Texas-native Kirby Chambliss began flying airplanes before most of us drive — at the age of 13. By 24, he was the youngest commercial pilot at Southwest Airlines. By 28, he was a captain and already polishing his aerobatic skills (that’s where the plane goes upside down).
“I got bored of straight-level flying,” he says.
Now, just shy of 60, Chambliss holds two Red Bull Air Race World Titles and eight race victories, having participated in 12 of the official events. This year he’s eyeing the prize at the 75th annual Championship on October 14-15 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You’ll recognize him as the guy pushing 230 mph, upside down, grinning like a little kid ear-to-ear.
In fact, Chambliss helped develop some of the innovations added to the Red Bull Air Race after being enlisted by the brand for his flying genius. “I get paid to do stupid things in airplanes,” Chambliss tells The Manual, laughing. “But everything I do is so calculated. I’ve done it 1,000 times.”
And that figure’s no joke. In fact, it’s a bit of an understatement. In Chambliss’ career flying commercial planes, racing jets, and doing aerobatic stunts, he’s spent roughly 27,000 hours in an airplane, which translates to about four years.
“I always knew I wanted to be a pilot. And my advice to young men is that it’s easier to do something if you know what you want to do,” Chambliss says. “I had photos when I was two years old dragging toy planes around.”
Chambliss also says you have to be willing to make sacrifices. “You can be anybody you want to be, but it’s not going to be easy. And you should go after it with all you have. I always say second place is the first loser. I’ve made mistakes that cost me first place. I fly to win.”
Apart from his participation in the Red Bull Air Race, Chambliss’ aerial swagger has not gone unnoticed by the rest of the world. He’s been commissioned by governments and cities to perform amazing feats through urban and country landscapes, including cartwheeling a plane through a building in Mexico that has a big architectural hole through it. Or flying through a cave in China. Or through downtown Dallas for a city-sponsored event that accidentally provoked 831 911-calls.
“I was flying under a bridge. It was all approved. I was being chased by helicopters and it was caught on camera for a segment called ‘Catching Kirby.’”
“This guys’s crazy!” one of the officers in the video says. And yeah, Chambliss does admit to being a bit of an adrenaline junkie, having taken up skydiving in his spare time when he’s not spinning in the sky on his backyard runway in Arizona. Champliss got into skydiving after his wife took him (she’s also a pilot).
“I kid to everyone that I started skydiving because there’s no better reason to jump out of a perfectly good engine unless your wife’s flying.” He also did motocross as a kid and has forever held on to a self-proclaimed “never-day-die spirit.”
So what scares Chambliss? (He never gets nauseous doing 360-degree rolls in the air.)
“Snakes,” he says.
So it’s a good thing rattlesnakes don’t have wings.