FHM braves the skies with the Red Bull Air Race’s finest and finds out what it means to be a man...
It’s not so much the flying as the falling that gets you. Strapped in the front seat of a modified racing plane, piloted by Red Bull Air Race Challenger Class pilot Christian Bolton, existence is suddenly limited to chest-tightening G force and stomach-lifting free fall. And it’s brilliant.
With the Croatian town of Rovinj stretching out beneath you, the cockpit rattling and static buzzing in your headset, it’s not hard to picture that you’re the pilot, that this is your plane, and you’re free to soar and dip through the skies as you see fit. Maybe, just maybe, you can keep going towards that white line on the horizon and never have to return to your office again.
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Sadly, the flight ends. The plane lands and you climb out, shaken but happy. It's over for you and you've survived. Some men, however, get to do this as a career. Men like Great Britain’s Nigel Lamb and Australia’s Matt Hall. Here's how to turn the dream into a lifestyle...
Nigel: "My father joined the RAF in 1939: he was a fighter pilot throughout the war then went to Africa to farm in 1948. I followed, training with the airforce before joining an aerobatics team in 1981. I haven’t had a proper job since."
Matt: "My father’s also a pilot, so I just liked flying from day one. I was a fighter pilot in the Australian Air Force for 18 years, doing aerobatics on weekends."
Nigel: "I’m mostly self-taught from reading books, practising and practising a bit more. It’s like anything in life. You look at it from the outside and it looks pretty complicated but, once you start doing it, you develop the skills and they build up to the point where it’s completely instinctive."
Matt: "I was self-taught until I got to world championship level. Until then I’d been reading books and using my military training, then I started getting formal coaching from a previous world champion."
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Matt: "I’ve had a number of dangerous moments in the military. Anything from getting shot at, catching fire and crashing. We do a lot of work to make sure we come out of the planes OK. We have protective gear on and scuba divers waiting out on the course. We’re working right at the edge, so accidents can happen."
Nigel: "I had a few close shaves in the military, too. I had an engine failure in a jet and crash-landed. I was lucky to survive that. I didn’t even have an ejection seat. I had a rotor failure in a helicopter. But in the Air Race I’ve never frightened myself once on the track."
Nigel: "In terms of training, core strength is essential for dealing with high G-force. Your blood sugar level has to be good. Your organs weigh so much more up there, so it’s difficult to get the blood pumping round. It’s like when you get out of the bath too quickly and get dizzy."
Matt: "I walk for an hour every morning then I do another one hour session a day with weights or Pilates. I don’t want to bulk up but you have to get good core strength to protect your back and neck."
Matt: "The sports psychology side of it is the hardest part. Everyone here’s able to win a race. But it’s how you can do it on the day."
Nigel: "You don’t need to join the military to become a stunt pilot. It’s just a good way to get started. Whatever you do, it will take a long time to get into it, building your way up from beginner’s competitions. Eventually, it feels like strapping wings on your back and giving your body to the track. You’re not flying a machine, you’re flying your body through the track."
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