Daily Mirror, Angleterre

Red Bull Air Race’s only female pilot defies critics and sacrifices family life to pursue flying dream



As her friends are making wedding plans and changing nappies, Melanie Astles has accepted this is something she has had to give up.

Told at school she was making the ‘worst mistake of her life’, Melanie has had to deal with a lot of opposition.

But as she prepares to navigate a twisting course of obstacles at 265mph just a few death defying metres above the ground, she insists it has been worth all the sacrifices.

Melanie, 34, is Red Bull Air Race’s only female pilot, and will this weekend compete in a series of awe inspiring stunts at Ascot Racecourse in her Extra 330LX plane.

Unbelievably Melanie has only had the chance to fly the Ascot course a couple of days before the race – until then everything is done through visualising the turns and challenges of the course, in a technique known as « mind-mapping. »

She has to be both mentally and physically fit for the challenge. This has meant her career has demanded all her focus – from sacrificing relationships and her father’s desire for her to become a lawyer – to giving up socialising to practise her manouveres.

And becoming a Red Bull Air Race Challenger pilot has even seen her sacrifice her career goal of becoming a commercial pilot with Air France.

But for Melanie, quitting has never been an option .

She has been in love with flying since visiting an air show when she was little – describing the « universe as her sky ».

Melanie, was born in Rugby, Warwickshire, but later moved to France. She left school at 18 when she said she became « lost. »

She took a job at a petrol station where she was determined to get enough money to pay for flying lessons. Eventually working her way up the ranks, Melanie got enough money together for lessons and started flying at 21. She quickly managed to get her private pilot flying licence before securing a grant to professional licence.

However, due to leaving school at 18, Melanie lacked the maths and science background of most pilots. She adds: « I had to study hard to learn about the technical and mechanical side of planes. I would lock myself in my room for days on end to study, and also at work in between serving customers. »

Melanie initially set out to be a fighter pilot but when that didn’t work out she turned to aerobatic flying, which came with gruelling training sessions.

She has also worked as a flight instructor for commercial airlines since 2011 – regularly teaching her students how to deal with engine failures – which consists of turning off all the engines and « gliding back to earth. »