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EAA Member Makes First Visit to AirVenture as Red Bull Pilot
By Barbara A. Schmitz
July 25, 2018 - For an EAA member, there is no better way to arrive at AirVenture than by air. But Aaron Fitzgerald, EAA 1272985, has most pilots beat. He arrived for his first AirVenture on Tuesday afternoon in the Red Bull helicopter.
Fitzgerald is the new Red Bull aerobatics helicopter pilot, joining the Flying Bulls after former pilot Chuck Aaron retired. Oshkosh will be his fourth aerobatic show, and he’s hopeful that he won’t disappoint any Red Bull fans.
Fitzgerald said he became interested in aviation as a boy. “The only thing I wanted to do was fly helicopters,” he said, “and any toy I had that wasn’t aviation-related, I’d trade for one that was.”
He started flying in 1994 and spent most of his career flying for the TV and film industry, logging 8,500 hours, almost all in helicopters. But he also worked as a vendor for Red Bull, sometimes dropping skydivers or flying a camera crew. So, when they needed a new aerobatics pilot, they asked Fitzgerald if he’d be interested.
“I was pretty honored to accept it,” he said. “To be honest, it made me a little nervous, but I gladly accepted the challenge and am happy that I did.”
Fitzgerald said the hardest thing to overcome were old habits. “I spent 25 years trying to keep helicopters right side up, and then to turn upside down was a challenge.” he said. “It is just a very unnatural thing to do.”
But with intensive training by Rainer Wilke, one of the most experienced aerobatic pilots in the world, and Siegfried “Blacky” Schwarz, Red Bull’s flight operations manager and chief helicopter pilot, Fitzgerald learned the maneuvers the Red Bull helicopter is known for. And he learned a new maneuver, too, that Fitzgerald unveiled to the Oshkosh crowd during Wednesday’s show. Called the Immelflip, it’s a combination of two moves: an Immelmann and a backflip. Fitzgerald described it a “zero airspace loop.”
Flying a slightly modified MBB B0105 with a rigid rotor head system made from solid titanium, Fitzgerald said he enjoys performing as a team with Kirby Chambliss in his Edge 540 and four skydivers and wingsuit pilots. “It’s fun to be part of a team putting on a more complex show with [multiple] disciplines of aviation going on,” he said. “It’s bodies, smoke, an airplane and helicopter, all shooting around and having fun.”
Fitzgerald admitted he had a few jitters before his first aerobatic show. “But as soon as I was in the aircraft, all the nerves went away.” He said he is humbled by the opportunity to fly for Red Bull. “I don’t take it lightly to be here, with all the best performers in the history of aviation.”
The team will fly in the afternoon air show Thursday and Friday.
Fitzgerald said he was amazed by the AirVenture grounds and hoped to have time to explore. “You can feel the energy; obviously, I have some sponsor responsibilities, but I hope to get to walk around and experience everything. There are lots of airplanes and helicopters that I want to see.”