World champion air racer Matt Hall puts his flight planning on the record
Planning and debriefing are key factors in Matt Hall’s every flight, whether it’s the gut-wrenching, high-g environment of competition or the more relaxed setting of a leisure trip. The reigning Red Bull Air Race world champion and former fighter pilot writes down his objectives and goals for each flight, including the areas in which he wants to improve.
As he prepares to defend his Red Bull title, Hall says routine, fitness and discipline are paramount when it comes to flying of any type. This includes ensuring there is time to debrief after every flight, something he believes is just as important for a pilot flying a Cessna as it is when he’s at the controls of his high-performance Zivko Edge 540 racing aircraft.
His firm advice is to write the debriefing down in a book so it gets captured on paper. ‘Even if you never read it again, just the act of writing stuff down on paper cements it in your head,’ Hall tells Flight Safety Australia.
‘I watch lot of people say that they’re trying to improve and they fly, fly, fly. But they never actually take a break to debrief and write down what they learnt each flight. They may ultimately get there but it’s going to take them a lot longer, it’s going to cost a lot more money and quite often you end up giving up because of stagnation. Before I go flying every time, I write down what are my objectives and what are my goals for this particular flight, what I personally want to improve on each flight and how I’m going to do that.’
If he fails to reach his objective, Hall keeps trying.
‘And if I did achieve it, it was like tick, well done,’ he says. ‘I instil what I learnt from it and how I’m going to change my permanent habits on the very next flight.
‘Aviation is fantastic — it’s relaxing and people love to get airborne. But at some stage it gets boring if you’re not learning.’
One the big pitfalls of close familiarity with any task is complacency and Hall admits he is not immune. He says a lack of learning or growth can equate to dissatisfaction and complacency begins to creep in. ‘The reason I started competition aerobatics was that I was getting complacent flying jets,’ he says. ‘I’d been flying them for 10 years at that point and I found I was getting airborne and looking at all the cars parked on the side of the road while the aircraft was cleaning up in full burner. I just wasn’t paying attention anymore.
‘I told myself I was heading down a path where I was going to hurt myself because something was going to go wrong and I wasn’t going to see it.
‘It doesn’t really matter what aspect of aviation you’re pushing yourself to learn. If you’re pushing yourself and learning in any aspect of aviation, it has a ripple effect that re-engages your brain across the board.’
Surprisingly, that also applies to racing and Hall notes that keeping engaged at the top of the game is challenging when improvements are measured in a fraction of a percentage point.
‘Once again, if you look at most world champions, they are very good at some other focus in life,’ he says. ‘They have the challenge and improvement in some other aspect of their life, which then ripples across to their chosen sport where they’re in those fraction of percentage improvements that make it hard to stay motivated.’
Hall notes that he has friends who are experienced airline pilots who do aerobatics and race planes because this channels across to their day jobs. He says he stayed engaged by studying for various helicopter licences as well as his multi command instrument rating.
‘It sounds weird that I’m doing things that have nothing to do with racing apart from that they’re in the aviation game,’ he concedes. ‘But it does have to do with is my mental state and discipline.’
It also gives a hint of what Hall might be doing when the racing stops and he no longer wants to pull the punishing 12-g turns of the Red Bull competition. That’s still a couple of years away but Hall is already thinking about it.
‘There will be another version of me in aviation,’ he says. ‘Something I’ve always looked at is being a rescue helicopter pilot. I feel a need to give back to the community. To use my aviation skills and knowledge to try and help people.’
In life, as in flying, it pays to plan ahead.
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