Red Bull Air Race Pilots Go Down Under For Safety Training <


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Red Bull Air Race Pilots Go Down Under For Safety Training

By Daniel Baxter

April 18, 2010 – Red Bull Air Race pilots got the opportunity to train for emergency underwater escape scenarios ahead of the second race of the 2010 season in Australia that were run by the Emergency Response and Safety Training in Perth.

The training, for an emergency that has never before happened in a Red Bull Air Race, included underwater escape exercises to prepare pilots for a worst-case scenario – being trapped inside an aircraft following a water ditching.

“We really need training like this,” said Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic even if no one has even come close to ditching a plane in the water in the six-year history of the race.

“It’s one thing to talk about how to get out of a plane but it’s something completely different when you’re really in the water and upside down. It’s a brand new situation for most of us, to be under water and fastened to your seat belt. It’s very good training to stay calm and to think clearly.” 

American Michael Goulian agreed with Sonka that training for the worst-case is useful and training to deal with the initial feelings of panic is extremely valuable. 

“The scary part is you can’t see what’s going on, up is down and down is up,” he said. “We’re used to that in an airplane in the race but not when you’re breathing in a bunch of water. The hardest thing is that you really want to panic, that’s what’s happening. There’s water rushing in, your eyes are closed so you can’t really see, so you have to find your way, where’s my window, how do I get out of here?” 

Goulian, delighted to get the chance to practice things under pressure such as reaching for his oxygen bottle, said the most challenging part for him was his seat was upside down under water. He said it is comforting to know that at every Red Bull Air Race there are teams of divers trained and ready to quickly come to their rescue. 

“When the airplane is rolled upside down, that’s the hardest part. This is the best preparation we’re really going to ever get. The seatbelt combination is similar. It’s good that we get to use the oxygen bottles. But we know the Red Bull Air Race divers are there to help us as well. And that gives us a lot of confidence.” 


Pete McLeod of Canada said the underwater training was an interesting experience and he learned that the most important thing a pilot can do in such a situation is stay calm.

“In a real situation there’s a lot more going on obviously,” he said. “There’s a pretty big impact when you hit the water. I think it’s pretty useful. Just stay calm.” 

Australia’s Matt Hall, a former RAAF fighter pilot, has gone through similar training in his military career and said it is always useful to go through emergency scenarios to be prepared for any situation. 

“It’s good training to get exposed to this before a real emergency,” Hall said. “It gives you confidence. You know what to do. We’re used to being upside down. But definitely not used to water going into your nose.” 

Germany’s Matthias Dolderer said it was good practice using the oxygen bottle under water – pilots all have such bottles in their cockpits. 

“We had to get out our oxygen bottles and start using them,” he said. “It was the first time I tested that under real conditions. It worked out pretty well but I think in a real emergency it’ll be totally different. I think it’s important to test and prepare for an emergency. It’s crucial for us to do this.” 

The Red Bull Air Race operates under the strictest safety regulations and has strong safety procedures in place across every single aspect of the race. Alejandro Maclean of Spain agreed it was essential to practice for an emergency ditching even if it is highly unlikely that it will ever happen. 

“It’s quite disorienting when you’re upside down and you have to grab your oxygen bottle and start breathing and sort things out,” he said. “I reckon if we have a real accident in the water it’s going to be really though. And that’s one of the things you realise in training like this. We all think about the worst-case scenarios. You have to think about it, not because you’re a pessimist. You just have to think about your next moves all the time.”
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