SALZBURG, Austria – Paul Bonhomme, the most successful pilot in the 10-season history of the Red Bull Air Race with three World Championships and 19 race victories, announced on Thursday that he was retiring from the sport. The 51-year-old from Cambridge was the dominant force in the high-speed, low-altitude race for most of his 66-race career since its launch in 2003 and was in the thick of the championship battle in the last six seasons.
Bonhomme is retiring from the sport in which 14 of the world’s best pilots from 11 nations race at speeds of 370 km/h through a 25-meter high racetrack because he would like to spend more time with his family and because it felt right after winning the 2015 World Championship on Sunday in Las Vegas. He will also concentrate on flying aerobatic displays at air shows with his Red Bull Matadors teammate as well as his career as a Captain flying Boeing 747s for British Airways.
“I reckon now is a good time to stop. It worked, the team were (still are) fantastic and I have been very lucky to enjoy the fruits of great teamwork,” said Bonhomme. “The flying and the opportunity to race has been utterly superb. Those moments in the track, in a well prepared raceplane, is the ultimate flying experience. If you can fly it inch perfect at 200kts whilst 50ft from the ground, pulling 10G and then discover that you’ve set the fastest time, it is a buzz, a massive buzz.”
Known around the world for his formidable flying prowess on the high-speed tracks, Bonhomme’s smooth and efficient flying style in the race tracks set the standard in the sport for years with many of his rival pilots trying to match his racing lines and efficiency. Despite his friendly demeanor, deadpan humour, entertaining quips and engaging ability to explain the finer points of the sport to fans and reporters around the world, Bonhomme was a fierce competitor who loathed losing.
Aside from his record three world championships in 2009, 2010 and 2015, Bonhomme was also second place overall in 2007, and 2008 as well as third in 2014. He also holds the record for most careers wins (19), most podiums (46), most championship points in a single season (76 in 2015). Bonhomme also had the fewest pylon hits in most seasons he raced, an unofficial category that reflects his smooth and clean flying style through the 25-meter high Air Gates that mark the courses.
After winning his second world championship in 2010, Bonhomme was awarded the prestigious Guild Sword of Honour by the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators in Britain.
Bonhomme began flying at an early age. His father was a pilot, his mother was a flight attendant and his brother is a commercial pilot. He got his start as a 16-year-old cleaning hangars, polishing aircraft and refuelling aircraft in England before getting his private pilot’s license at 18. He was soon working as a flight instructor and later became an air taxi pilot before flying charter flights. His aerobatics career began in 1986 and he has been flying at air shows ever since
Bonhomme’s retirement follows news on Sunday that another veteran of the sport, Hungary’s Peter Besenyei, who had eight career victories, announced that he was retiring from the sport he helped create in 2003. Besenyei, 59, won the title in the inaugural season in 2003.