From learning to fly in 1983 in the then Soviet Union, Mikhail Mamistov has become one of the most decorated pilots in the history of Aerobatics competition. We meet the legend…
“I have been flying 33 years,” says Mikhail Mamistov the day after becoming FAI European Aerobatics Champion for a record fifth time. He is sitting at a table in a hangar on an airfield in the Czech Republic, where the FAI European Aerobatic Championships have just finished.
“I was 18 in 1983," he explains, "In that time in the Soviet Union the rule was you could start to fly at 18 as a sportsman."
Now a fulltime aerobatics instructor based in St Petersburg, he didn't set out to spend a lifetime flying.
“I studied physics at university. I worked a little bit in physics after university, but then the chief of the aeroclub asked me if I would like to be an instructor. And I forgot about physics!”
He found his discipline in aerobatics. “Aerobatics is really flight,” he explains, his eyes sparkling. “You can do everything in three dimensions in space. It’s not just flying point A to B, like a bus or a ship. Aerobatics is real flight.”
He teaches aerobatics at home and abroad. “There are lots of good pilots who can fly and teach cross country, but there are not so many who can teach aerobatics. I teach in Russia in several cities, as well as in countries across Europe.”
Mamistov entered his first competition in 1987. “My first medal was for cross country flying. But then my first international competition was in 1995 and it was Glider Aerobatics. We went to France and I won.”
That same year he went to the FAI European Glider Aerobatic Championships. “And I won that. Then the next year I won the FAI World Glider Aerobatic Championships.”
Having won both European and World titles in glider aerobatics he moved to powered aerobatics.
“From 1999 I took part in all the competitions. 2000 I was second, 2001 I was World Champion, and 2004, 2006, 2008, 2012 I was European Champion, and 2011 I was World Champion again.”
It is that list that qualifies him as the world’s most decorated aerobatic pilot. “Yes,” he agrees, but is quick to point out that others have had remarkable success too. “Patrick Paris from France won three times. And there are others.”
The FAI European Aerobatic Championships in the Czech Republic, held 20-27 August 2016, suited Mamistov well. Because while he teaches aerobatics at many airfields, when he wants to train for himself he bases himself at the airfield used for the competition in Moravská Třebová.
Aside from such a home advantage, the competition was “perfect” he says, “very interesting.” In a change to previous competitions there was much more emphasis on 'surprise' or Unknown aerobatic figures that pilots only find out about at the competition. They don't have time to rehearse them before they fly them – it's a true test of technical skill.
To select which aerobatic figures are flown each country at the competition submits figures to a central pool. Then, 10 figures are used to create a programme. Each pilot can create their own routine out of the 10 selected figures.
"We had three of these Unknown programmes,” he explains. “These really show who is better.”
As well as being demanding to fly, there are tactics involved in submitting your figure.
"Every team usually prepares difficult manoeuvres and trains them before," he explains. “Then they submit them. And that’s very interesting.”
He explains: "For example, Spain submitted a square loop. It’s not technically difficult but our aircraft are not as powerful as the plane flown by Spain. It’s a Sukhoi, so they can show a longer vertical line up and can show this square loop better.”
As well as Mamistov, the Russians did well in the competition. Svetlana Kapanina won gold in the Women’s competition, and Russia came second in the teams, behind France.
What is it that makes Russia so good?
“We have a very good school,” he says, “and I don’t mean a specific place. I mean a system of aerobatic training.”
The system has its roots in the Soviet era, when aerobatics received more state funding than it does today.
“The system worked very well in the past, because we had support from the government. But when the political system changed the economic situation was not so good, and so we have less of everything.”
For example, he says, “We have no young pilots – our youngest is 33-years old. You can see the French team… young pilots.”
Not all the current Russian team started their training under the old system, he says, “but many of us did.”
“The support didn’t finish, but it became less. We don’t have new planes, and there is not enough support for good training.” The youngest Russian Sukhoi aerobatic plane is 20-years-old.
“We need new blood, new planes, and money!”
Mamistov has had a dream career flying aerobatic planes. The sport, he agrees, has been good to him. With two grown up children – “My son is 29, daughter 22” – he can look back with some perspective.
“I have had many high points. My first international competition in 1995 was very good. In 2001 when I was World Champion that was very good. And 2011 when I was World Champion again was very good." Still he says with that characteristic twinkle again that his best days "might be in front, you never know."
He adds: “All my life I dreamed of flying. From five-years old, I’d seen a movie about pilots and I understood, ‘Yes, I want to be that.'"
And he did.
1995: FAI World Glider Aerobatics Champion
1996: FAI European Glider Aerobatics Champion
1997: FAI World Glider Aerobatics Champion
2001: FAI World Aerobatic Champion
2004: FAI European Aerobatic Champion
2006: FAI European Aerobatic Champion
2008: FAI European Aerobatic Champion
2011: FAI World Aerobatic Champion
2012: FAI European Aerobatic Champion
2016: FAI European Aerobatic Champion
Photo Credit: FAI / Marcus King