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Could Red Bull Air Race come to Great Yarmouth after Norfolk pilot lands leading role?

PUBLISHED: 19:29 04 January 2018 | UPDATED: 10:13 11 January 2018

Willie Cruickshank in the air for the Wildcats Aerobatics team. Picture: Wildcats Aerobatics

Willie Cruickshank in the air for the Wildcats Aerobatics team. Picture: Wildcats Aerobatics

Wildcats Aerobatics

A high-flying Norfolk man is getting the engine running on a jet-setting career move which will see him run races watched by 300 million people.

Willie Cruickshank. Picture: Wildcats AerobaticsWillie Cruickshank. Picture: Wildcats Aerobatics

Willie Cruickshank, who lives in Aylsham, is poised to swap the health sector for Salzburg when he takes up the role of head of aviation and sport at Red Bull Air Race.

The former RAF pilot, who flies with the Wildcat Aerobatics team in Norfolk as well as leading the Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance, will be responsible for designing the race courses, arranging locations and training the pilots.

Mr Cruickshank, 51, said: “It is a dream job for me.

“I was in the RAF for 26 years and have flown for the Wildcats for seven years so flying is my passion.

Willie Cruickshank. Picture: Wildcats AerobaticsWillie Cruickshank. Picture: Wildcats Aerobatics

“I am looking forward to trying to take [the race] to the next level.”

Mr Cruickshank heard about the opportunity through an aerobatics friend, Ben Murphy, who will be racing in the competition this season.

After sending an email he was soon being flown out to Austria to meet the team and a week later was asked to join.

The job begins at the end of January but there will not be long for Mr Cruickshank to get his feet under the desk.

Willie Cruickshank in his role as director of the Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance. Picture: Ian BurtWillie Cruickshank in his role as director of the Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance. Picture: Ian Burt

“Because it is a global race I am going to have to spend half the year on tour,” he said.

“The first race is in Abu Dhabi in February so I am going to get to Austria, unpack, pick up some bits and then straight there.”

Fans of the Wildcats need not fear however as Mr Cruickshank will be returning to Norfolk at weekends to see wife Nicola and children Rory, 18, and Maisie, 16, as well as continue his aerobatics career.

While Mr Cruickshank said leaving the dementia care world was a wrench he said it was too good an opportunity to turn down.

Pilot Martin Sonka in action in the Red Bull Air Race competition in 2017. Picture: Joerg Mitter/Red Bull Content PoolPilot Martin Sonka in action in the Red Bull Air Race competition in 2017. Picture: Joerg Mitter/Red Bull Content Pool

“I have spent seven years working in the theatre of dementia care which has been challenging and rewarding in different ways but my passion has always been flying and it is a once in a lifetime offer,” he said.

Could air race come to Norfolk?

Action from the Red Bull Air Race competition in 2017. Picture: Joerg Mitter/Red Bull Content PoolAction from the Red Bull Air Race competition in 2017. Picture: Joerg Mitter/Red Bull Content Pool

Could the Norfolk connection help bring the Red Bull Air Race to the county?

“Never say never,” said Mr Cruickshank.

“Looking into the future there is going to be the first Great Yarmouth Air Show and that is the sort of location which would be excellent for an air race.

“There is a long stretch of sea front and if you can get several thousand people to events there it could work.”

Action from the Red Bull Air Race competition in 2017. Picture: Joerg Mitter/Red Bull Content PoolAction from the Red Bull Air Race competition in 2017. Picture: Joerg Mitter/Red Bull Content Pool

Despite the possibility of Great Yarmouth it is unlikely such an event will take place in the near term with Mr Cruickshank tasked with making the motorsport into a global leader by 2026 meaning a need to spread events to countries which have not hosted it before.

He said: “The sport has a great safety record, nothing is broken but we need to spread it to new parts of the world.

“It doesn’t need a revolution but it needs incremental improvements every year to give it something a bit new.”

How does the Red Bull Air Race work?

The Red Bull Air Race sees 14 pilots compete on obstacle courses across the world.

Each season has around eight races set in different host cities with around two-thirds of the races over water and the rest over land.

The sport, which attracts 300 million viewers, is similar to Formula One in that teams of engineers, designers and manufacturers are behind each of the pilots.

However, for safety reasons rather than all racing at once each pilot takes on the course on their own and compete in a time trial format against each other.

After practice and qualifying pilots compete in a round of 14 head-to-head heats with the seven winners and fastest loser going through.

The same format is used for the round of eight with the four winners competing in a final.

There is also a Challenger Class which trains the next tier of pilots to step up to the sport in a fleet of Red Bull-owned aircraft.

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