Meet Mélanie Astles, the only female driver on the Red Bull Air Race circuit. She is set to race for her country, during the first French Stage in Cannes. No stranger to making history, Astles has truly earned her wings with a lifetime passion for aviation.
In October 2017, the British-born pilot made history by becoming the first woman to ever win the Red Bull Air Race. Having racked up over 4,000 hours of flying time, it’s not just luck that Astles is in the position that she is in. On her way to great success, she faced many obstacles that were overcome by determination and hard-work.
Mélanie Astles’ journey began when she was just a child. At around the age of 6 or 7, she began to dream that one day she would become a fighter pilot. At the time, she was mocked by her friends and family who dismissed the dream as a childhood fantasy.
Before Mélanie Astles entered the scene, female fighter pilots were basically unheard of. Astles drew great inspiration from Caroline Eagle, the first female fighter pilot in France, however many achievements from female pilots were intentionally buried to maintain aviation’s image as a “boys club”. As a result, Astles was often met with harsh criticism and discouragement while following her dream. In an interview with Le Monde, Astles outlined how people would try to change her mind about becoming a pilot labelling her goal as ‘unrealistic’.
Her passion for aviation was then re-ignited when her father took her to an air show in England at a young age. In an interview with Red Bull, Astles said: “When I was seated in the cockpit of an airplane, I realized that I wanted to belong to that world.”
Having left school at 18, she jumped around between jobs like accounting, literature and hospitality, before realising that she was destined to become a pilot. Astles began to work for a service station near Bron Airport where she’d spend most of her days staring at the planes as they flew by. One day, aged 21, she decided to finally knock on the door of a flight club and that’s when her dream of becoming a pilot really took off. The following day, Astles had her very first flying lesson. After continuously practising, she received her PPL (Private Pilot License) as well as ATPL (Airline Pilot License). Passing these tests successfully meant that she could join Air France. However, the 2008 financial crisis resulted in great financial struggle for the Air France Cadet School, resulting in reduced admissions. Astles was not offered a cadetship.
Remaining motivated, she enrolled into ENAC (National School of Civil Aviation) and became a qualified pilot instructor. She taught upcoming pilots for over five years, between 2011 and 2017. Whilst teaching, Astles competed in circuit racing for the likes of Red Bull and went onto to win many championships. In 2018, she has rightfully made a name for herself in the air racing world.
Among the industry accolades, Melanie Astles remains the level-headed girl who always dreamed of being a pilot, regardless of gender. “In a cockpit, you are a pilot, a competitor and not a female pilot,” Astles states. “At my small level, I think that my atypical career and my experience are an encouragement to all girls or women who would like to become pilots. With determination and hard work, nothing is impossible.”