Fitness in the cockpit

To be the best at anything you need to train, you need to know where weaknesses can occur and where you need to be tough and fit. In order to be competitive, the pilots of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship have to be strong mentally and physically. And the biggest obstacle that they have to overcome is G-force.

"It's the enemy in the aircraft," states American pilot Mike Goulian. "It keeps you from being comfortable. It tries to pull you down into your seat, it tries to pull your hand off the throttle and you have to constantly fight against it," he explains.

According to Goulian there are only two things a pilot can really do to combat the effects of G-force. "Weightlifting, which obviously makes you stronger, and building up your tolerance by flying," he says.

Unlike other sports training there is nothing you can do to build up a tolerance apart from fly (unless you happen to be NASA or own a G-force simulator). "... Which is fine when you're doing it a lot," adds Goulian. "But like any form of exercise, you lose your tolerances if you don't train."

When preparing to race, Goulian tries to build up his G-fitness almost straight away. "I pull lots of G and wait until I start to feel my body shut down and my vision starts to close in. As soon as I feel that, I pull out of the turn. It tenses all the muscles in the back of my neck and it gives me an extra G of strength."

Matt Hall has a similar approach, which is something he learned in his military days. "It's called a G-warm," says Hall. "I hold a 5G-turn without tensing any of my body – when I start to grey out, I stop. Your blood pressure drops and when your body realises what's happening your heart rate increases and tries to get the pressure back up. For at least the next hour your body is highly tuned to the G-forces. It's your body using its natural mechanics to help you," he explains.

The Australian pilot also has a training regime to help him cope with the G. "Good core strength is important so lots of Pilates, but people don't realise that you need strong thigh and calf muscles to stop the blood rushing from your head into your feet," he says.

In some of the racetracks in the Red Bull Air Race the pilots have to cope with as many as three high-G turns, and each turn can last about three seconds. Hall describes how the pilots cope with the turn: "Before the pilot enters the turn, you'll see them take in a huge breath and hold it. They'll also tense their lower body and push their diaphragm down to keep the blood where it is."

Michael Goulian has the same technique. "Turning the turn, I'll also breathe out quickly and back in sharply whilst tensing. It keeps the blood flowing and makes sure I'm fit enough to compete," he concludes.

See the pilots sustain incredible speeds and high-G at the second stop of the 2016 Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Spielberg, Austria on 23-24 April. Tickets on sale now

Related articles

Jets vs raceplanes Part II

Matt Hall and Ben Murphy explain the differences between military aircraft and the raceplane
Read full article
Related Pilots
Master Class Master Class


 United States USA
Current ranking Ranking
Race wins this year Race wins
Seasons completed Seasons
Last year ranking Last yr. ranking
Master Class Master Class


 Australia AUS
Current ranking Ranking
Race wins this year Race wins
Seasons completed Seasons
Last year ranking Last yr. ranking