The Aviator

Mike Goulian is a professional airshow pilot and a fierce Red Bull Air Race competitor. The Plymouth resident is currently gearing up for the 2016 racing season, which kicks off next month in Abu Dhabi, UAE

By maria allen

What inspired you to become a pilot?

It seems that flying is in my blood. My dad became a pilot at 17 years old and started a flying school in Bedford, MA, not long after that. I was introduced to flying when my dad brought me to the airport as a summer job when I was just 15 years old. After that first summer, I knew that a life in the sky was my calling. I’ve never looked back.

What does it take to be a Red Bull Air Race pilot?

Flying in the Red Bull Air Race (RBAR) requires a pilot to use all of his skills. Aircraft control, fearless flying, a calm mind, and professional decision making are all essential when you’re flying fifty feet off the ground at 220 mph.

How often do you race?

We have eight races around the globe. The season starts in Abu Dhabi, then moves to Japan for the second race, then we race around Europe during the summer and the final two races are here in the USA. Executing a global racing schedule is exhausting but very satisfying.

How do you prepare for races? Do you follow a training regimen?

Most of the preparation for a race is done with computer simulation. Our team has developed a system where we simulate the race plane (viewed from the cockpit) flying through the track in very realistic detail. So when I arrive at the race, I have already seen the track dozens of times on my computer. This makes our training time more valuable.

What does it feel like when you’re racing?

The racing is intense. The cockpit is loud and noisy, very similar to what a NASCAR driver experiences. Your focus and concentration is very high as the air gates are coming at you at just under one every two or three seconds. This past season, we measured my heart rate during a race and it registered right around 170 beats per minute, about 80 percent of my max.

How do you deal with the G force?

Other than being in great physical condition, doing a lot of “G Pulling” is the best way to increase your G tolerance. In addition to racing, I am lucky to be able to fly 15 air shows each summer. Practicing aerobatic flying keeps my G tolerance very high while also keeping my hand/eye coordination sharp, which is required for the fast maneuvering we do during the race.

Are you ever afraid?

I’m never afraid but I know what we are doing is very serious business. I have a very healthy respect for safety and my team does a tremendous job of giving me a machine that I have total confidence in. Being confident but not cocky is the key to safety. Being tentative leads to indecision, which is dangerous.

What have been some of the highlights of your career?

I have enjoyed my entire career. From beginning until now, I cherish every day. Having made friends around the world has been very satisfying. However, if I had to pick some highlights from my flying, it would be winning our US National Aerobatic Championship, winning the Red Bull Air Race in Budapest, Hungary, and being named an honorary Blue Angel.

What do you love most about flying/racing?

Flying an air show or an air race is simply electric. The feeling of needing to perform when the chips are down is something that is almost indescribable.

What kind of plane do you race?

My race plane is called an Edge 540. It’s actually built in the USA. Zivko Aeronautics of Guthrie has been building these very specialized machines since the early 1990s. The plane is a single-seat, single-engine rocket ship. Kind of like a Formula 1 car with wings.

I read that your plane is being updated.
What is that process like?

In racing, the saying goes… “If you’re standing still, you’re going backwards.” That is certainly true for the Red Bull Air Race. Our plane is going through an extensive modification program to increase its speed and agility for next season. We have a team of aeronautical engineers from MIT, North Carolina and Brazil all collaborating on the design changes. 

How do you spend your time during the off-season?

The off-season is very busy for us. We’re scheduling all of our 2016 air shows, working on our race and show planes, as well as creating marketing plans with our sponsors. We plan in the winter and then execute all summer.

What’s on the horizon for the 2016 season?

I’ll be performing at the Quonset, Rhode Island, Air Show in June, which will be really fantastic as it’s my “home show.” Due to my traveling with the RBAR, I have missed the show the last two years. Oh yeah, and winning some races!

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