Turns out people want to be scared, and will pay a lot of money for it. “How many people want to see an airplane hit a pylon?” screams an already hoarse announcer. “Let’s see some hands!” Hundreds of hands go up. (They are fabric pylons that separate harmlessly when struck.) Spectators paid concert prices for a regular ticket, and $3,000 for the super VIP “High Flyers” section that is well separated from the riffraff and press (being redundant there).
I asked an Austrian-accented Red Bull official, “How can you do it and I can’t?”
“It’s Red Bull, not aviation,” he said. “It could be a Red Bull sailing event and they would still come.” But I’m not so sure. Everywhere I turned, there was a real pilot or a potential pilot. The kid showing people to their seats in New York Sunday is a pilot. An elderly gentleman saw my “AOPA Pilot” shirt and nametag, and said he has been a member 25 years. Six people stopped me, based on my AOPA Pilot branding, to say they are members. A lady from Florida who once flew straight and level and dreams of being a pilot told me she wants to learn. She is trying to get tickets for the Red Bull Air Race when it comes to Hungary soon and will sell the pets if that’s what it takes to fly from Crystal River, Florida, to Hungary. I wish I had told her that with the ticket and hotel money, she could actually be a pilot.
Red Bull can do more in two hours than we as individuals can do in years. Not to worry, though. AOPA had one of its top communications directors there, looking for secrets of the event’s success. EAA’s Tom Poberezny was there, too, looking well behind the scenes (hey, Tom, did you see the carpeted port-a-potties with sinks, soap, and attendants that clean them all day?).
So if Red Bull has all the answers, AOPA and EAA now know some of them, too.