It’s pretty obvious that flying in the Red Bull Air Race (RBAR) might not be quite as safe as your typical office job. Pushing man & machine to theoretical limits over open water racetracks in front of millions of spectators is clearly not a job for a pessimist.
That being said, the mark of any true professional is how they prepare for, and act in an emergency situation. Simply hoping that an emergency never happens or just giving the “it won’t happen to me” attitude will just not work.
Believe it or not, all of the RBAR pilots and the RBAR organization as a whole, is more committed to safety than any other group of professionals that I have ever been involved with. In this group, there are no “hot shots” or risk takers. Perhaps that’s because all of the pilots are pretty comfortable in their own skin and the organizers know that “preventative maintenance” so to speak, is the key to minimizing risk.
One of the things that the RBAR organizers did to further enhance the safety and survivability of the pilot and the sport was to put all of the pilots through an underwater survival course. There is a company right here in Perth that conducts this specialized training for offshore oil companies on a daily basis.
So last Monday, all fifteen pilots donned a pair of overalls and a hard helmet and jumped into a special training pool, which had a fuselage mock up hanging from the rafters. The mock up had four seats with accompanying 4-point harnesses to simulate the system in our race planes.
The training consisted of learning to breathe on an oxygen bottle while trapped inside our simulated aircraft (each of our planes has a portable bottle as part of the RBAR rules). We also had to learn how to escape through the window of our submerged and inverted fuselage while it was sinking to the bottom of the pool.
The training was incredibly valuable as it gave us all a peek into what might happen if one of us had to ditch into the Danube or one of the many other water tracks we race over. Needless to say, a few consecutive miracles would have to happen to survive something like that, but knowing how to cope inside the fuselage while awaiting for the RBAR emergency divers to come after us gives, us a little more peace of mind.
Going fast is all about confidence, so worrying about the terrain you’re flying over should certainly not be in your thought pattern. However, any professional should be thinking about and prepared for the “what ifs”.