clicks down to takeoff, Hall sits at his computer for five minutes to review his objectives. Then he puts on his race suit, weighs himself (to confirm that his combined weight with the aircraft will meet the required minimum) and moves out to start the raceplane.
As soon as Hall taxis back from the flying session, he debriefs his team on the status of the aircraft, including fuel level and any issues. Then they discuss what happened in the racetrack. “We will go through what I thought occurred, and they’ll give feedback about what they saw,” he says.
To save time as evening falls, they often grab dinner at the Race Airport before rushing to their hotel. By 8:30pm Hall is in a session with Red Bull Air Race physiotherapist Daniel Rose, who works on the ‘little kinks’ that Hall, like many high-G pilots, gets in his back and neck.
“I’m back up to my room for 10 o’clock to calm my brain down,” Hall relates, “and then it’s off to sleep and back up first thing the next morning to start all over again.”