MEET the Lewis Hamilton of the skies – the oil worker about to take Formula One off the ground and into the clouds.
Des Hart is getting ready to compete in the Air Race 1, the first race of its kind in Europe for more than 25 years. The dad-of-two will pilot his plane at levels as low as 35ft while racing eight other aircraft at speeds of up to 250mph on a 5km circuit above Lleida-Alguaire Airport in Catalonia, Spain. Des, 39, from Coupar Angus, Perthshire, is one of only three British pilots competing in the race on June 1 and the only Scot in a field of 14.
Formula One flying was stopped in Britain in the late 1980s because of safety concerns. Des, a ship broker for the oil industry, said: “It’s just like Formula One, only faster. We race around a track as cars do, it just happens that the track is 10 metres up in the air."
“F1 cars max out at 225mph but our planes can hit speeds topping 250mph. It is a great spectator sport. We do 10 laps, which last a minute at a time. We have to be very careful not to clip wings and there are lots of regulations in place to stop this happening. There are strict rules about only overtaking on the right and all the pilots will undergo classroom-based training sessions to teach them the rules of F1 racing. It is a re-launch of the races which used to take place in Britain in the 1980s.”
Des, who is dad to Helena, five and Sofia, three, will fly his Cassut Racer, which is named Hart Attack and will be decorated with a giant Saltire. He said: “It is tiny, just like an F1 car. I’m 6ft 2in and have to wedge myself into the cockpit.” Des, who is married to Lynn, 37, has flown in other aerobatics shows – but has never taken part in an aerial F1 race. He said: “I would love to win the first ever international race of its kind for Scotland but I’m a rookie and some of the other pilots have competed in America. I flew an aerobatic plane for a few years but wanted to go faster and, when someone contacted me about the Cassut Racer, I jumped at the chance. After I bought it, I was put in touch with the organiser of the Air Race 1 who asked if I wanted to get involved. The plane didn’t cost me any more than a second-hand family saloon car and it only costs £40 in fuel to keep it up in the air for an hour.”
Des has been an aviation nut all his life and was devastated when his eyesight stopped him from joining the RAF. He said: “I flew my first plane when I was 16 and a member of the air cadets. Being a pilot had always been my dream. When I was in my early 20s, I saved up enough money for flying lessons. I got my private and then my commercial licence. I kept on flying in my spare time. I suppose I am an adrenalin junkie but I am a careful flyer. Even aerial acrobatics is safer than it looks. There are lots of tricks involved that give the illusion planes are just about to drop out of the sky.”
It is hoped the Spanish event, which will take place near Barcelona, will be the first in a series of flying races.
American Jeff Zaltman, chief executive of Air Race 1 and whose mum hails from Edinburgh, said: “The event is being televised later this year, which should send popularity soaring. If we get sponsors on board, we could soon give the cars a run for their money. We also hope we can stage one of the annual races in Scotland as we are so lucky to have super Scots pilot Des Hart on board.”