Red Bull Air Race's First Female Pilot On What It Takes To Get To The Top

Red Bull Air Race's First Female Pilot On What It Takes To Get To The Top

Mélanie Astles, Red Bull Air Race’s first female contestant, on how to make it as a pilot

Mélanie Astles doesn’t have your typical 9-5 career; the Rugby-born, French-raised pilot might have started out working in a petrol station, but now? She’s an aerobatics champion, about to take on the Red Bull Air Race as their first female pilot.

After starting her training relatively late in life at 21 years old (you can get your license at 17), Mélanie sacrificed time, money and love to get to where she is today. So, how do you make it to the top? We sat down with Mélanie to find out…

Success comes with sacrifice, so you can forget lie-ins and Topshop binges…
Instead of buying clothes, I saved all my money for 13 years because I knew flying was my objective. Every five Euro note meant I could fly for an extra two or three minutes. When you want to be a champion, you need to focus on the objective, and everything you’re not doing to focus on the objective is slowing down your victory.

Having a family life when you’re a world champion? Not so easy…
I get to meet so many people from all over the world, but I have a lonely life. My last love story finished because I was not there enough for him. When I was with him I was in love, but I was still thinking about my sport, my sponsors and my dream. I was always worried if we split up in five years, I would have not done what I needed to do.

You’ll always feel like you could do better… 
To say I don’t feel pressure to be a role model would be a lie. I was worried for my first Red Bull Air Race because of the attention around me, the guys have been doing this for years. I’ve proved that I’m still not the best, but I’m not the worst, and I’m learning.

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Yes you have to be physically fit, but really it’s all in your mind…
To build up my physical endurance, I train six days a week; I run for an hour and bike for two hours, twice a week. Then I punch and run intervals for an hour or two, once a week. I do bodybuilding two or three times a week.

Then I work with a mental coach for up to four hours a week, focusing on visualisation, breathing techniques and relaxation. If I’m too relaxed and need to fly suddenly, I breathe in and out quickly for one minute to wake me up. I also have an anchor movement that I do before every flight; I cross my fingers on my right hand, which reminds me of success. I had to do it 50 times to connect the movement to great situations. 

It’s OK to be nervous…
I get quite nervous before I fly. I don’t like strapping myself in the plane, but I love the moment when I close the canapé and start the engine. When the race director calls my name, he calls me ‘Number 33, Astles Smile On’ because they’d never seen someone smiling in the middle of the track. But it’s a dream of mine to be doing this.

Being a woman in a man’s world is a fight…  
Air racing is a man’s world, but I avoid saying that. I am the only female pilot, but I am the first and I’m opening a new door. It wasn’t closed, but nobody had opened it before. Female pilots probably will face sexism, but you just have to believe in yourself and focus on your objective. At the Red Bull air race, they’re as hard with me as they are with the guys. The only difference is I have more media attention, which is nice, because maybe there’s a young girl watching me who will say ‘I want to become a pilot’, and know that a girl can be a pilot. That’s why I didn’t follow my dreams initially as a young girl, because there was nobody saying ‘you can do that’.

Forget what people think about you…
Stop worrying about what people think about you because they will try and discourage you. It’s like being in love; whatever people say, don’t let anything stop you. Know where you’re going, why you’re doing it and the stronger you will become.
 
When the door is closed, enter through the window…
Never take no for an answer. If you don’t have the money or training to become a pilot, don’t hesitate to ask. Go to an air club and help out, clean the planes and show your passion. Pilots are like a family and we all started like you one day, so we’ll help.

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When everything’s going wrong, keep your cool…
When something is going wrong in the plane, I’m immediately thinking how can I do better next time. I switch off, finish the flight, land and then instead of saying ‘I’m so sad’, I think ‘there’s a good reason this went wrong’. Everytime something negative happens in my life, I look for the message.  

Fake it until you make it…
People think I’m brave and courageous, but I don’t realise what I look like to other people. What I do know is you need to be yourself. I’m not trying to be someone else, and everything is going great.

And to sum it all up, what are Mélanie’s top three career tips?
1.
Never give up
2. If you can dream it, you can make it; aim for the stars and you could reach the moon
3. The new one that’s working for me is who dares, wins!

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