An Hour With Pete McLeod: Part I: About Himself and The Qualification Camp

Sheiban ShakeriSenior Analyst IOctober 25, 2008

After a lot of collaboration and working our schedules together, Pete McLeod, the 24-year old Canadian aerobatics pilot who received the FAI "super-license" to fly in the high speeds and low altitudes that make the Red Bull Air Race came for a media interview with the Bleachers.

Pete is the youngest pilot to receive the FAI license, with the average age of the license holders being around 46.

As a day job, Pete McLeod is an aerobatics pilot who does airshows all over the world and has an impressive record including a 12th place internationally in the European championships this past summer. He had to be seen as an independent team because he is from outside of Europe.

We met at the University of Toronto, my alma mater, and we talked about many issues under the sun, including questions from fans that were curious about Pete and the Red Bull Air Race.

Tell us a bit about yourself

Thanks for having me, I'm 24 years old from Canada, a professional aerobatics pilot and hopefully a professional race pilot. I grew up around flying and it's not only a lifestyle, but a passion, a job and a sport and it all kind of comes together.

How has your family reacted to you receiving the super-license?

They're really proud of me. Family support has been crucial in getting me there in terms of the amount of time, investment in the sport, being away a lot and in different places. It's really valuable to have family support for not just being where I am but also when I'm starting.

How has Red Lake, Ontario (Pete's hometown) reacted to the news?

Red Lake is a great place to grow up. It's really remote. There's a lot of people who I met when I went to school, and they think they're from small towns but Red Lake is pretty small. The nearest McDonald's is two and a half hours away so it's isolated small! Aviation continues to play a large role in the community by servicing the Northern communities as well as the tourism business. I've spent a lot of hours in the skies over Red Lake in an aerobatic plane practicing and making a lot of noise and for the most part! The community came on board in a very positive way to allow me to do such a thing and the support from everybody has been great over the last number of years in terms of the competition...

How have your sponsors reacted to this?

Sponsorship relationship is usually more than just pure marketing or business. You form a relationship with them and they like to see you succeed because they like to feel like they've been a part of that not just for the marketing side of things but also because you build a friendship with them and they really like to see you succeed because it’s such a team effort in motorsports.

You went to the Qualification Camp in Casarrubios, Spain; can you talk us through the training camp process?

This is not the first step to becoming a race pilot. This is a big one along the way. Everybody that shows up has a huge amount of aerobatic experience and flight experience and have been pre-selected with the idea that after a week of step-down training in the actual air gates, track and some briefings, you are considered race ready. You show up and there’s a group of high end aviators. Now, most people haven’t flown through an air gate… and I haven’t flown through objects because in aviation, you're looking to avoid objects! You get introduced to the level gates as a single gate at each point and then you’re introduced to the track. It’s a low pressure environment in terms of timing, with the main objective is to learn as much as you can in terms of safety because unlike a lot of other motorsports, you don’t get a second chance. It’s an environment that’s high pressure in terms of the fact that when you’re in the track, you’re in the track, the gates aren't twice as wide or high or anything like that. Everything is an actual track. The introduction is staged but also things happen pretty rapidly and it’s a lot of fun, if you’re comfortable in low level flying.

What was your favourite air gate?

I really liked the chicane and I liked the culmination of the gates that link up with the half-Cuban (Eight). Not the actual half-Cuban itself but the thing that surprised me was the different angles you can take, even at the level gates...

For Part II, click here. Pete talks about his career thus far as an aerobatics pilot, his early ambitions, technical issues and more!

Part III has Pete talking about himself more, the Final Five and letting the fans ask.