Flying high: Kenny Chiang is first Hong Kong pilot to win world championship challenger race

The 27-year-old triumphs in Kazan, Russia in only his third event on the eight-stop circuit

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 July, 2017, 11:24am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 July, 2017, 11:00pm

Hong Kong’s Kenny Chiang Ting made aviation history on Sunday by becoming the first Chinese pilot to win a race in the Red Bull World Championship air race series.

The 27-year-old former Cathay Pacific pilot ruled the skies over the Russian city of Kazan in the Challenger Class to triumph in only his third race in the series.

Flying in calm conditions with a light drizzle, Chiang clocked one minute, 07.264 seconds to beat France’s Baptiste Vignes and American Kevin Coleman.

“It feels incredible, unbelievable,” said Chiang, who has been flying since he was 13 and is also an expert aerobatic pilot.

“The pressure was immense, and I’m quite surprised and really happy. Congratulations to Baptiste, too – it’s special to see two new Challengers on the podium.

“In this game experience really counts, and maybe I got a little lucky today. I’m just trying to get better and better in the plane.

“It’s still not the perfect lap and I will continue to work on it, but I do think it gives me more momentum.”

The Challenger Class is the second-tier of the Air Race World Championship series designed for outstanding pilots looking to make a name for themselves. Success in the Challenger Series potentially opens the door to the elite Master Class Series.

Chiang is certainly among those making an impact in the second tier in the fifth race of the eight-stop series.

Unlike aerobatics, air race is about sheer speed and the pilot’s ability to navigate their lightweight planes through a low-altitude slalom course marked by 25-metre high air-filled pylons.

The Hong Kong-born Chiang was first interested in flying after watching an air show in England and became a fully qualified pilot by the age of 19 – one of the youngest pilots to be part of a 747 flight crew.

In 2014, he became the first Hong Kong pilot to fly aerobatics on the global stage and won a bronze medal on his debut at the world championships – the first Asian to win a medal at the tournament.

A former junior Hong Kong rugby player, Chiang has logged more than 2,500 hours flying up to 38 different types of aircraft.

“Competitive flying is all about preparation and training. It is imperative to know where the limits are and never exceed your personal and aircraft’s limits,” Chiang says.

“To be a Challenger Class pilot is a dream come true. The mental preparation is very similar to aerobatics, but the flying discipline is quite different – there will be a lot of work to do.”

Victory in Kazan puts Chiang sixth in the overall series, with the next race in Porto, Portugal from September 2-3.