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Landings: Profile: National Aerobatics Champion, Kirby Chambliss

The new U.S. Unlimited Men's Team, who will compete in the World Aerobatic Championships in Florida next year, are pictured with Kirby's Zivko Edge. (L-R) Kirby Chambliss, team captain; Steve Andelin; David Martin; and Mike Mangold. Team member Robert Armstrong is not pictured. Photo was taken at the U.S. National Championships in Denison, Texas September 29, 2002. Photo by LeeAnn Abrams

By Geri Silveira

There's only one word for a pilot like Kirby Chambliss:


"Wow! Look at him roll!"

"Wow! He's going straight up!"

When you hear the "W" word at an air show, it's probably because Kirby Chambliss is doing a spectacular aerobatic maneuver, such as the "Cobra," where he pulls up to vertical just a few feet off the ground. How does Kirby, 2002 U.S. National Aerobatic Champion and air show star, fly so darned well? "Quality practice, not quantity," says Kirby, a smile on his boyish face, "That said, I normally fly three times a day, four days a week as I get close to an important competition." That adds up to only about four hours of flying a week, but remember, Kirby is flying the most difficult aerobatic in the world, pulling in excess of +9 and 6 gs. Kirby's quality time flying his Zivko Edge 540 has really paid off.

In September, he won the National Championships making him the 2002 U.S. National Champion, reprising his win in 1998. That's big news in the aerobatic world. And, even bigger news, Kirby's #1 position made him Captain of the U.S. Unlimited Aerobatic Team that will compete in the World Aerobatic Championship (WAC) in Lakeland, Florida next year. "This is a great honor for me," comments Kirby. "I am extremely proud to represent my country, and I'm hoping for great success for my teammates and myself." Dig a little deeper, and you'll find the dedicated competitor in Kirby. "Of course, I absolutely want to be the World Aerobatic Champion."

Kirby has some pretty stiff competition in that department. First, there are the world-class competitors like Russian pilot, Mikail Mamistov, winner of the 2001 WAC. And then there's the considerable competition from his own teammates, Robert Armstrong, second place finisher behind Mamistov in 2001; David Martin, Gold Medal winner in the Freestyle event at the WAC 2001; Mike Mangold, up-and coming pilot, who took second place at this year's nationals; and Steve Andelin, 2000 National Champion. Even though there are still a separate titles for men and women (we do not make that distinction in this country), the women team members are not to be taken lightly: Debby Rihn-Harvey is a tough and experienced competitor with 10 WACs to her credit; Julie Mangold finished 8th in the Nationals; Chandy Clanton is a talented young pilot who shows great promise; Marta Meyer is an experienced competitor; and Vicki Cruse has made the unlimited team after only five years flying aerobatics!

As team captain, Kirby will be responsible for helping the newer team members who lack world experience. "I'll be the glue that keeps everybody together and moving in the right direction," he explains. And that direction is to win a team Gold Medal and the World Championship title. So what's the big deal about the WAC contest? Well, it's the "Olympics" of aerobatics. Held every other year in locations throughout the world since 1960, the WAC awards individual men's and women's world titles and national team titles. The best unlimited aerobatic pilots in the world compete in a series of aerobatic flights, including two compulsory sequences and one freestyle.

The next World Aerobatic Championship, which will take place in Lakeland, Florida June 25 through July 4, is the first time the contest has been on home ground since 1996. This gives the U.S. team a distinct advantage. For one, the team doesn't have to transport their aircraft to Europe, which is time-consuming and expensive. For another, the team doesn't have to endure jet lag and extreme fatigue, which could cause health problems. (Ask team member Robert Armstrong about that. He almost missed qualifying in 2001 due to a severe-but fortunately, short-term-illness.) Like all the U.S. Unlimited team members, Kirby trains with a professional coach. In January, he will work with Sergei Boriak, his coach for the last seven years, and just "FLY, FLY, FLY." (The capital letters are Kirby's.) Like any sport, becoming an aerobatic champion is a big commitment. "When you are trying to be the best in the world at anything," Kirby reflects, "it has to be your life. It has to be the most important thing."

For Kirby, flying has always been a priority. He earned his private pilot's license at 17, got his commercial rating at 19 and was a corporate pilot by 21. By the time he was 24, Kirby was working for Southwest Airlines-at the time their youngest pilot. He was also the youngest captain for Southwest when he was promoted in 1988. He enjoys all kinds of flying, but the contest in Florida is his focus now.

His Zivko Edge 540, a single-place aerobatic monoplane with a 330-hp Lycoming IO-540, Hartzell 3-blade composite prop, and 420 degree-per-second roll rate has a paint scheme that's as incredible as his flying. Kirby has about 22,000 total hours with 3,000 in aerobatics. In addition to his current championship, Kirby has won five medals in his aerobatic career, including a Gold Medal in freestyle flight making him the 2000 Men's World Champion (Freestyle) and a Bronze Team Medal in 2001.

Besides his work as an airline pilot, Kirby finds time to wow audiences at air shows around the country. "It's fun, and it's different from competition. Demanding, but in a different way." He recently flew in the Copperstate Air Show at Grande Valley Airport south of Phoenix, Arizona. Next year, Kirby plans to fly 10 of the larger air shows in the country. Kirby literally lives aerobatics. He's a resident of Flying Crown Ranch south of Phoenix, Arizona, where he has an aerobatic box right outside his door.

He also has the support of his wife, Kellie, who shares his love of aviation-she flies the family's clipped-wing Cub and a Cessna 180. Many corporate sponsors have recognized the talents of Kirby and his team, including the Team's very first sponsor AeroShell, along with Hartzell Propeller, Textron Lycoming and Champion sparkplugs.

Says Paul Royko, AeroShell's general aviation technical manager, U.S., "We have a powerhouse of a team this year, and we're looking forward to the Florida contest." With nine dedicated teammates, the home field advantage, and the leadership of team Captain Kirby Chambliss, the gold is definitely within reach of the U.S. Team. For Kirby, the only word to describe winning the Team and Individual Gold in Florida next year in Florida would be-you guessed it-" Wow!"

Kirby's website: http://www.chamblissaerobatics.com/