Driven to Succeed
French Red Bull race pilot Francois Le Vot is one of these guys who seems to have done it all. Fighter pilot; Top Gun instructor; a member of the French military’s aerobatics team; world aerobatics champion. Is there anything this man cannot do? Now he has his sights set on a Red Bull championship and given his pedigree, who would bet against him achieving the ultimate racing ambition?
WHEN DID YOU FIRST SHOW AN INTEREST IN AVIATION AND WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A PILOT?
My passion for flying comes from a dream I made when I was three-years-old or so. In this dream, I was walking on a beach when I found a strange wooden A-shaped device on which I could lie down and begin to fly. I must say that I had perfectly anticipated the sensations of flying in this dream. Since then, I’ve done everything I could to experience these sensations for real. In addition to my willing to fly, I have always been captivated by flying objects of all kinds-except lighter than air. At 15, I planned to join the air force to become a pilot; I just did this and spent 24 years in the military.
WERE YOU THE KIND OF BOY WHO BUILT MODEL AEROPLANES AND READ BOOKS ABOUT FLYING?
I was building airplanes indeed but not the kind you can expect. They were home made from bamboo wood and cardboard and they flew well sometimes. I taught myself the notion of weight and balance of an aircraft when I was nine, I perfectly remember the moment when I had the idea of putting some weight in the nose of my model to prevent it from tumbling backwards. I was absolutely fascinated by boomerangs as well, after a trip we made with my parents in Australia in December 1978. My Christmas gift was a boomerang that I have copied a hundred times at least for the following years! I literally set up a production line and one boomerang was paint drying while another one was being shaped, with all the intermediary stages in between. I remember that I was throwing 5 or 6 of them in a row, sometimes to the detriment of the teeth of my fans…
I BELIEVE YOU WERE A FIGHTER PILOT IN THE FRENCH AIR FORCE. WHAT ARE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR TIME AS A MILITARY PILOT?
It depends on the framework in which you consider the notion of highlight. Each safe return to the ground can be considered as a highlight regarding to what happened to some of my colleagues. But I can say that I was personally very satisfied each time I would come back from a training mission without having been “shot down”. I particularly liked international exercises which were the most interesting for me.
WHAT TYPES OF AIRCRAFT DID YOU FLY IN THE AIR FORCE?
I spent three years as an instructor pilot on a single engine piston airplane – the TB30 Espsilon – which was designed to kind of fake the Mirage F1 fighter. It would glide like a rough stone, would bleed a huge amount of energy in every turn but I liked it very much.?I’ve flown two types of Mirage 2000 C. The old one, the 2000 C-RDM, equipped with a radar that was almost as efficient as a good nonstick fry pan. After, I flew the 2000 C-5, on which I’ve had very pleasant and exhilarating missions.?I also spent many hours in the Alpha jet as an instructor. It was a really fantastic and reliable airplane. Then I joined the (Air Force’s) aerobatic team and spent the rest of my career on aerobatic aircraft.
YOU WERE A MEMBER OF THE FRENCH AIR FORCE’S AEROBATICS TEAM AND HAVE WON THE WORLD AEROBATICS CHAMPIONSHIP. TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PASSION FOR AEROBATICS.
My passion for aerobatics is inseparable from my passion for the sensations of flying. It’s really a very demanding mechanical sport. There are so many areas to discover in this sport that one cannot be bored with it. Many skills are required and are to be developed, from one’s memory to one’s physical endurance, adaptation to changing environment, psychology too, because one has to adapt to the psychology of the judges and their pathological obsession for spin entry criteria.
HOW HAS YOUR MILITARY BACKGROUND AND SKILL IN AEROBATICS HELPED AS A RED BULL RACE PILOT?
My previous experience or military background didn’t prepare me to race specifically. But I think that having been a professional military pilot prepared me to deal with all kind of different situations in a quite demanding environment. There are many rules and principles that I have learned in the past that can perfectly fit the race flight. In a few words, I’d say that my military background could help me to keep my head cool.
HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR A RACE?
That has been a problem from the beginning of the season actually: I am always a little bit frustrated not being able to prepare a race the way I would like to. I have too many things to think about right now. The first season imposes you to fight on several fronts and I don’t really focus on the preparation for the race. But in theory, as far as I’m concerned, a good preparation would consist in being completely “at home” in the track and this is only achievable with a huge mental preparation. Of course, the body has to be perfectly prepared as well on the physical plan.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL TRAINING REGIMEN, INCLUDING MENTAL, PHYSICAL AND NUTRITIONAL.
As for the diet, it’s just common sense: no alcohol, no “heavy” food, just a diet that naturally allows myself to stay fit.?For the mental preparation, it’s mainly visualisation, ideally one hour per day in my own preparation protocol.?For the physical preparation, I mainly practice intervals running twice per week with some other funnier sports.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR SUPPORT TEAM AND THEIR IMPORTANCE TO YOUR SUCCESS AND WELLBEING.
The team is a key factor to achieve.
WHAT QUALITIES ARE NEEDED TO BE A RED BULL RACE PILOT?
Cold blood, humility, tenacity.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CAREER AS A RED BULL RACE PILOT?
Being recruited, as a challenger pilot, had been a highlight in 2014 as well as three victories in this category, jumping into the master class was a personal highlight too. Now I have to be patient and work to build up the next significant result that will deserve to be qualified as a highlight.
DO PILOTS ON THE RACING CIRCUIT DEVELOP FRIENDSHIPS WITH EACH OTHER OR IS IT TOO COMPETITIVE TO GET CLOSE TO THE OPPOSITION?
As far as I’m concerned, I don’t consider the race results or the sport as an element to decide if I can be friends with one guy or another. Friendship develops or not for other reasons I think, such as the sharing of ideas, human values, interests, social behaviour and probably many other things that I’m not aware of. Actually, I think that the comprehension of this point makes all the beauty of the sport and is the first condition to be a real athlete: your performance is entirely your problem and if the other ones are better than you, you’re the only one to blame. On the bunch of pilots involved in the Red Bull Air Race, there are some guys I’m friends with, some others with who I could easily develop a friendship, some others that I am not particularly attracted to. But in any case, the reasons are much more numerous, unconscious, and subtle that the basic necessary rivalry that exists for a sport. I know that it’s “good” for the drama and some media just love to report the hatred that exist between the sportsmen sometimes. That’s something I particularly dislike, I think that a sport should be an example of the best behaviour and should bear all the greatest human values instead of competing with the worst TV reality show.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES OF BEING ON THE RACE CIRCUIT?
The biggest challenge on the race circuit is to define a reasonable target for each flight. One has to find the best compromise between one’s own abilities, one’s experience, one’s comfort with the external environment and one’s aggressiveness. As always in sport, how far is it worth to take risks in terms of achievable target and safety? The more risks one takes, the more one can win or lose.
WHAT GIVES YOU THE MOST SATISFACTION AS A RACE PILOT?
In a few words, being able to think that the preparation was perfect and that there’s nothing to regret. Of course, being able to figure out some points that can be improved, some areas full of mistakes, is part of a perfect preparation. I cannot say that I received much satisfaction so far, but it’s part of the game and it’s the manageable frustration that makes you willing to continue to work. In that kind of activity, as far as I’m concerned, I’m ready for 90 per cent frustration and 10 per cent satisfaction. Both are tied and are inseparable like hot and cold. You cannot experience satisfaction if you don’t know frustration.
WHAT MAKES THE EDGE 540 V2 THE IDEAL AIRCRAFT FOR YOU?
I never said the Edge 540 V2 was the ideal aircraft. I choose the one that was immediately available for racing. I did not have another choice. I’m just doing the best I can with this airplane, I try to make as many improvements as I can afford.
WHAT IS YOUR SINGLE-MOST SATISFYING AVIATION EXPERIENCE, INCLUDING MILITARY FLYING, BEING A WORLD CLASS AEROBAT, AND RED BULL RACER?
I sincerely enjoyed every mission nicely completed. I remember coming back from successful missions with the Mirage 2000 and taking a moment to have a look at the airplane, appreciating its lines and its technology and telling myself that I was able to make a good job with it. I also remember great moments when I was an instructor on the Alpha jet, when we would take off very early on the early morning in bad weather and suddenly pop up into the bright blue sky above the cloud layer. Of course my greatest result in terms of visibility and recognition from the others is my victory in the World Aerobatic Championship in 2013, but I sincerely cannot say that it was the most satisfying experience. Last week I made some flights with my daughters on a Piper PA-18, and my nine-year-old immediately understood how to control the airplane and flew for 20 minutes totally on her own. It was a pleasure to see her just flying and enjoying it. I just loved this and appreciated this moment very much. Finally, just not to live in the past and try to bring a touch of hope in my answer, I’d say that my most satisfying experience is the one that is still to come.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES AND INTERESTS OUTSIDE AVIATION?
I like sciences and if I had time, I think I’d go back to university. I like sharing moments with my kids and teaching them funny things, I like to do sport and learn things in general. I try to be interested in what’s happening or what I have to do. But sometimes it demands a huge effort, just try to be interested in doing the washing up!
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR FRANCOIS LE VOT AND YOUR RACING TEAM?
The ultimate goal is obviously to win the championship. This is the long term and significant target I keep in mind, but I don’t aim for it at the moment. My immediate goal and aspirations are to enjoy every step of the way to this potential final victory. I am very keen on this saying that it’s not the destination that is important, but the way leading to it. What I can say is that I’ll do my best so that I won’t have anything to regret. It has always worked for me in the past and I don’t see why I would change this personal successful way of doing things.
I also would like to share what I’m doing with the public. If people could find pleasure in coming and seeing my team at work, if they could find in it some worthy human values, it they could identify to it, I’d be really happy.
YOU’RE SPONSORED BY BREITLING. HOW HAVE THEY HELPED YOU ON YOUR RACING JOURNEY?
Breitling was for me some kind of inaccessible dream. I’ve been seeing their logo for years at all occasions where interesting aviation events were held. I’m now very proud to be a representative of this company and I hope I will be able to match their image of excellence. We share this passion for aviation. Breitling is a major player in aviation development. I believe we have the same expectations when it comes to aeronautics; professionalism, high performances and accuracy. I think I couldn’t find a better partner to share these values with. What is moreover quite intriguing is that the question of time keeping and the question of the nature of time itself have always fascinated me.
WHAT ARE YOUR THREE FAVOURITE BREITLING WATCHES.
I currently wear the Chronospace Automatic. It was presented to me when I won the 2013 World Aerobatic Championships and represents one of my best past achievements. So, as I am faced with new challenges in the Red Bull Air Race, it reminds me that slowly and surely I can make steps towards the next World Championship!
I also have an Aerospace that I like very much, that I received after World Aerobatic championships in 2009. I really like the look and functionality of all the operational models, the ones designed for ‘heavy duty’!
In contrast I also like the iconic Navitimer, it represents a great era of aviation, although as I get older the numbers are a little small for me – So the Chronospace is perfect!
FINALLY, IF I WERE TO INTERVIEW A GROUP OF YOUR FRIENDS, HOW WOULD THEY DESCRIBE YOU?
Funny, I have been told I have a unique and sometimes strange sense of humour! A Family guy who loves those close to him and knows what keeps me grounded. Sometimes philosophical; but to make people think differently not to fall asleep in their beer. Loyal, dedicated and driven…
Name: Francois Le Vot
Occupation: Red Bull Race Pilot
Total Hours Flown: 3500