Pete McLeod, the 24-year old Canadian aerobatics pilot who received his FAI super-licence to fly in the Red Bull Air Race came to Toronto and sat down with me for a one-on-one interview about the Red Bull Air Race.
As well, Pete does a Final Five session with me, which is basically five questions that are strictly about himself. Finally, he answers fan mail from all over the world that was contributed through e-mail, Facebook and YouTube. So, without further ado, here's Pete for all of you.
On September 18th, The Windsor Star reported that Windsor may get top-billing over Detroit for next year’s Red Bull Air Race. If you were to get a race seat, would you have anything special planned for the first ever Canadian stop?
I don’t have any knowledge myself for the 2009 schedule. Canada has a rich aviation history and next year will be the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight in Canada. Any year would be great to have a stop in Canada, but it would be better if there was a Canadian as well! It would be special for Canada to have a stop and this past year, we got a taste of it with the Detroit race being so close. Windsor jumped on board and supported the race and it created a buzz in Southern Ontario. It would be good for Canada to have a race. It would be special for me, but I don’t know if I could do anything for it. Hopefully, I can be present!
Which pilot on the current air racing circuit would you like to have most as a mentor?
There’s a lot to learn from any of the teams in the top five or six. I’m friends with Hannes (Arch) outside of the air race and he’s a nice guy and runs a smooth team and has a good airplane. Over the last couple of years, the goal of the air race is something to build up to, it’s not something that you can wake up today and say that you want to be a part of. Any of the guys would be a good mentor.
What’s a greater thrill: going through the Breitling gates at over 350 KPH at such a low altitude or getting the opportunity to fly in some of the most interesting places in the world?
Ooh! I think it’s a combination of both. When I'm in the track, I can imagine that the location disappears. Outside of the track, it’s great to see different spots, experience different cultures… In the last few months, I’ve had the amazing opportunity of flying in Europe and experiencing the culture. They’re equally spectacular but in different ways.
How were your results in Europe?
I finished 12th out of the international field. Because I’m Canadian, I’m considered an independent entry. If I had placed 3rd or even 1st (Podium positions), I wouldn’t be considered a European champion. It’s a way to differentiate. I was pretty happy with my results considering that it was my first time in the international scene and it was a judged sport.
In your opinion, when watching a Red Bull Air Race, what do you think it takes to win: pilot’s skill or pilot’s ability, the plane’s speed or the plane’s agility?
That’s a tough one! The plane has to be fast. When I think of speed, I think of agility and that is what speed is! It’s about how fast it can get through the track. You see different tracks that are technical like Detroit, or Porto which is a drag race. Everybody needs three things: they need to be a really good pilot, have a fast plane and fly well that day. If someone flies as well as you, but with a faster plane, he’ll be faster than you.
You’re a University of Western Ontario graduate; during the time that you were in school, did you do any flying or was it all about being in the books?
That’s (University) when I really got into the competition and aerobatics. I didn’t start airshow flying until I graduated. I did a bit of flying in September and October. I would start the season again in April after school’s done. During the school year, the airplane was in the hangar and during the summer, the engine was pretty much hot.
Do you have any advice to young pilots who have aspirations to fly in the Red Bull Air Race?
It’s not easy but if someone really wants it, and is truly passionate to give some things up in their lives, it’s something to pursue. I don’t know how many times that I’ve been practicing and my buddies are on the golf course! If you have the motivation, you can accomplish it. Get good training and stay at it. Keep working on it. But I’m still waiting for the call.
The Final Five
Five places I’d like to visit in the world would be:
Japan, Australia, Russia would be cool and that’s three. I just like to go out. Everywhere I’ve been, I like to check out what is there.
What songs do you have on your iPod?
I like music but I’m not a huge music fan. I like to listen to a mix of everything. I just don’t have a whole lot of country! I don't mind country, I just don't have a lot of it. I’m not a huge iTunes freak.
Apart from air racing and aero sports, is there any sport you like to follow? What about playing?
I don’t follow the whole season, but I like tennis. I like to watch the Opens. I was a big hockey player growing up, so I follow that, but I can't really give the stats on a player. I follow a lot of sports and I’m starting to gain a little bit of interest in Formula 1. It is elite auto racing with some potential connections to the air race. When it comes to playing, I have to be careful of not getting an injury… I try to stick to things that minimize the risk.
Do you have any hobbies?
Umm… I like to hunt and fish! I also like to play around with the financial markets, but lately with flying around, I’ve been busy.
Do you have a hidden talent that Red Bull Air Race fans don’t know about?
Probably, since not a lot is known about me… I can cook pretty good!
The Fans Ask
Through Facebook, YouTube, and e-mail, fans sent in their questions they had to ask Pete about the Red Bull Air Race, his career as an aerobatics pilot and other things.
What plane are you going to fly with if you qualify for the 2009 season? Do you have to buy an airplane of your own?
- Andre Millet, Austria (Facebook)
Yes, you have to buy your own airplane. I won’t be racing the Giles if my race status is active for 2009. It’ll be an Edge 540 or an MXS.
What type of aerobatic planes do you currently fly? What types of planes have you flown before
- Ciaran Walker, Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom (E-mail)
I fly a Giles for aerobatics and flew an Extra in Europe. I have flown a Pitts before. Most of my float time is on a 180 but I haven’t flown a lot of types of airplanes. I’ve flown the basic types but I’ve spent time on only a handful of types.
How do you improve your g-force tolerance?
- skydivingpipo, Bern, Switzerland (YouTube)
For me, the best thing is to fly to keep it up. When I’m not flying, it’s overall fitness. Spending four or five days in the gym and doing a lot of situps. There is some weight training, running bores me and bicycles go against my interest in engines! It’s not about bulking up but being lean and strong to get the extra edge. Keeping a strong core is key.
What do you need to do and prove to become a Red Bull Air Race pilot after getting your commercial license? How many hours of aerobatic experience did you need to do this?
- Akshay Samel, Mumbai, India and many others (Facebook, e-mail and YouTube)
The hours are going to be independent. You would need about a couple of hundred hours of just surface-level airshows to get used to flying at low altitudes. It’s really a combination of experience and time. After that, you have to get certain rankings in national competitions. If you have everything in place, those other things fall into place. You have to learn to compete in order to transfer yourself to a competitive environment.
Have you spent any time in Oshkosh, Wisconsin at the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) Fly-In and seen any pilots that have given you inspiration for your flying?
- Allen, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA (YouTube)
I’ve been to Oshkosh, but I haven’t flown there. I’ve been there two years ago for some sponsor stuff. I’m at airshows all summer long and it’s the centre of general aviation for the US and Canada. I think I’ve been to one airshow ever before flying my first airshow. I know about pilots like Jim LeRoy, Kirby (Chambliss), Sean Tucker and Mike Goulian. When I paid attention to aerobatics, these were the big ones at the time and they still are. I also paid attention to the Russians who are more into the competitions than freestyle. All these guys are great pilots and showmen and I try to learn from them.
If you were asked 5 years ago as to what you’d be doing, did you think that the “Red Bull Air Race” would have been your answer? If not, then what would it have been?
- Hien Nguyen, Toronto, Canada (E-mail)
Pretty close. I was doing aerobatics before the air race started and it dominated my life. It included many things that I liked about it like the sport, the competitive side, the aerobatic side, and the speed side. It was a matter from then to devise a plan that would have me go from where I was to the air race. It was a matter of getting myself out there. Nobody is going to call you no matter how experienced you are and say “welcome to the air race.”
In an ideal world, where you could select anyone from any time within the last 100 years, who would you choose to create your perfect dream team?
- Jasmine Hamade, Toronto, Canada (E-mail)
Dream team? I don’t know how to answer that. I know what I want in a team. After everyone fits well together, I would want someone whose done great things in design and racing. Someone who is savvy with media, sponsors and other things would be a good coordinator... I’m not a history buff and I don’t think I can name anyone off the top!
Overall, the interview with Pete went very well. He has sacrificed a lot to get to this point, and now, it's up to the people over at the Red Bull Air Race to determine if he's good enough to fly with them.
Should Pete get a race seat, he will be the youngest ever pilot to race in this series and also be the first Canadian to make it to this point. Quite a feat.
When talking with him, he did not seem to have the cockiness that a young person in such a high position would have; he was level-headed, realistic and calculating. Provided he makes it as an Air Race pilot, Pete has the potential for a lot, but don't expect it too quickly because unlike Formula 1 and a certain British driver, it's the entire team that needs to learn.
Special thanks goes to Hart House at the University of Toronto for allowing this interview to go through, Jasimin Curtin for helping with the videotaping, Jasmine Hamade for editing the questions, all the fans for sending in their questions, Red Bull for putting the writer in contact and to Pete McLeod himself for making the trip to Toronto.
If you would like to ask a personality in the Red Bull Air Race a question in the future, check the YouTube channel for Red Bull Air Race, ask on Facebook or e-mail at email@example.com when the announcement is made.