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Family Ties to Aviation Helped American Goulian Take Off as A World-Class Aerobatic Pilot

As the son of a Federal Aviation Administration pilot examiner, Michael Goulian always had an interest in airplanes.

“I didn’t find aviation,” Red Bull Air Race pilot Goulian said of growing up near Boston in Arlington, Massachusetts. “Aviation found me.”

It was kind of that way with his father, too. Myron Goulian grew up next to an airport in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and eventually ran his own flight school.

Michael’s path to racing airplanes and competing in such spectacles as the Red Bull Air Race World Championship on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway included an important life lesson as a teenager.

“I was about 15; my dad wanted my brother and I to understand the value of a buck,” Goulian said. “He brought us to the airport during summer break and said, ‘You’re going to start to work.’ He paid us next to nothing. We were washing airplanes and working on them.

“After that first summer, it’s kind of like being at a racetrack. It’s the sound, it’s the smell, it’s the people that you get attracted to. From that day on, I didn’t make a decision, ‘This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.’ I just didn’t know what else I would do.”

Even today, Goulian, 49, can be found with a broom in his hand.

“I’m always sweeping our hangars,” he said.

He loved hockey — the No. 99 on his Zivko Edge 540 plane is a tribute to “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky — but realized at an early age that he was too small. Although many in his father’s flight school went on to fly for airlines, he sat in the cockpit of those planes, and it didn’t inspire him.

What did get his attention was seeing the 1980 movie “Cloud Dancer” about a world champion aerobatic pilot played by actor David Carradine.

“As a 17-year-old kid, that looked like an athletic thing in the sky, kind of a little dangerous, it looked cool,” he said. “I started to take aerobatic lessons, and I just tell people I was too dumb to quit.”

One of just three Americans racing in the two classes of the series this weekend, Goulian distinguished himself as one of just eight active Master Class pilots to win a race, with a victory in 2009 at Budapest. It was one of two podium finishes in 67 career starts.

Although ninth in the points and out of the championship hunt this year, Goulian gushes like he’s still an energetic teenager about being able to race airplanes, especially at such a prestigious venue as IMS.

“I’ve been a fan of the Indy 500 since I was a kid, but I didn’t have any exposure to cars. It was just airplanes,” he said. “Me and my buddies would go to an air show and still have the race (Indianapolis 500) on. We had to go fly the air show and do our thing, but then we’d come back and watch the race. I’ve literally been a fan of this place (IMS) and know a little bit of its history, the sights and the sounds, listening to Jim Nabors and ‘Back Home in Indiana.’ I get it.

“You come to some places, and the history is bigger than you are. To be a person from the States, and someone who gets it, and then get to be here, whenever I retire from this aviation thing, I’m going to be like, ‘Hey, I was one of the first guys to fly a race in an airplane inside of that place.’ That’s cool and something they can never take away from you.”

The thought of having a chance to win this race brings a smile to his face. But then again, Goulian is usually upbeat about any opportunity to fly. He’ll keep sweeping those hangars and strategizing on how best to get the most out of his plane as it zooms through the course over the IMS infield.

“This job never gets old because it changes every time,” he said. “The thing about an airplane, it’s so susceptible to the weather. The heat, the cold, the wind, the altitude, all of that stuff plays a part in performance of the plane and ultimately your speed on the track.

“There’s only 14 people in the world who get to do it. That’s a pretty special place to be. But inside those 14 people, you want to win.”

Visit IMS.com to purchase tickets for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship and for more information on the event weekend. Children 15 and under receive free General Admission when accompanied by an adult General Admission ticket holder.

An interactive Fan Guide for the event also is available at www.ims.com/RBARFanGuide.


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