Interview of aerobatic pilot Mélanie Astles, who made Red Bull Air Race history

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote « Make your life a dream, and a dream a reality ». Mélanie Astles, five time winner of the French Aerobatics Championships, has been living in a dream for a year with her participation to the Red Bull Air Race. Which is basically the World Flight Racing Championship during which participants are timed on slaloms between inflatable poles 20 metres above the ground. Pilots reach speeds of 400 km/hr and are expected to include loops and roll-overs in their course. On Tuesday 12th, January, 2016, the35 year old pilot from Grenoble had already made history by being the first woman to enter the Air Race. But on October 15th, 2017, Mélanie actually broke history by winning the prestigious stage of Indianapolis (USA). Again, she’s the first woman to achieve this goal. Yet, she was the one who dropped school at 18 to go flying instead and get her diploma from the French Civil Flight National School (ENAC) from which she got out first of her class. She’s now pursuing a career as an airline pilot for Air France. It was the perfect occasion for the Adrenaline Hunter Mag’ to get to know this young pilot who’s always been passionate about planes…

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– Mélanie, what is your state of mind today, one month after winning the Red Bull Air Race, Challenger Class, in Indianapolis?

It already seems so far away now that I’m fully focused on my training at Air France, another dream come true. But obviously it’s a milestone in my life. It’s historical and I could never forget it. Even if I couldn’t step on the podium at the end of the Championship [she finished 5th out of 9 in the  ranking 2017], I still find my first place in Indy quite magical. I knew I had the skills to make it, to fly fast. And let’s say that Indy really fits my type of flying.

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– In all the congratulations you received, which were the most important to you?

You know, I was really moved by a lot of people like my sponsors and fans who’ve been following me since the beginning. All messages after the race were really nice. I read all the comments and messages on various media and I try to answer them when I get a chance. In all thatn the words that really moved me were the ones from my family and friends who stood by me all these years.

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– You’ve made the Air Race history become legend thanks to this success… What’s the most satisfying in all this?

The fact that I reached the objective I had set myself for this race. I wanted to offer that to my sponsors and fans. Of course, it’s a great honor to be the first woman who ever won a race on this mythical circuit. Kissing the yard (a custom of Indianapolis winners) was a real thrill. I’m still wondering if it was for real. On this runway that saw so many flying heros, you feel very humble. Those are unforgettable memories.

Melanie Astles vainqueur à Indianapolis, Red Bull Air Race (Crédit Red Bull Content Pool)
Melanie Astles, winner in Indianapolis, Red Bull Air Race (Rights to Red Bull Content Pool)

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– What conclusions can you draw from this Air Race year?

It’s my second year as a pilot in the Red Bull Air Race and I really improved. I have a small team that was set up through the year and we work well together. I’m more available to focus on piloting and racing. Results are there in the end. So I’d say the conclusion is very positive and my win in Indy is an excellent omen for next season.

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 – What would be your favourite moments of the 2017 Red Bull Air Race?

There are many of them but podiums are always incredible moments. I had 3 this year: Abu Dhabi, Porto and Indianapolis. But there are also some memorable runs like the one in Lausitzring and my fabulous run during the free trainings for example. This all gives a huge sensation of satisfaction, especially when I got congratulations from people I deeply respect.

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– If you had to explain the concept of this world championship to greehorns, what would you say?

It looks a bit like the Super G in skiing. There’s a runway/slope and you need to be as fast as possible, only on 2 laps. There’s not much time to train on the course and it must work right away. Your enemy is the chrono, you face it alone, focus and danger are at a maximum. You have no other choice than to be 100% right away.

Melanie Astles in Indianapolis, Red Bull Air Race (Rights to Red Bull Content Pool)

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– What are the sensations when you fly at 400Km/h, and you get a dozen G-force in your aerobatics plane?

It’s exciting and mentally exhausting at the same time. You weigh 10 times your weight and you need high level physical and mental training to handle G-force and stay conscious, even more when you need to focus on lining up figures and tricks.

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– Where does your pilot vocation comes from? You said to Le Monde that your place had always been “up there in the sky, flying like a bird…”

It came to me in my early years. My father took me to an air meeting when I was 7 and my life changed. I understood on that very day that I could only be happy in the sky. I dreamed of flying. I couldn’t think of anything else at the time but I could never have imagined I’d be where I am today.

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– How did you settle for aerobatics?

In 2006 I had access to a training course for young pilots organised by the Federation. I instantly loved aerobatics and I entered my very first competition in 2007. Since I dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot it obviously was a dream for me to be able to roll over and do loops in the sky freely! My passion for aerobatics never left me in 10 years now, if anything it grew stronger.

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– What are the qualities required to be an aerobatic pilot?

Appart from the physical training to be able to endure G force, you need to be able to focus and be disciplined.I think the best aerobatic pilots have an innate capacity to visualise and locate themselves in 3 dimensions, but you can’t know that beforehand so… A message to anyone curious: just try it!

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– You said to VICE SPORTS : “I tend to be very anxious in he ground but once the cockpit is closed and the engine is starting, I’m just like a child with her toy: ready to play…” Did you enjoy yourself beyond measure during this year’s Air Race?

I enjoy myself everytime I’m in the cockpit of a plane. The outside world just disappears and it’s only me and the sky. Still, it’s true that Air Races are peculiar and much more intense in terms of sensations. It’s always a huge satisfaction to find the racing atmosphere, other pilots, meet public figures and above all the public again.

Melanie Astles Red Bull Air Race

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– If you wanted to convince more women to try aerobatics, what would you say?

Aerobatics, or just flying, everything is possible when you really want it. I hope my calling, everything I’ve done so far, shows that anyone can succeed and that there’s also room for women in this sport. I’m not the only woman to fly in the highest aerobatics levels but I hope what I do during Air Race will encourage young women to try their luck. You just need to believe…

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– What are your next objectives now?

Progress even more and be more regularly on Red Bull podiums next season. Which is already a challenge in itself given the high level of the competition. Then, reaching the Masters [queen’s category]. There’s also the World Aerobatics Championships in France in 2019. But for now, I need to finish my Airbus qualification in Air France and make my childhood dream come true by becoming an airline pilot!

Mélanie Astles

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