Kirby Chambliss might have a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eye most of the time, but the affable American with the soft Southwestern U.S. twang in his voice is only truly happy when he’s in first place. The 2006 champion is without doubt one of the friendliest pilots in the Red Bull Air Race World Series and his openness to answering even unpleasant questions when he’s not winning has helped make him one of the favourites among journalists around the world - his colourful language and entertaining metaphors invariably make it worth the effort for anyone looking for a snappy quote. But Chambliss, who fell to fourth in 2007, will never be content with losing and wouldn’t even be satisfied with second place.
“My goal is to win the championship in 2008 – and that’s a realistic goal too,” said Chambliss, 48. “We were very disappointed about 2007. We made some changes to the airplane early in the season. We thought the changes would help us and it turned out they actually hurt us. We tried a different wing and it didn’t work. It’s almost impossible to make big changes during the season when the airplane is in Europe most of the time.”
With his aggressive yet smooth style of flying that has attracted admirers around the world, Chambliss went into the season as a top favourite to defend his title but he was plagued by misfortune with several narrow defeats in rounds before the final in the new knockout format and quickly fell off the pace. He also seemed to fall victim to the considerable improvements made by the pilots who, in previous seasons, were in the second tier but in 2007 were fearlessly gunning to knock out the likes of Chambliss, the 2006 champion. He nevertheless remained one of the most feared pilots in the field, with everyone aware that he was capable of winning the race on any given weekend.
“For the most part I was happy with my flying,” Chambliss said. “But like the saying goes, you can have a great jockey but if he’s on a slow horse he’s not going to win. I think most guys would be happy with our season. We were on the podium four times and finished fourth overall. But in 2006 we were on the podium in every race except one and were first in four out of eight races. So no, I wasn’t satisfied with 2007. This year I’m hopeful some modifications will give us the few 1/100ths of a second we need to win.”
Chambliss, who has been flying since age 13, became the youngest commercial pilot at his U.S. air carrier at 24. His boyish looks sometimes caused passengers, who thought the plane was being piloted by a teenager, to ask if he was old enough to have a driver’s license. By the time he made it to captain at age 28, he was already polishing his aerobatic skills – an interest acquired during aerobatic training for his job flying a business jet.
Chambliss, who has won five U.S. National Aerobatic championships, is clearly a man obsessed with flying. He is married to a fellow pilot and they live with their infant daughter on the “Flying Crown Ranch” between Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona with a hangar and runway in the backyard.
Red Bull Air Race World Series results
2003 World Aerobatic Championships – Silver and Bronze
2000 Men’s Freestyle World Champion
1997 International Aerobatic Champion
5 times US National Aerobatic Champion