Hannes Arch: “You have to be a bit crazy”

Over a series of race weekends, the contestants in the Red Bull Air Race amaze thousands of spectators with their flying skills. Between races, DHL as the official logistics partner ensures that the 180 to 200 tons of freight arrive on time at the next venue. In its own way, this is just as big a challenge as the one faced by the pilots in their cockpits. In this interview, Red Bull Air Race pilot Hannes Arch tells DHL InMotion what the job involves.

On a scale of one to ten, how crazy you have to be to compete in the Red Bull Air Race?

Hannes Arch: Ten plus. It’s a form of motorsport, but without the safety of just grinding to a halt. You’re flying around pylons at almost ground level at a speed of 400 kilometers per hour. It’s a bit like a slalom ski race – the one who finds the most economical line wins. If you fail to take the corner accurately in motor racing, you go off into the gravel trap, climb out of your car and stand there looking annoyed. Contrast that with our situation – we would be in real trouble. 

So would you say that the Red Bull Air Race is tougher than Formula 1?

HA: They are both tough if you’re aiming for perfection. In Formula 1, you have the advantage that you really need to focus only on the driving, because some other person is responsible for everything else. In our case, you as the pilot are responsible for the whole team. It’s like Formula 1 was forty years ago when the drivers had to do everything themselves. One engineer is all I have.

How did you come into this sport?

HA: My history is rather unusual, because I arrived via extreme sports. I started with climbing and mountaineering, then came paragliding and eventually – even more extreme – base jumping. With the money I earned at that time, I took my pilot’s license. After that, I went into aerobatics.

And then you went from zero to one hundred?

HA: Yes, but it takes quite a time. It started out as a hobby, but it gradually became my full-time job and my vocation. As European champion in aerobatics, I then managed to qualify for the Red Bull Air Race. 

You’re obviously an adrenaline junkie.

HA: In the conventional sense, yes. But if you look at my situation more closely, then probably not. If I were really hooked on risk and adrenaline, I would probably not be alive now. You can’t survive that for 25 years. Actually, you need to take a very cautious, respectful approach to sports; that’s the way to survive.

Where does this fascination come from for you? 

HA: It’s the desire for adventure. The moment you come into this world, you encounter risk. Many people repress the fact, but I embrace it and confront it. This enables me to get a lot more out of life. I learn a lot about myself, I’m able to push beyond the limits, and I develop as a person. And that’s how you end up in the Red Bull Air Race. You have to be a bit crazy.

In any case, you seem to be living your life to the full.

HA: Yes, my recipe for life is to always do only those things that make me happy. Nothing else interests me. For the past 25 years, I’ve only ever done those things that I’ve lived for. And I’m still doing that now, except that I also earn money in the process.

Are you able to enjoy flying on a race weekend, or are you too much focused on the result?

HA: It’s a sport just like any other. That means you have to get stuck in and solve problems. The time just before and during the race is not enjoyable as such, but that’s professional sport for you. 

How do you practice before and during the race weekend?

HA: The circuit is set up four days in advance. You have two days for practice, then qualifying on Day 3 and the race itself on Day 4. So that we arrive as well prepared as possible, we work in a simulator beforehand. That way, your eyes are accustomed to what they will see during the race. 

How long do you intend to carry on as a professional pilot?

HA: I think the answer to that will begin to emerge quite soon. In the future, the best pilots will tend to be in the 35 to 45-year age bracket. If you’re too young, that’s no good because you haven’t accumulated the experience and the risk too great. But if you’re too old, you will be getting too slow.

Are there any experiences that you would still like to have in life?

HA (laughs): Having children. I’ve postponed that so far.