Al Marsh

Red Bull vs. Us for Getting New Pilots

June 21, 2010 by Alton K. Marsh, Senior Editor, AOPA Pilot

Slalom course at Red Bull Air Race, New York City. Technically known as a chicane.Red Bull cola, which must have a corner on the world’s caffeine market, puts on an air show in New York and 75,000 people show up; in past years, even past months, the Red Bull Air Race has attracted hundreds of thousands. You and I acting as individuals urge people to go flying, or mentor them, and its onesie twosie. (AOPA has the Lets Go Flying campaign while EAA has flown a million kids on what could be a life-changing experience.) Red Bull markets only excitement–to heck with anything else— to an audience that is literally drinking caffeine while sitting in the grandstands, while we–as individuals–talk about fun but never excitement. Wouldn’t want to scare them, would we? Red Bull has kids dreaming of flying and jaded adults saying, “That was awesome!” We lament that people are no longer interested in flying because it is too common.  To that I say “Bull!” Or even, “Red Bull!”

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.

4 Responses to “Red Bull vs. Us for Getting New Pilots”

  1. Jack Says:

    I was there on Saturday and was very disappointed that there were booths for radio controlled airplanes but nothing for GA.

    There wasn’t an AOPA booth or a flight school booth or even an aircraft display. Cirrus had a video they played at “half-time.”

  2. Paul Dow Says:

    I found it curious that the terms & conditions for admission to the event includes this:

    It is forbidden to use, possess, hold or bring to the venue the following items, without limitation, to be assessed at the discretion of the stewards, safety personnel, and/or any other legally-authorized persons:

    (e) alcoholic beverages of any kind, narcotics or stimulants;

    Uhhh, Doesn’t everything that Red Bull make fall into the last category?

  3. Al Marsh Says:

    Hi, Jack
    Cirrus had a mockup of an SR22 turbocharged aircraft next to the grandstands, but it was in a pricey special admission area open to only a few, and not to the press. We managed to get in anyway and you’ll see photos in the article coming out in a future issue of AOPA Pilot. At the really pricey seats about 400 yards away, there was a small-scale (six foot wingspan) of the Cirrus Vision jet. Cirrus is a partner with Red Bull.

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