I grew up on a farm in Tannheim, about 60 miles west of Munich. When I was 2 years old, my dad had the vision to fly. So he chased his dream, built an airfield, sold the farm, and finally at the age of 5, my family and I moved to the airfield. Since that day, in 1976, the airfield was and is our home. Growing up at an airfield is pretty unique. I was hanging around airplanes 24/7/365. Of course my interest was more in airplanes than in school or other stuff. I tried to hop in every plane, even just to sit in and dream of flying. I asked everybody if I could get a ride/flight, which often worked out.
I never logged my hours before I started flying, must have been easily above 1000. Living and working on the airfield is a privilege of course. At the age of 14, I finally started flying officially, solo'd the same year in a glider. That feeling, being able to fly all by myself, fulfilling my dream, was and is, something very special, which gives the life pretty good sense. I started to get the feel, that I have quite some talent, and loved it more and more, I became addicted, and it never went away. Every time I lift off the ground, this feeling is there. It´s ultimate, and I cannot describe it. Pure joy. I looped the gliders with 15, started flying motor-planes and ultralights at 17. Been the youngest German microlight-pilot and participated at the German microlight nationals at 17 as well, placed 3rd, became member of the national team. Flew the European championships during my 18th birthday. In 1991 at age of 20, I became the German national champion, and closed my micro-light career at 21 after 4 nationals, 2 Europeans and 1 world championship. At 21 I decided to stop something I loved. I knew if I would continue, I might not survive. Pushed it to the limit and recognized, it´s time to get serious.
At age 21 I became Germany's youngest flight instructor. I was ready to show our students how to fly, sometimes it was hard to believe, that I should teach people, who are older than me. It became normal and I enjoyed it a lot. 'The airfield boy' gained lots of experience, I tried to fly every airplane available, to collect types and test it all out. Ah, I forgot, at age of 18, just 2 months after my PPL, I got my aerobatic rating. To fly all airplanes full envelope was always something which I was keen to do. I wanted to be able to handle every plane to it´s best, and to be the boss of every moment, the airplane was flying. After 36 years of flying, I still don't know everything about aviation and airplanes. The play and work life is huge, on one hand you have to prioritise and do things you are good at and on the other hand not be half-hearted whilst performing other activities. This keeps you alive. Never lose the respect of nature, technology, and humans, especially of yourself.
You can push the limits, if you know where they are. Man, I could write hours on this chapter! Step by step, I reached my goals, and set new ones. Beside of my crazy flying airshow act, which I started in a C150 Aerobat at 23, I got the chance to fly at aerobatic shows. At the age of 27, I suddenly was involved in my first Extra 300 mid-wing, a fantastic aerobatic plane. Wohoo, I felt I was the king of the sky (which I was not!) It would take weeks to write everything down, what happened and what I did alongside being a boy who loves to play. Well, one more thing here: After my successful microlight career, we started to host microlight fly in´s. It all started with a campfire and 10 planes. This doubled every year. Eventually it became Europe's biggest fly in and airshow, with 1500 airplanes in 2013,we stopped it, because it became too big. German regulations and lack of energy made us stop this event but became legendary.
What I learnt from those 20 years: Vision! Set goals, chase them, and don't let anyone bring you away from your vision. Ask if you need help, be thankful for what you have, and keep the human side on top. With our TANNKOSH FLY-IN, we always had the vision, to make it an unforgettable weekend for our aviation-friends. It worked. We worked. 365 days a year. Hard work pays off! It doesn't matter what it is, if you really really want it, you can get it. Find your way, chase your dreams, set your goals and be the best you can be at it. Work hard!
After being in the European airshow industries for about 10 years, I started flying T28 with the Flying Bulls/Red Bull in Austria. In 2003, the first Red Bull Air Race was held during an airshow, where I was flying the Corsair F4U. I know some of the first racers, and thought, man, I love that, I can do it, I want that too! They told me, the field is full, no need for new pilots.
Hmmm.. Years went by, and in 2006 Air-race came out with a rule, that you have to be in the top 50 percent of an international unlimited aerobatic championship (world/european), to take part. Damn, I thought. Never competed aerobatics before. Ok, lets do it. Set your goal and work hard for it (see above). So, in 2006, I rented an Extra 300L, competed in advance, my first flights in an aerobatic box. It wasn't that bad. In 2007, I had two weeks of training with Patrick Paris, former world champion and one of my idols. Without planning ahead, I ended up, a week later at the unlimited world aerobatic championships in Spain!! Believe it or not, it was my second championship. I finished somewhere near the bottom, which was pretty frustrating. I expected too much, but I learned a lot. I wasn't afraid of loosing. I wanted to learn. Following this championship at the end of 2007, I started extensive aerobatic training with Patrick.
Together with Matt Hall, Pete McLeod, Yoshi Muroya and Sami Kontio, we had 12 weeks of training. Our all goal was to be in the top half at the unlimited European aerobatic championships in 2008. Full focus, full effort, full risk, all in. I sold everything, and together with help of friends, I was able to buy an Extra 330SC. I wanted to become an air-race pilot, I didn't loose my vision, chased my dream and goals. In 2008, we all made it, additionally I became German unlimited champion. With that, we got the ticket to the qualification camp in autumn 2008. Matt, Pete, Yoshi and I, got the super licence and were called into the Red Bull Air Race for 2009.
We were pretty stoked, that all four of us got the chance to do this, we were pretty lucky guys, since all of us went in 100 percent towards our goal. This welded us somehow together, and we became friends for lifetime. We opened a new chapter in the Air-race and pushed the competition into over drive. Three of us four, became world champion, all were regular podium-finishers. We lived the dream! In 2015 I felt, I was ready to win. I asked for help from other people, to become better with everything. And, I set the goal to become champion, and do whatever it takes, I would fight for this. It was a showdown in Indianapolis in 2016. Matt and I were fighting for the crown. Matt was flying second last that day, hit a pylon. I was last to fly and had the chance to ease back and just go for the podium.
I decided to go for the win, took the risk, and won. I was so damn confident, that nothing could stop me. The feeling to win, and become world champion by my own power, was a feeling, which again, is indescribable. A big load fell off my shoulders, happiness, excitement, freaking out, everything was in that feelings. Satisfaction! A dream came true. It was confirmation that hard work pays out. Don't let anyone take you off your course. You can get it, if you want it. If you really want it! Being on top of the world, was the peak of racing. There is nothing better. A point, where one can be satisfied, relaxed and happy. A feeling, which you take along during the rest of your life.
If someone asks, would you do it again: YES. The same, for sure!
I started flying at our own flight school officially with 14 and had some really good flight instructors. The most important thing, what they told me at the very beginning, was: if something unusual happens, first thing you need to do, it to stay cool and calm. This helped lots of times. I listened to my instructors, and analysed myself. Every takeoff I tried to become better with everything. Chair-flying and looking at the flying of others, helped a lot. So, it´s not only your own flying, also the time you spend on the airfield, you can learn from watching and talking to other pilots as well. You pick the points, which help yourself. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to fly every plane, in every weather and wind.
When the others stopped, I started. Guess, this is a habit from tennis. I played years and years of Tennis when I was young, and was training hard all day long. I took this will power and passion into aviation. Sometimes I was not interested why things happen, but how. I´m a type of hands-on-pilot. I fly with feel and love. Handle every aircraft to its limit.
I was lucky to have some mentors in my career. They believed in me, helped, and trusted me. This was and is a gift. I think, if someone really has passion, he will be helped for sure. For lots of aviators, it´s hard to get everything financed. There is always a way, if you have the passion. It´s not going to come to you, you have to go get it. Aviation happens on airfield and airports. Not at home. Just like in school, a good teacher helps a lot, and makes you better. If you want to become a pilot, go for ATP, do it now! It´s always NOW! Every flight you don't do, you can never repeat again!
Since the Red Bull Air Race has stopped, I finally have some time to finish rebuilding my house, just a mile away from the airfield. I do keynote speeches, brand ambassador for Daimler/AMG and Laureus (helping kids have better life). I want to give some of my luck and experience back to the next generation. Together with my sister, we operate our airfield and flight-school, hangars, fuel station, restaurant. Coming back to the roots, after 13 years of travelling the world. Using the time to spent time with my family, recapping the past and motivate myself for the future. Set new goals. Standing by for a restart of a possible air-race in 2021.
If the air-race comes back, I see myself with this again, racing for a while and then operating a team. Since time is running out fast, and more and more becomes uncertain, we have to adjust ourselves and our lives quicker to new situations. I think, at one stage, you have to be happy with what you've got, and not only looking for things which you don't have. It is a challenge, to combine this with new goals, but it´s doable.
Fly even more. Don't let anyone tell you, you´re not good enough. Believe in yourself. Work hard. Time will bring everything. Believe in what's good. Respect and accept. Nothing is impossible.