From an early age, Kirby Chambliss’s passion of flying has never wavered. His father, an aviation fanatic and private pilot, was instrumental in fueling Chambliss’s passion as they spent much of their quality time together building a plane when Chambliss was just 13 years old. By age 24, Chambliss was Southwest Airlines’ youngest commercial pilot advancing to Captain by age 28. His success as a business jet pilot was fulfilling, but Chambliss wanted more setting his sights on aerobatic flying and air racing. Today, Chambliss boasts five U.S. National Aerobatic Championship titles and is a world-renowned two-time Red Bull Air Race World Champion. Chambliss’s 2017 race season has been remarkable with two back to back podium appearances in Budapest and Kazan. At time of publictionm there remained one race in the season, and Chambliss had visions of his third World Championship title. “It feels fantastic!” Chambliss exclaimed. “We are super excited about it, as you can imagine!”
Chambliss, his wife Kellie (who is also a pilot) and daughter Karly reside in the Arizona desert on property Chambliss purchased over fifteen years ago, now known as the Flying Crown Ranch. Attached to the house is an aircraft hangar and his front yard is the runway. A family man at heart, it was always his dream to have the flexibility to ‘work from home.’ He told Jet Linx in 2015, “It helps with the family thing. We live outside a small town called Casa Grande and it’s really nice. I wouldn’t say you know everybody, but you know a lot of people. We try to help out with what we can, and I love it here.” Kellie can already sense 12-year-old daughter Karly following in her parent’s footsteps, pursuing hours in the air. “I’m sure Karly will fly, I’m just not sure in what capacity,” Kellie remarked.
The 2015 race season started with a crushing blow when Chambliss was hit by the canopy while in the holding area in Abu Dhabi. He suffered minor injuries to his face and nose but was able to safely return to ground. Upon return he recounted his initial thoughts. “I just thought, ‘I won’t be able to race.’ I was super disappointed.” Chambliss remained optimistic with glimpses of hope throughout the season but closed out the year in 11th place out of 14. His never say die attitude sent him into 2016 hungry for that 3rd World Title. Although an impressive season, Chambliss finished in 8th place out of 15.
Team Chambliss saw a resurgence in 2017, despite another low start in Abu Dhabi that challenged the team. “It’s had its ups and downs for sure, but overall it has been a really good season. We started off in Abu Dhabi and were fast, but a penalty knocked us out of the race,” Chambliss stated. He was quoted saying on AOPA.org’s website, “I went out there with a good plan and my team was working well. The bad thing with this is that it really does play with your confidence.”
Despite the upsetting finish in Abu Dhabi, Team Chambliss’s momentum shifted after a 4th place finish in San Diego. “We did fairly well but just missed the podium,” Chambliss stated.
The following qualifying round in Chiba proved to be a successful mental boost for the Team going into race day. “We knew we didn’t have the highest placement, but we knew we had a good line based on our time in the first run up until a penalty for crossing the safety line. But a minor tweak to stay within the safety line and we were ready to go.” A repeat run from Round 14 would push Chambliss through to the Final Four. “Unfortunately, our run was cut short at gate three where we incurred a DNF for exceeding the maximum G.”
Ready to wipe the slate clean, Team Chambliss prepared for Budapest – the half way point in the season, and a location that has served Chambliss well with five podium appearances. “The track was redesigned this year and we really struggled to find the right line with the changing winds. We weren’t always the fastest so I wasn’t sure that my time was going to hold in the final four,” Chambliss recalled. His time of 1:00:632 resulted in a first-place finish, bumping his World Championship standings from ninth to fourth. “I’m loving the way the champagne smells, I was almost forgetting what it was like!” Chambliss joked at the time.
Momentum had indeed shifted for Chambliss with a first-place podium appearance in Budapest, but Kazan would present its own challenges – new location with a new track, and technical aspects would become intense if the wind increased. For this reason, the pilot with the cleanest run would come out on top. Despite the rain and one three second penalty, Chambliss claimed his second victory of the season, with a time of 58.378 seconds, placing him at the top of the leader board in the World Championship standings.
With all eyes on Chambliss, the Team moved on to Porto – a location the series has not seen in eight years. The locals were quite excited to have the Red Bull Air Race return to their city, lining the Douro River during qualifying sessions. Chambliss placed second in qualifying after setting down his fastest run the entire week, propelling his optimism going into race day. Chambliss advanced to the final four with hopes of a hat trick, but a penalty for climbing in the gate resulted in a fourth-place finish. It was a tight competition going into the next race at Lausitzring. Chambliss went head to head against Yoshihide Muroya of Japan in the Round of 8, but fell short by .626 seconds, ending the day in sixth place and dropping his position in the World Championship standings to fourth place.
The final race and World Championship crowning will take place in front of a home crowd in Indianapolis, Indiana. With only eleven points separating first from fourth place, at the time of publication, Chambliss remained optimistic. “We’ll stick with our goal to win races when we get to Indy and hopefully a little luck will come our way,” Chambliss remarked.
Jason Resop, Team Chambliss Crew Chief and Ferry Pilot, describes the 2017 season as “really positive” and points to enhanced knowledge of the plane as a key contributor to the progress. “We have learned so much about the airplane from last season to this season,” Resop commented. Chambliss added, “The biggest change [from last season to this season] was airplane modifications – new wheel pants, re-designed winglets, an entirely new cooling system with new inlets to the cowling, a large weight reduction and a new tail.”
Among the changes, Chambliss is refining his flying style – separating the stylistic differences between flying airshows and competing in races. “Specifically, pulling out the aggressive airshow moves and transitioning to smooth, fluid maneuvers,” Chambliss added. “Our team is working and communicating together really well. This is so important in our sport.” Resop agreed, “Kirby’s flying style is changing, and I think the team as a whole is working together even better than we have in the past.”
Chambliss’s competitiveness keeps him coming back each season. “We’re flying 230 mph, 50 feet over the ground or water, weaving through a race course and pulling 10 G’s (10 times your body weight). It’s a competition – I like to compete!” Chambliss said with enthusiasm. Check out Kirby in Indianapolis, Oct. 14–15!