Hong Kong ace pilot Kenny Chiang dreams of a major air race over Victoria Harbour

The 27-year-old, a recent Challenger winner in Kazan, says it would be a dream come true to stage a world series event in his home city

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 August, 2017, 8:45am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 August, 2017, 8:55am

Hong Kong’s Kenny Chiang Ting has partly fulfilled his career ambitions by becoming a professional air race pilot. Now he wants to showcase his flying skills in front of his home fans.

The 27-year-old Red Bull World Championship air racer said he would love to see Hong Kong stage a leg of the global series, which is air racing’s equivalent to Formula One for cars.

“Aviation in Hong Kong is still restrictive,” said former Cathay Pacific pilot Chiang. “It would be amazing to see a Red Bull Air Race in Hong Kong.

“My dream would be to have a race over Victoria Harbour, that would be an absolute dream.

“It would be a great chance to show home fans what air racing is all about and make them more familiar with aviation.

“In Hong Kong, when people think about aviation, they think about airlines and transport. I want to show them raw flying and most people haven’t experienced that.”

Air racing involves pilots taking their aircraft through a low-altitude slalom course marked by 25-metre high air-filled pylons, with many of the venues using harbours to set up the course. Time penalties are imposed if a pilot hits a pylon, and the plane with the fastest time wins.

“Although there are no plans to host Air Race in Hong Kong at the moment, we look forward to bringing this event to Hong Kong one day,” Red Bull said.

However, it would take plenty of hoops to jump through to make Chiang’s dream to fly in Hong Kong a reality.

The body governing for air space in the city is the Civil Aviation Department, which said they would need more details of what staging such an event entails before being able to comment.

Watch: Kenny Chiang Ting win in Kazan

While a Hong Kong event remains, for the moment, only a distant reality, Chiang has more immediate goals to fulfil - to one day make the step up to master class pilot.

And he is certainly no fly-by-night boy racer with a new toy. The Hong Kong-born pilot showed that he is among the most promising young racers when he won a leg of the world championships’ Challenger Class in Kazan, Russia in July.

The Challenger Class is the second tier of the series, and a successful stint potentially opens the door to the elite master class.

Like Formula One, air racing is an expensive sport to break into, and Chiang is one of the fortunate ones who, after watching an air show in London in 2007, decided right then and there what he wanted to do in life.

“It was really a step-by-step process,” said Chiang, who is an expert aerobatic pilot having became one of the world’s youngest qualified commercial pilots at the age of 19.

“What was really helpful to me was that I had clear, defined goals. It was not something vague.

“I wanted to be an air race pilot, so I did research on how to do that, I spoke to the right people, I was in contact with them for several years and just worked my way through.”

Chiang’s stint as an aerobatic pilot, which is still part of his career, was his stepping stone to air racing.

His breakthrough came in late 2016 when he was invited to a world championship qualifying camp in Spain, where he was able to earn his air racing super licence.

“This basically qualifies you to fly in the world championship, but it doesn’t mean you will fly and it depends on if there is a seat available,” said Chiang, who competes in an Extra 330 LX - a lightweight, two-seater aircraft designed for aerobatics and competition.

“When I got the call from Red Bull to take part, I was just so happy. It was a few days before my birthday and I celebrated with family and friends and it was a really special day.

“The qualifying camp you have to demonstrate the ability to do what they ask with different types of flying sometimes at [a g-force of]10 G and 50 metres above the ground.

“You can be an amazing aerobatic pilot, but that would not give you the experience of low-level flying. They want to make sure you are able to control the aeroplane and ensure safety, which is a priority.

“I was very happy with my performance. It had been my dream for 10 years, I did a lot of visualisation of flying at a low level, and when I actually got to do it, it was an amazing experience.

“Of course, the ultimate is the master class and that remains my dream.”