Flight Unseen: Matt Hall bends the aviation rules
In most forms of aviation, clipping objects or even coming close to other objects, is frowned upon. Matt Hall and other Red Bull Air Race pilots like to bend the rules. Coasting at speeds of over 200 miles per hour, the objective of their sport is to race in, out, and around various obstacles at low altitudes within close proximity to hundreds of thousands of people. In short, their job is to break virtually every rule of aviation you’ve ever known.
The objective of Air Racing is inherently intriguing, maneuver an aerobatic plane through an obstacle course, usually in an urban population center, as quickly as possible. While this may seem dangerous and complex, which it is, the sport has never had a serious injury or death. This has been largely due to the expertise of its pilots.
Matt Hall, an Australian Royal Air Force veteran and professional Red Bull Air Racer, describes the slim margin for error in the sport he loves. “What we’re doing in air racing is all the things you’re told not to do with civilian aircrafts. We fly very low, we fly on the stall when we’re maneuvering, under bridges or just over trees by a matter of a foot or two. So we’ve taken out all that margin for error (that civilian aircrafts have). Which means that chances are, if something goes wrong, it’s going to go wrong very quickly. “
Hall had his own brush with “something going wrong”, in 2010 when he and his aircraft suffered a scary incident in Detroit, Michigan. “I had a stall when I was racing over the Detroit River, back in 2010, which rolled my plane back and I ended up losing the little height that I had in my recovery from that. I, ended up touching the surface of the river, which was bad, but I was able to fly the plane away,” said Hall.
Hall’s incident, in addition to several others, caused the sport to take a step back in 2011. While risk is part of the sport’s appeal, competitor safety has always been a priority of the Air Race tour.
“Incidents like mine became more and more common in the air race,” Hall said. “So today, we’re in era two of the Red Bull Air Race as the sport took a three year break from 2011-2013. The frequency was increasing (in 2010), and the management decided that we were hitting a bad trend. Over the course of the break, they enacted all sorts of rule changes and safety provisions. And since they restarted the Air Race in the first half of 2014, we’ve had no incidents that have a raised any concerns.”
Ever since 2014 when the safety of the sport was reevaluated, Hall and other Air Racers have been able to focus on the positive elements of their sport. “The flying in the sport is spectacular. They may say, ‘Fly under the bridge.’ And then another day, you may get to fly right over the parliament house in front of several hundred million viewers on television.”
While Hall thoroughly enjoys the travelling and constant change that comes with his sport, he reiterated that the constant change adds to the sport’s complexity. “Every track is definitely different. There’s fast tracks and then there’s slow tracks. But the actual locations also make a difference. Since the plane’s temperature varies, some places are extremely hot and others are extremely cold. Me being Australian, the hotter temperatures are definitely more desirable.”
To Hall, the guiding principle in his life and other Air Racers is straight forward. “Don’t listen to what people say you can’t do, listen to what you say you can do.”