Kirby Chambliss: Alive on Arrival
Aerobatic racer Kirby Chambliss on flying upside down, learning from near fatal mistakes, and why it’s nice to be able to talk about your crashes.
When I was 13 years old, I helped my dad build our first homemade airplane: There’s pictures of me dragging airplanes around from when I was two or three years old. I tell people all the time I consider myself so lucky because I’ve always known what I wanted to do. When you don’t know what you want to do, it’s hard to end up where you want to be.
My boss told me one day, if your jet ever turns upside down, we want you to turn it right side up without killing everyone onboard: That made sense to me, so we went up in an aerobatic aircraft and began training. Immediately after trying aerobatics out, I realized that this was the coolest thing ever. I couldn’t bring myself to fly straight and level anymore, and I knew my passion was aerobatics so I decided to pursue that full-time.
You live and you learn, or you die and you don’t: Every time I make a mistake, whether it’s in life or an aircraft, I try to learn from it. That’s especially important to me because I have friends that were never afforded that opportunity. It’s all about getting experience. That’s not to say someone with experience can’t accidentally kill themselves. But maybe they’d know if they made a mistake how to correct it really quick before something catastrophic happens.
I’ve had a couple of accidents: It always makes it nice when you go to talk to kids, and they ask if you’ve ever crashed. I always consider myself lucky when I’m able to reply that I’ve actually crashed twice. Usually you’re not afforded the opportunity to ever speak about your accidents.
Being married to me is like being married to a race car driver; it’s somewhat dangerous: My wife is a pilot, and she’s flown commercially for a number of years, but she didn’t start flying until after we’ve been together for many years. But that doesn’t make it any easier on her being married to me. We have friends, doing what I do, that die.
One of my best friends was killed about a year ago: I’ve known him forever. My daughter knows his kids, and they play together all the time. So I have a hard time when I close my eyes and can easily see my daughter in his daughter’s position. When we’re at the funeral and I can see my family and myself in his and his family’s position, it hits very close to home.
Away from aerobatics I race motocross and skydive: I don’t have too much time for motorcycles anymore, but I skydive pretty regularly. I have about 1,000 jumps, and I really enjoy that as a welcome escape.
Life’s a risk; you balance it as best you can: Everything you take in life is a calculated risk. For instance, if you’re hungry and there’s a McDonald’s across the street, you balance your hunger with the risk of crossing the street. You take your life experiences, and it helps you succeed when you take calculated risks. That’s how I always explain the risks that go into aerobatics.