Aerospace engineering professor Paulo Iscold is attempting to break his 10th speed record as he travels to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates for the Red Bull Air Race season kickoff on Feb. 4.

“I’m a really competitive person,” Iscold said in a university press release. “I like to win. It keeps me sharp on the engineering level, because I get to compete with really good people around the world.”

Iscold has broken nine world speed records as a plane designer, according to the press release. Race engineer and team tactician for air racing champ Kirby Chambliss accompanies him as he modifies planes and provides the crucial pilot strategy.

Iscold’s role on Team Chambliss is to modify the plane’s aerodynamics and control systems and ultimately use software he created to analyze each course.

Beginning in 2003, the Red Bull Air Race is a championship-based on annual points accumulated from eight races around the globe. Red Bull Air Race pilots work in conjunction with their team, similar to a Formula One racecar pit crew.

Growing up in Brazil, Iscold’s father was an engineering professor who designed planes. This aeronautical background led him to become the star pupil of Claudio Barros, an aeronautical engineer and legendary aircraft designer also from Brazil.  

“[Barros] had no computer skills,” Iscold said in the release. “Everything he made was handwritten and handdrawn. So, he had to have an assistant translate everything for him — and I was that person.”

Paulo Iscold is attempting to break his 10th speed record as he travels to Abu Dhabi for the Red Bull Air Race season kickoff. Pat Pemberton | Courtesy

Because of his experience with Barros, Iscold and his students went on to design multiple planes that led to his record-breaking speeds. These successes are what led to his involvement in Red Bull Air Races.

British pilot Paul Bonhomme was recognized as the event’s most successful pilot. Paired with Iscold and titled Bonhomme’s “secret weapon,” the team went on to win two championships. Following Bonhomme’s retirement, Iscold joined the elite Chambliss Team, which now ranks third on the all-time wins list.

In addition to competing on the team, Iscold remains an active professor at Cal Poly. While his attendance is pivotal in the success of the team, it is difficult to balance with his teaching schedule, he said.

“That’s the worst part for me, because I only go really for the weekend,” Iscold said in the release.

However, Iscold thrives in the competition — which is why he said he keeps going back.

“I really like the world record stuff, because it’s you against you,” he said in the release. “You can’t copy what other people are doing; you really have to come up with a way to make the machine better. Yeah, that’s what appeals to me — records.”

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