Redefining airborne excitement
Jeff Zaltman is chief executive of Air Race 1, a contest which pits up to eight pilots against each other and a tight 5 km circuit, hitting speeds up to 400 kph while warding off heave g-force at heights as low as 35ft.
FI: How did you get involved in aviation and what prompted you to start organising Air Race 1?
After high school, I joined the US Navy as an avionics technician working on the A-6E Intruder attack bomber on board an aircraft carrier. That experience piqued my interest in aviation and prompted me to get a pilot’s licence. Through this, I started to meet remarkable pilots that were air racing, performing aerobatics and doing other amazing aerial feats and I wondered why so little was known about this side of flying. I set out to find a way to raise its profile and subsequently founded an air sports event management company, Flying Aces, in 2004, followed by the air racing series Aero GP in 2005. Air Race 1 is a new project that I believe has broad appeal.
FI: How did Air Race 1 come about and what is its purpose?
The concept of formula one air racing has actually been around for many decades. My aim is to internationalise, commercialise and professionalise the sport to make it a sustainable career for pilots, engineers and organisers. The business model is basically old school but the content is more modern and appealing that we will no doubt prove!
FI: How do you go about setting up an event of this sort?
It is a massive undertaking that requires support from many stakeholders, suppliers and fans. It’s unlike organising any other sport event because of the added governmental permission, inherent safety demands and its novelty for potential partners like sponsors and television companies. We have a much harder sell, but a much better value proposition for those who’ll give us a chance. We are also working in coordination with three air racing associations and other partners. The pay-off though not financial yet is the pride that we all feel in building a historic event and the launch of something very big.
FI: What are the big challenges?
Getting to sleep at night. I wake up every morning with a dozen notes in my phone from thoughts and ideas. A bigger, more practical challenge is financing. That may sound obvious; it’s a challenge for everyone at every level, but we spend much of our time trying to raise funds, where more mature sports or events benefit from having a track record that allows them to focus more on delivering the event.
FI: How would you describe your working week?
It’s seven days long at least for the months before an event. The work actually just merges with my private life in the sense that I’m never really not working. This project is just who I am. Multi-tasking and multi-devising, is perpetual. I’m a very organised person so my days and tasks are quite planned out. I travel a lot, so I’m out of the country at least two or three times per month amid other regional travel. But the travel is often a very productive and inspiring time for me.
FI: What elements of it do you really enjoy and why?
I enjoy the pioneering adventure and while not necessarily inventing something new, I’m forging new territory and trying to break through established norms; and the feedback I get from participants and spectators keeps me motivated and inspired. The people in this business are great and they come from such an array of interesting backgrounds.
FI: How does it differ from other international air races?
Air Race 1 is the only international series of air racing which sees multiple planes racing directly against each other in a true race. There are some very exciting and well-run air sports events out there that have a racing theme but either they focus on aerobatics or time trials, or they are local one-off events. The skills, talents and demands required of Air Race 1 pilots are different to those required by other air race formats due to the added challenge of competing directly against other airplanes.
FI: What is the future for formula one air racing internationally?
Air Race 1 has a long future. We believe we are entering a new heyday for formula one airplane races and even air sports in general. formula one air racing has almost 70 years of history behind it and now with this first international series introducing the sport to new markets and grooming many new pilots, we believe the sport will enjoy a rich and healthy growth for everyone.