Chuck Aaron, Red Bull helicopter pilot, first flew a helicopter at age 20. When asked if he always knew he would fly helicopters for a living, he says that ever since he started to have dreams of flying on a magic carpet at around age 12, he knew that he would be a pilot. His dad also influenced his career choice, being a pilot himself in the United States Air Force.
Today, Chuck Aaron is the only FAA licensed pilot to be allowed to perform aerobatics in a helicopter in United States, and one of only three pilots in the world. You can find Chuck at different air shows from coast to coast performing backflips, barrel rolls and other breathtaking maneuvers in his Red Bull helicopter.
Chuck bought his first helicopter, a Hughes 269A model, in 1976. However, his career path took a whole different direction when he was contacted by the owner of Red Bull.[pullquote left]”My dad thought it was crazy, as I did!” – Chuck Aaron, referring to performing stunts with a helicopter[/pullquote]
Where did it all start?
“I was challenged by the owner of Red Bull asking me if I could do aerobatics with a helicopter and I told him no, we cannot do that”, remembers Chuck. However, after thinking about it for a couple weeks, he came to the conclusion that with a modified helicopter, he could do it. He bought two helicopters and worked on them for over a year to make modifications that would allow him to do aerobatics with them. Even though the modifications are kept a secret, Chuck explains that the center of gravity was changed on the aircraft and it was made stronger, yet very light. There was a team of engineers working on the project and at the end, they could not think of one reason why the helicopter could not perform a backflip. At this point, it was “just a matter of convincing the pilot to do it”, Chuck acknowledges.[pullquote left]”We all take risks. If you make one mistake, doing what I’m doing, you die. There is no room for error.” – Chuck Aaron[/pullquote]
Once the helicopter was ready, the FAA needed to certify it in order for Chuck to perform stunts with it. Once the aircraft was certified, the next step was to also get him certified, which ended up being a complicated process. The FAA was not sure how they could certify him, so they turned to Rich Lee, chief pilot for Boeing, who evaluated him. “He wanted to make sure that I did have all my screws in my head and that they were not loose”, said Chuck, laughing.
Once Chuck got certified, Red Bull in Europe decided to do the same project, but with three pilots. This is how Rainer Wilke and Blacky Schwarz also got certified.
Chuck now has over 20,000 flight hours and has performed at over 175 air shows across the United States.
Chuck’s wife Wendi usually does not travel with him from show to show. Did she ever experience a backflip? “She won’t do it”, answers Chuck. He asked her several times if she would go with him, but even though she is supportive of what he does; she will not ride with him.
How to get ready for a show
The to-do list of things to get ready for a show is exhaustive, but Chuck, who is also an A&P mechanic on top of being a pilot, is happy to count on his son, Charles, to help him out with the whole operation. Once the helicopterhas been transported to its destination, Charles needs to get the smoke system ready, as well as checking the fuel level, making sure everything is tight down, etc. His son usually flies the helicopter to the show, and then Chuck takes it to practice and/or for a media flight. By the time it is all done, it is just about show time. “Usually about 30 minutes before each flight, I will have a quiet time, where I just relax mentally”, says Chuck. This is also when he analyses the wind and weather conditions, as well as the ceiling, which enables him to adapt the show if changes are needed. The show format is hand drawn on a piece of paper and set on the instrument panel.[pullquote left]Interesting fact:Since there is no AC in the helicopter, Chuck usually trades the typical flight suit for a pair of Red Bull shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops![/pullquote]
Chuck also participated in several movie productions, including The Rock and Shooter, and he considers these terrific experiences, but states the fact that doing a movie isn’t as stressful as performing stunts in a helicopter!
Chuck Aaron was the first helicopter pilot to be presented with the Art Scholl Showmanship Award, which was given by the International Council of Air Shows.
This award is given based on a single criteria: air show showmanship. Since the award has always been presented to a fixed wings aircraft pilot before, Chuck feels like he is representing the other helicopter pilots.
This year Chuck was also officially inducted into the Living Legends of Aviation, which he considers being one of the highest honors he ever had. “The award wasn’t just for me, this is for the helicopters in the world too”, concluded Chuck.
You can follow Chuck on Twitter @ChuckAaron
Chuck Aaron’s 2013 Show Schedule
|March 22-24||NAS Key West, FL|
|April 19-21||Fort Lauderdale, FL|
|May 11||Glen Helen, CA, Red Bull X-Fighters|
|May 14||Naval Helicopter Society, San Diego, CA|
|May 25-26||Jones Beach, NY|
|June 8-9||Ocean City, MD|
|July 4-7||St. Louis, MO|
|July 12-14||“Wingnuts,” Tarkio, MO|
|July 21||Laguna Seca Grand Prix, CA|
|July 29-31 and August 1-3||Oshkosh, WI|
|August 16-18||Chicago, IL|
|September 7-8||Catalina, CA|
|September 20-22||America’s Cup, San Francisco|
|October 4-6||MCAS Miramar, CA|
|November 27-28||Glamis, CA|
Rotor Story by Stephanie Cotnoir