Pete McLeod - Portrait

Pete Mcleod poses for a portrait at the Pitt Meadows Airport near Vancouver BC, Canada on August 3rd, 2013. // Scott Serfas/Red Bull Content Pool // P-20130805-00988 // Usage for editorial use only // Please go to www.redbullcontentpool.com for further information. //

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Imagine that every time you stepped into your office, there was a risk of serious injury.

This is what it's like for Western alumnus Pete McLeod, a professional air racer in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship series since 2009. 

The series was created in 2003 as an international circuit where pilots have to navigate a difficult obstacle course in the fastest time possible. Each pilot has to fly individually and maneuver around pylons and tight turns in a slalom course.

The risk involved with this aerobatic flying does not faze McLeod. 

"The guys that are successful in this business, they've all got the ability to handle some stressful situations and high intensity situations while still remaining calm and making good decisions and that's the key," McLeod said. "You don't get many panicky people in this game. They don't last very long."

Fortunately, McLeod has never had any major accidents himself. But that's not the case with some of his friends and people he knows well in the sport, who haven't been as lucky. He is well aware of this evident danger but does not like to go into much detail on the topic. He just says that he does everything he can to mitigate risk.  

"The biggest risk we have for sure is equipment failure," he explained. "We're really out there pushing things to the limit and we need everything to work properly."

Even while faced with constant danger, McLeod always stays cool and collected in the plane.

That's because he's been doing it for so long, getting his first flying lesson from his father at age three in his home town of Red Lake, Ontario. It's this early start that has also led him to become the youngest pilot ever in the Red Bull Air Race series. He first started the series at age 25 and was about 20 years younger than the average pilot.

"It all back ends into a young start obviously," McLeod explained. "You don't just overnight become the youngest. You're kind of the youngest all the way along in your career."

The type of flying he did while growing up in northwestern Ontario in Red Lake also helped prepare him for the aerobatic flying he does. 

"North bush flying is a pretty dynamic environment," he said. "You learn a different skill then you would say if a kid was just out at the London airport flying around with a flight instructor getting their license."

Even though the flying itself is a crucial part of his job, McLeod also notes that there are other important aspects that go into making everything work. He owns all his own equipment while also managing his sponsorships and business relationships with the help of a staff that he hires. It is this business side of the job where his experience at Western comes into play. 

"I didn't learn a thing about flying at Western," McLeod admitted. "But my time at Western definitely prepared me better for some of the other elements that allow me to run my business."

McLeod mentioned how university is an important place to learn what you like. He originally came in with a different plan for university then what he ended up doing. 

"There's a lot of opportunity [at Western] to focus on what you like to do," he said. "I'm a prime example — I went there in science and found a stronger interest somewhere else, [economics], and was able to fill that."

To this day, McLeod still resides in London, Ontario. He hasn't moved outside of Canada yet because all his traveling has increased the pride he has for his country. 

"For me, home is a special place," he said. "All of the traveling I've done if it's done anything it's given some great perspective as to what a unique place Canada is and how nice it is."

Moving forward, McLeod hopes to continue to compete on the Red Bull Air Race Series for as long as he can. 

"The good thing with me is I'm still very young in the sport from an age perspective wise and I can do this for a lot more years," he explained. "I've still got a lot that I'd like to achieve in this sport. I'd definitely like to win a world championship or two. I'm gonna stay with it and keeping doing that side of it as long as I've got the drive to be competitive and do it a high level."

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Shane is a fourth year History student at Western. It is his first year as a sports editor for the Gazette. He is also a member of the cross country and track and field teams at Western.

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