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IMS Medical Director Savors Return to Friendly Aerobatic Skies

Dr. Geoffrey L. Billows couldn’t get strapped in quickly enough.

To assert that Billows, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway director of medical services, was eager to take a two-seater ride in an aerobatic airplane Saturday with Red Bull Air Race Challenger Class pilot Luke Czepiela would be an understatement.

In his younger years, Billows loved flying in an aerobatic airplane south of Dayton, Ohio. He was smiling before, during and after the 15-minute thrill ride at Eagle Creek Airpark on the northwest side of Indianapolis.

“This was just awesome,” Billows said. “I just love this.”

“He was asking for more,” Czepiela said of Billows. “I was getting tired.”

The airplane made two passes through two Air Pylons that are the same used in the Red Bull Air Race on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They also did a series of aerobatic maneuvers, including being inverted as well as a hammerhead, which is commonly referred to as a stall turn, where the plane speeds straight up until losing momentum and then reverses course and descends.

As Billows was being strapped into the front seat, Czepiela said: “He flies with a view. First class.”

And what a view it was, especially when inverted.

“You look up to look down,” Billows said. “It was absolutely a thrill. There’s really nothing to compare it to. It’s like a feeling of total freedom. You’re just up there in the air, and you can go upside down and do loops.”

Czepiela, a 35-year-old pilot from Poland, isn’t competing this weekend – Challenger Class pilots don’t compete in every event – but is second in points. He seemed to enjoy this deviation from a normal race weekend as much as his passenger.

“It’s like the best view ever,” Czepiela said of when they were inverted. “You’re hanging in your seatbelts upside down, and you don’t want to roll back.”

Billows sounded like a passenger at IMS when on track for a two-seater ride and that 2.5-mile oval doesn’t seem so wide.

“Going through the Air Pylons was amazing,” he said. “They look so close together. Those pylons look pretty narrow from overhead.”

Billows began working at IMS during his residency in 1993. He was named to his current role in 2006.

Billows said his wife, Tammy, made him quit aerobatic aviation when they started having a family. But after climbing out of the cockpit, energized from the adrenaline rush, it was quite obvious the doctor still has the itch.

“It makes me want to start doing this again, but my wife would probably kill me,” Billows said.

So what will he tell her upon returning home?

“I’ll tell Tammy, ‘Thanks, honey, for letting me do this,’” he said.

He won’t ask to resume aerobatic flying?

“Not yet,” Billows said, smiling. “You’ve got to ease into that.”

Red Bull Air Race action continues Sunday at IMS. The Challenger Class race starts at 11:45 a.m. The Master Class Round of 14 starts at 1:05 p.m., followed by the Round of 8 at 3:05 p.m. and the Final 4 at 3:35 p.m.

Red Bull Air Race tickets are available at Children 15 and under are admitted free to general admission areas Sunday when accompanied by an adult general admission ticket holder.

A variety of World of Red Bull athletes will demonstrate their skills Sunday, both in the air and on the ground. Performers include Geoff Aaron (motorcycle trials riding), Aaron Colton (motorcycle street freestyle riding), Robbie Maddison (freestyle motocross with the SCSUNLIMITED team), Luke Aikins and Miles Daisher (Red Bull Air Force Skydive Team), Aaron Fitzgerald (The Flying Bulls aerobatic helicopter), Jim Peitz (aerobatic airplane) and Pal Takats (paragliding).

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