Mel starts the New year with a bang!
Last October Melanie Astles fulfilled one of her childhood dreams by starting to become an airline pilot with one of the world’s most prestigious airlines, Air France. Now she is ready to talk about how she is progressing and also about some of her projects and thoughts for the next season. Read on to catch up.
Mélanie, you left us last time just at the beginning of your training at Air France. Since then you have been very busy. How is that going?
It’s really intense, exciting and quite frankly exhausting. I was not able to prepare much before starting because of the races, so I had a lot to catch up, a lot of ground tuition to get through before getting into the simulator. The days were long and extremely intense. Getting up at 2.30am to go fly the simulator was a challenge in itself. But I am happy to say that I passed my A320 Type Rating on January 2. What a fantastic start to the New Year!
Congratulations! Flying a simulator of an airliner was a new experience for you, I think?
Yes, it doesn’t feel or fly like a real airplane to me, but it’s the best way to learn about all the aircraft systems and the many procedures that are required to fly an airliner. The instructors were fantastic and helped a lot. I was really impressed by their dedication and friendly professionalism.
This is a very different way of flying to what you are used to, isn’t it?
You’re right! Flying aerobatics or the races is pretty much a seat of the pants sensation. I can feel what the plane is doing and really connect to it. An airliner is, well, much bigger and you spend a lot of time making sure that it is doing what you want it to do. I think one of the biggest changes for me is the electronic flight controls and the side stick. It has a totally different feel than what I am used to, but my experience as an aerobatic pilot did end up helping me quite a bit. But after having flown so many hours in the simulator it’s now second nature to me.
Back to the Red Bull Air Race and the next season. Red Bull announced a race in Cannes, France, next season. How exciting is that for you?
I can’t wait to be there. Like I said last month, this will be a huge event for me. I am counting on everyone to come and support me and give me all that positive energy. I am really going to concentrate on doing my best and flying smoothly. The venue and the track are new to all the teams so it will be an exciting race to watch.
For the past two seasons you have been racing with the Extra 330LX aircraft, but next season Red Bull is changing to the Edge 540. How is that going to affect your flying?
New aircraft, new rules, new game! It will be interesting to see how everyone does with the Edge. It’s a great aircraft and has better performance than the Extra. Even though I had 3 podiums last year, I was playing catch up a bit with some of the other competitors who had more experience racing with the Extra. I am looking forward to the new season because it should level the playing field and make the races even more exciting for the public.
You will be racing in front of your home crowd for the first time. Is there any special preparation for that?
Racing, or doing any kind of activity in front of a home crowd, can put unwanted psychological pressure onto an athlete. I don’t want to feel that, so I will be continuing my preparation for the race; but half the mental preparation is just being physically in top condition, so I will be keeping fit over the winter with my physical coach Romain Guillot. Being in top condition and mentally relaxed is essential to winning, and that is what I am aiming for this year.
Besides becoming the best pilot you can be physically and mentally, what else is needed to potentially move up to the Master Class that competes for the World Championship?
For example, another of my objectives is to find some partners to be able to start thinking about building a Master Class team. Of course this requires financial resources, so we’ll be searching for that in 2018, and doing our best to develop this business and make it bigger for the future. I’ll be working hard to continuously improve return on investment for potential partners.
What does that mean?
Offering companies excellent visibility, and also the possibility to invite their customers to the air shows and the races. I can spend the day with them, do keynote speeches. And of course there’s the possibility of my wearing a company’s logo or colors on my helmet and of course on the plane itself.
Do you mind having to think about the business side of racing?
It’s a reality for Master Class pilots, and actually it’s a reality in any major motorsport. Besides, it’s not just about business. For partners, it’s about joining a great adventure and a great story, being part of history and of something new – being part of the dream, fly, inspire team. Companies who are interested in joining the adventure can contact me.
You mention air shows. You didn’t do any air shows in 2017. Will that be changing?
Yes! Another objective is to fly some air shows this year, so I’m just getting ready to announce my participation in some major air shows around Europe. Of course, in this situation too, if anyone is interested in having me participate in an air show they can also contact me.
Any other messages you have for us?
Of course! I would like to wish all my fans, friends and sponsors a very Happy New Year and I hope to see you all in Cannes in April for my first race of the season!
Happy New Year !
from Mel and the team…
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