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Saturday, 05 January 2013 09:47

Martin Sonka Featured

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Martin Sonka, a military Czech pilot of L-39 Albatros and others, combines his military duties with his pasion, flying aerobatics competitions and exhibitions with his Extra 300SR and Edge 540. Pilot of the known Red Bull Air Races and winner of last Aerobatic Freestyle Challenge (AFC), Martin explains us how he got started in aviation, what are his expectations in the international competitions and describes his fascinating experience in the most Speed Air Race that ever took place in the old continent.

"Aerobatics is a way of life- something that makes me happy, gives me freedom and forces me to work on myself.”

 Why did you want to become a pilot? Is this a passion inspired by someone in your family?

 When I was a little kid, my dad was always taking me with him to different airfields. As soon as I was able to read, I developed a fascination with his aviation books. It was impossible for me not to fall in love with airplanes.

How did you discover the amazing world of aerobatics? What does aerobatics mean to you?

During my basic glider training I was simply amazed by the skills of my two instructors who were glider aerobatic pilots. When I saw them fly, I decided I wanted to do the same thing.


Like a lot of power aerobatic pilots, you began by flying gliders. How does glider aerobatics differ from power aerobatics? And how did flying gliders influence your decision to get into power aerobatics? What have you learned from flying gliders that can be applied to power aerobatics?

It is essential to always control the energy of the glider, and you must work with it very carefully during the whole flight. This is an important practice that can be applied to power aerobatics. As well as the very precise coordination of the pedals with the movement of the control stick. This is very important in gliding in general. It was a very good lesson for me. It was quite natural for me to switch to powered aerobatics, because I wanted to fly faster and complete more difficult manuevers.

You won the Aerobatic Freestyle Challenge in 2012 and you finished 2nd in the 2011 World Aerobatics Championship freestyle competition. Is freestyle the technique you feel most comfortable with and perhaps the technique you like the most? Why didn’t you fly the classic aerobatics event at the last European Aerobatic Championship?

I like freestyle very much, as well as classic aerobatics. I wasn´t able to fly in the classic event during the last EAC because of my military duties. I had been to Sweden, and I came directly from there to fly the freestyle event. It was really a pity that I couldn´t compete, and I regret that. 

What are your goals in international aerobatic competition?

My goals are just to enjoy the flying, meet great people and to be the best in the world of course. J


What factors do you take into consideration when you are designing your freestyle program for air shows or competitions? (e.g., dynamic programming, spectacular stunts, etc.)

There are just 4 minutes to show your best during competition, in comparison with an air show, where you have much more time. You can add more entertaining and complex figures, and some simple figures as well. But you must stay inside the aerobatic box during a competition flight, and you must not go below 100 m. I usually try to make my freestyle program as difficult as possible, and simultaneously it must be interesting and impressive for the judges and spectators.

What kind of freestyle program can people expect to see from you?

I like to show the maximum capability of what my plane can do. There is a very dynamic element, but I also like to perform extremely slow manuevers where I can showcase the power of my engine. So there are a lot of different parts to my freestyle show, hopefully making it as appealing as possible.


Martin, lets talk about the Red Bull Air Race. You have been a pilot in the Red Bull Air Race World Series. How did you get access to the RBAR? What did you like most about flying there? Do you think it was dangerous?

I talked to people involved in the RBAR during the WAC in 2007 in Granada. We discussed the potential of me coming to participate in training camps for prospective rookie pilots. I was super interested in RBAR, so I did what they told me. And then I was waiting to hear back, and ended up getting invited for training camps taking place during 2009. I had to have good results in aerobatics in the Unlimited category at the European and World Aerobatic Championships. Then I had to pass all training and qualification camps. And when I got the RBAR super license, I had to wait until I was given a seat in the race for the upcoming season.

The flying itself was simply amazing. It is great to fly on the track so fast, so low, so aggressive and in the most beautiful places on Earth. I like all the work done on my plane to make it faster, all the preparations, and thinking about every detail of my flight. It is an amazing sport, for me and for the spectators as well.

Every sport where planes, cars or motorbikes are moving fast could be dangerous. But if there are top pros involved in the organizing and in the cockpits, the risk is totally minimized. All our tracks were built to be absolutely safe for spectators, allowing them to watch the race from a very desirable location.


What things do you think are basic to being a champion in the RBAR?  Do you think that having a better plane with better performance is crucial to becoming a winner in these races?

Of course. That’s a very important part of success as in every motorsport. The second part is your pilot skills. The two have to be in balance and if you don´t have one of them, you can´t win. But there are other factors like your team, your mental resistance, and so on. If all of them reach top level, you can win the race.


How did you used to prepare before a race (e.g., studying the racetrack, determining ways to gain time on the turns, etc.)? Did you used to have physical preparation/physical training before the season? What was your regular training routine?

The most important way to prepare was studying the race track - to have the layout it in my head along with the wind direction. Just before I would jump into the cockpit, I liked to be alone for some time and just concentrate on the race. I didn´t have any special mental training before the season, because I was extremely busy preparing my plane and putting together my team.  And with regards to physical preparation, I work out a lot because of my aerobatic competing, and I have always done that, so I always feel well-prepared for the season.


The Red Bull regulations allowed teams to make some modifications to the planes. What kind of modifications did you make to your plane? What improvements did these changes bring about?

It was my first season in 2010, and we didn’t have enough money for big improvements. So we used the plane as it was when we bought it. There were no special modifications except the little winglets on the wingtips. You do have to make modifications to make the plane faster, but again, it is a matter of money and sponsors.


You were flying the Edge 540 during the RBAR and now you are flying the Extra 300SR. What are the differences between these two aircraft? Is the 540 a better aircraft for speed and the 300SR for freestyle?

They are similar aircrafts, and both are great for aerobatics in the Unlimited category. My Edge is a little bit lighter, which is an advantage for racing. The plane was for sale when I was joining RBAR, so it was natural for me to buy it from Mike Mangold who was flying the plane at the time in the race.


We know that you have a well-known sponsor. Do you think it is possible to make a living solely from aerobatics?

It is very difficult, and it depends on results at championships as well as how many air shows you are invited to fly. This impacts your popularity and how attractive you are to potential sponsors. It is definitely not easy, because just the maintenance, fuel, and so on is very expensive. I am very grateful to my sponsor and must thank them for their support.


Have you ever been nervous flying during the RBAR because of the proximity of the aircraft to the ground? How did it affect you?

It’s important to clarify that RBAR is not aerobatics but speed flying. Aerobatics is about precision and points, but RBAR is about speed and time. I haven´t been scared during the Red Bull Air Race. I am used to flying low and fast, and we went through strenuous training on the track before we joined RBAR. I have always managed to be fully focused during each flight, so there is no reason to be scared. But it is necessary to go through hours of preparation before each flight.


Do you think that luck is a determining factor in the RBAR? If yes, how so?

The determining factors are simply hard work, the skill level of everyone on the team, and a lot of preparation. Luck can help you sometimes, but you cannot rely on it. Bad luck can come too, just like in every other human activity.


To finish, the RBAR influenced the perception of aerobatics among the general population. Never has aerobatics been so well-known worldwide. Do you think the RBAR will become more visible in the next coming years? Will you participate as a pilot?

RBAR helped aviation gain visibility in the world. It is an amazing motorsport.  I hope to see RBAR return and to be able to race again.



-European Aerobatic Championship – 7th final freestyle

-Winner Aerobatic Freestyle Challenge AFC

-National Championship, Unlimited, Powered, 1st place

-German National Championship, Unlimited, Powered, 1st place


-11th on the World Aerobatic Championship

-2nd place final Freestyle program World Aerobatic Championship

-National Championship, Unlimited, Powered, 1st place

-Elite Aerobatic Formula, Riga, 1st place

-Hungarian Nationals, Unlimited, Powered, 1st place 


- Red bull air races 14th place


▪                World Championship, Unlimited - Free Style, Powered, 9th place

▪                Slovenian Nationals, Unlimited, Powered, 1st place

▪                World Air Games, Unlimited, Powered, 5th place


▪                World Aerobatic Cup, Unlimited, Powered, 3rd place

▪                European Championship, Unlimited, Powered, 17th place

▪                National Championship, Unlimited, Powered, 1st place


▪                World Championship, Unlimited, Powered, 29th place.

▪                National Championship, Unlimited, Powered, 2nd place


▪                European Championship, Unlimited, Powered, 14th place

▪                National Championship, Unlimited, Powered, 3rd place


▪                European Championship, Advanced, Powered, 14th place

▪                National Championship, Advanced, Powered, 4th place


▪                National Championship, Sportsman, Powered, 1st place

▪                National Championship, Intermediate, Gliders, 1st place


▪                National Championship, Sportsman, Gliders, 1st place


National Championship, Sportsman, Gliders, 3rd place



Read 3327 times Last modified on Wednesday, 20 November 2013 08:32
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"Aerobatics is the hidden rythm of our soul..."