Members of the Red Bull Air Force fly in formation over the island of Boracay, Philippines this past April. The team is the newest addition to the Chicago Air & Water Show.
Updated: August 15, 2012 5:19PM
Somewhere in the sky between Tucson and Phoenix, and far from the stares of curious onlookers, the flying team of the Red Bull Air Force has gathered countless times. Joining their undeniable talents with an unspoken trust they have found among one another, the team has spent over three years mastering a ballet of sorts, thousands of feet in the air. And for the first time, this “ballet’”will play out in front of the crowd gathered at the 54th Annual Chicago Air and Water Show on Aug 18-19.
“While they’re in their wing suits, I’ll loop and roll around them, and I also spin around them as they’re headed down,” anxiously explains Red Bull Air Force pilot Kirby Chambliss. “From there, while they’re finishing, I go up into what I call the perch and wait for them to finish. After that, I start my solo show. We’ve never done this routine in Chicago, so it should be exciting to see.”
One of the men sporting those “wing suits” will be his close friend of ten years Jon De Vore, a Red Bull Air Force base jumper who took his first parachute jump when he was just out of high school.
“Yes, trust is a key element when it comes to making sure everything goes as planned,” DeVore explains. “It takes a lot more than just skill when you are dropping from the sky at 140 mph. But what most people don’t get is that it doesn’t really feel like you are falling to the earth. The truth is that it feels like you are flying.”
While he sounds easygoing about the death defying task that lies in front of him, Chambliss admits that his tone changes a bit once he climbs on board his Edge 540.
“When I close the canopy and get in the plane, it’s show time,” says Chambliss, who became Southwest Airlines’ youngest commercial pilot at the age of 24. “Whether I’m flying a show or in a Red Bull Air Race or another competition, I always try to be exciting, aggressive, and engaging. ... The tail goes over the nose multiple times, flipping end over end . We’ve got a ton of other cool tricks, too. I won’t spoil it for you. But I will say this —if something can’t be done in this plane, then you can’t do it. With this plane, your imagination is your limitation. My goal going into a show is to leave the crowd amazed. If I can leave somewhere with people saying ‘Wow, I’ve never seen that before!,’ then I know at the end of the day I’ve done my job.”
Tricia Despres is a local free-lance writer.