Five on the Fly: Kirby Chambliss

Five on the Fly: Kirby Chambliss

Five on the Fly: Kirby Chambliss

WHO: Kirby Chambliss

Owner, Team Chambliss

Aerobatic Performer & Red Bull Air Race Pilot

Flying Crown Ranch near Eloy, AZ

Piper M600
Edge 540 (airshow plane)
Two-place Edge 540T (for media/publicity)
1946 Piper J3 Cub
Fieseler Storch

28,000 hours


Aerobatic champion and Red Bull Air Race star Kirby Chambliss is a fan favorite at AirVenture Oshkosh. This year, he returns to showcase his signature combination of graceful artistry and aggressive maneuvers at select performances during the week.

A native Texan, Chambliss grew up with an innate desire to fly. Working odd jobs, he chipped away at his ratings and built time as an instructor and at 21, a corporate pilot. Three years later, Southwest Airlines hired him as a pilot, and he made captain by the time he turned 28.

After taking an upset training course with aerobatic legend Duane Cole, Kirby discovered his calling. He began pursuing aerobatic competitions, first owning a Pitts S2A and later an Edge monoplane. Chambliss went on to earn a spot on the World Aerobatic team, where he was a member from 1997 to 2005. Aerobatic championships fed his competitive spirit and propelled him to podium finishes including the 2000 World Freestyle Championship and five U.S. National aerobatic titles.

Kirby participated in the inaugural 2003 Red Bull Air Race and won his first championship in 2004, a feat he repeated two years later. In 2018, with half the season complete as of press time, Kirby sits at 8th in the standings, but is focused on a podium finish going into the last half. 

We caught up with Kirby to talk to him about the upcoming AirVenture Oshkosh, his Red Bull Air Race season as well as the newest member of his aircraft stable, a Piper M600.

1. How did you become interested in flying?

My dad was a private pilot, and when I was young I helped him build a Davis Aircraft. It was a two-place experimental and this was long before there were kits to build from. He just showed up one day with a trailer full of sheet metal and simply said, “this is an airplane and we’re going to put it together.” A year later, he flew it. After that experience, I knew I wanted to fly professionally – ideally for an airline. Today, it’s up to us in the industry to inspire the next generation. A lot of kids don’t know the opportunities that exist in aviation. 

2. You have competed in every Red Bull Air Race season since its inception in 2003. How has your approach to the race changed over the years?

It is so much more technical today. When I first started racing, it was more seat-of-your-pants flying, making split-second decisions as you progressed through the gates. Today, you have to be a tactician, which means I’ve had to change my style. Our chief tactician Paulo Iscold works with our technical team to optimize the aerodynamics of the airplane. We are always tweaking it to gain performance. He also analyzes each course to develop a simulated visualization that provides me with focal points on the course. I’ll walk through the simulation and visualize every part of it, making small adjustments as the race progresses through the qualifying and follow-on rounds. As always though, my goal is the win! The competition is tough, and I always want to come out super aggressive. 

3. You recently took delivery of a Piper M600, which replaced your 2005 Piper Meridian. Why the M600?

The Meridian was a great airplane for us, a very economical single-engine turboprop which replaced a Beechcraft Baron E55 we owned previously. Thanks to its range and altitude capability allowing us to get above the weather, it was a real game-changer. I could typically fly from the East Coast to my home in Arizona with one stop. So, a move into Piper’s new M600 was a natural next step. The aircraft offers us even more range as it holds 260-plus gallons. I also really appreciate the new, robust wing and beefier landing gear. The aircraft has a very solid feeling. Not to mention, the Garmin G3000 avionics suite is simply amazing. The flight control system has a lot of great safety features such as underspend and overspeed protection. 

4. What mission does the M600 fulfill?

Its mission is really quite utilitarian. We use it to support our aerobatic planes by carrying parts, supplies and tools. We also transport the support crew and myself to airshows. We typically send the aerobatic planes ahead and then depart later in the M600. I have to say owning and flying the M600 greatly enhances my quality of life. I travel typically 220 days a year, so if I can get home for a night, I want to do it. The M600 provides the ability to cover a lot of miles, which means chances are better I can make it home after a show or race. 

5. Beyond air racing and aerobatics, what other passions do you pursue?

I am a devoted husband to my wife Kellie, also a pilot, and father to my 13-year-old daughter Karly. I’m also passionate about skydiving, something I’ve done since I was young. I’m always working to perfect new skills and tricks.

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