Matt Hall is Australia's first Red Bull Air Race pilot. A decorated Top Gun in the Air Force, Matt has flown combat missions all over the world including Iraq. In the second part of our interview, I ask Matt about his training, what he'll be flying and much more. Click here for Part I
What were some of the exercises performed to get you prepared for the type of flying required in the Red Bull Air Race?
Basically I’ve got myself a personal trainer who is an ex-air force physical training instructor who has worked with a lot of Olympic athletes previously. He has me on a lot of specific training programs that’s all about trying to increase my muscle strength and my physical endurance but at the same time not put weight on so no bulking up of muscles because obviously weight is an important thing in the racing as is strength as you ought to move the plane around, as is endurance because after a week of this, you’re not buggered up! We have integral training like sprint walks, etc. for endurance and recovery; low weight and high repetition things… a fairly structured program… and for Christmas and New Year, I went for a run on Christmas Day to keep with my routine and work as hard physically in order to get my body in shape for racing.
Now, in quali camp, what was your favourite air gate? Any reason why?
Oh, favourite air gate! I would have to say the chicane. I really enjoyed it. Reason being is that the straight and level gates or the quadro, you line them up and once they’re lined up, it’s a matter of waiting until you can do your next bit. And that bit is half a second or less but you just set it there and have a pause with nothing else to do. With the chicane, it’s a dynamic set of gates – three gates in a row – and there’s so much you can do (that’s) good and so much you can do (that’s) bad by hitting a gate, getting out of sequence or going too high and they presented the biggest potential for making the biggest improvement on. With the other gates, you can adjust the angles but with the chicane, it’s a matter of centimetres that you can clear it and I’ve found that to be dynamic and changing one.
I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but have you hit an air gate yet?
No I haven’t. I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t happen in my first training session in Abu Dhabi (The traditional season-opener of the Red Bull Air Race) because I need to hit one so I know what it’s like and I need to know how far I can push it in terms of what angles I can take so I know what lines to take. Until I hit one, I’m wasting time because I’m being too conservative. Sometime during the training session in Abu Dhabi – hopefully not the race – I will hit at least one gate as I start pushing it harder and harder. Hopefully during the races themselves, I hope not to hit any gates for obvious reasons!
Now that your race status is active, is there any other type of flight or ground training that you do in order to get prepared for the first race of the season?
Yes as far as flight training is concerned. I’ve got a new race plane and I have to go and make sure that it fits like a glove. That plane currently lives in North Carolina in the US until it gets shipped off to the first race in a shipping container. I’m going to be in North America for the next two months doing a lot of training in that plane. Initially that training will be stock standard aerobatic training just so I can become familiar with that aircraft so I can fly precisely to fly rolls, ballpoint rolls, snap rolls just so that I know the plane and I know it doesn’t have any tricks up its sleeve so it doesn’t come to bite me when I go to low level. When I go to low level, just practicing flying a simulated course but with no pylons or anything like that. I will only be over a flat piece of ground somewhere flying low, fast and pulling g. I will be practicing chicane movement… quadro movements, etc. Even after doing that, I will be learning a great deal about the aircraft because it is new.
The Duo Gate made its first ever appearance in the Perth race and you were present to see it. What do you think about it and have you made a decision as to how to make it through that?
I don’t know how that will continue. In reality, it is not too much like the way the quadro is flown anyway. If that gate isn’t there, you are still training for it because it has the same motion of rolling knife-edge one way, doing a 270 degree turn and then rolling knife-edge the other way. Really, the only difference is going to be will be the positioning of that second knife-edge to the original position of where you started. For training purposes, it’s not going to be a matter of how I do it but it’s going to be how I see the first track and how I will fly it.
What do you think of your competition – both the rookies and the 12 other experienced pilots?
I have a lot of respect for them all. The guys that have been racing up until now have proven that they can do it and there haven’t been any major errors in the sport so they’re doing a great job and I hope I can be looked at in a similar way. As for the other rookies, they’ve become my best mates over the last 12 months and I’m really excited that they’re with me because I’m not the only rookie and I can deflect some heat to those guys (chuckles)! Overall, I’m excited to be one of the pilots that is in the series and I can’t fault any of them in any way because they’re all a bunch of great guys. As I said before, what’s a natural evolution for me is the camaraderie in the team and the squadron where you’re all great friends and when it comes to training, you’re all competing… Socially, you’re all great friends
Of the current field of pilots in the Red Bull Air Race, which one would you like to have as your mentor and why?
Which one as my mentor? To tell you the truth, I’ve been using a lot of them as my mentor. I’ve talked to Hannes (Arch) a lot about his rise from being a rookie to world champion and how he developed his mental state, how he developed his team. I’ve talked to Nigel Lamb and Alex (Alejandro) Maclean about their aircraft because they’re both flying MXS and it will be something I will fly and they have been advising me how to do that. Michael Goulian has been fantastic and I’ve known him for a number of years and he’s been good on the lasting side of things and he’s been answering a lot of questions as to how to get my paperwork in line. Paul Bonhomme…helps in a peculiar way but he also throws a lot of sarcasm in there which is a good bit of British humour that we Australians understand quite well. As for specific mentor, I can’t really answer that. I see it as taking information from many of the guys.
Stay tuned for talk about Team Hall, the Final Five and the Fans ask in Part III!