Paul Bonhomme is the most successful pilot in the history of the Red Bull Air Race and the only pilot to have raced in all 58 races since 2003. The British ace has a record 15 victories and 39 podiums.
The double World Champion (2009 and 2010) took second place in 2007 and 2008 before taking third in 2014 in an increasingly competitive field. A quintessential British gentleman with impeccable manners and deadpan sense of humour, Bonhomme's elegantly smooth flying style has been widely imitated.
Though no longer the most dominant pilot, he still has the skill, experience and determination to win any race. Always popular among the sport's fans, his fellow pilots and the media, Bonhomme can eloquently explain the finer points of racing. His friendly nature doesn't mask a fiercely competitive spirit. His tireless drive to succeed has helped push the entire sport forward during his nine seasons of racing.
Bonhomme, who when not racing is a commercial airline captain flying Boeing 747s, began flying at an early age. His father was a pilot, his mother was a flight attendant and his brother is a commercial pilot. He started as a 16-year-old airfield dogsbody. He was employed to clean hangars, polish aircraft and refuel them at White Waltham Airfield in England before getting his Private Pilot's Licence at 18.
He was soon working as a flight instructor and later became an air taxi pilot before flying charter flights. His aerobatics career began in 1986 and he has been flying at air shows ever since. In 1991 he began displaying vintage fighters such as Spitfires and P51 Mustangs from Duxford. Bonhomme lives in Cambridge with his wife, stepson and three young daughters.
After his Championship win in 2009, he was awarded the Segrave Trophy by the Royal Automobile Club and in 2010 the Guild Sword of Honour by the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators.
So how does life at 39,000ft in a luxury airliner compare to flying a single-seat raceplane only a few feet above the ground? Two-time World Champion Paul Bonhomme explains.
"One of the main differences is the ride. One is like sitting in an armchair where comfort, safety and security are top of the list. And the other is fast and furious," says Bonhomme. "The best person to ask would be a passenger. In one they would be in a big lounger and not even notice they were flying, in the other they'd be screaming to get off," he adds.
Despite the obvious differences in size, performance and ability, Bonhomme faces both roles in a very similar fashion. "The management of the flying is the same," he explains. "I approach both with the same amount of thought and planning. This will prevent issues that could occur.
"Getting a 747of the ground requires an awful lot of planning on all counts. There are the flight planning, maintenance, catering and roster departments – It's a massive amount of work that all has to be planned. The same goes for our work in the Red Bull Air Race, it's just done by fewer people. There is just three or four of us getting the raceplane off the ground. A jumbo is in the air for 10-12 hours whilst we're in the track for a minute, so you could say more man hours go into preparing the raceplane for how long it's flying," says Bonhomme.
The preflight between the Red Bull Air Race and a long haul flight from Europe to the US is very similar, the differences occur when Bonhomme sits in the cockpit. "Physically racing is much more draining, but in terms of general tiredness I'm far more tired after a long haul night flight by a long, long way," explains Bonhomme. "Ask any passenger of a long haul flight, they'll tell you it's tiring, plus the time difference doesn't help. After you come down from a lap in the racetrack you've just had a healthy dose of adrenalin, so you're all pumped and smiling!
"If you compared it to music, the beat is much, much faster in the Red Bull Air Race. Long haul flying is a smooth gentle flute solo and racing is a thrash metal track," explains Bonhomme.
In the racing world there's nothing better than the thrill of a win, but in the airline world it's managing a flight so you avoid any issues. "There is a great sense of satisfaction when you arrive somewhere on schedule at the right airport with enough fuel to divert to another airport. Especially if you've battled terrible weather and arrive in snow. Landing in those conditions has its own challenges. It's much more satisfying than diverting and forgetting all about the issue," he explains.
Whether it's an Edge 540 or a Boeing 747, there are some similarities in the flying. "In the Air Race it's about operating the raceplane efficiently and using the energy you've got to get around the course in the fastest time. While you're not going to do it in the same style in a jumbo jet, you can definitely fly faster," says Bonhomme. "If you're flying at 38,000ft with a 10mph tail wind and there's a 15mph wind at 39,000ft, you can gain 15 miles in three hours. It might not sound much on a 4000 mile flight, but imagine that over every flight that adds up to a huge amount of fuel saved," he explains.
"The Red Bull Air Race highlights the value of flying efficiently. If we can see a way of saving 0.1 of a second with a different flight line, then we will try and fly that line. When we fly efficiently in a 747 we save fuel and a lot of time." concludes Bonhomme.
You can be there in Ascot, tickets are still available, so make sure you don't miss out. The Air Race competes over two days Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th August
Tickets start from £30 and upgrades and hospitality is available
For more information or to book tickets click here or call 0800 346 3000