Maynard's Michael Goulian, 40, is one of just 15 pilots skilled enough to appear in the world-famous Red Bull Air Race World Championship, an international air race series featuring the best pilots from 12 countries.
Michael Goulian doesn’t have a “normal” job.
In the town’s 2009 street listing, the single word next to Goulian’s name is one little kids dream of.Pilot.
Goulian, 40, is one of just 15 pilots skilled enough to appear in the world-famous Red Bull Air Race World Championship, an international air race series featuring the best pilots from 12 countries.
The concept of the race is simple enough: fly through a series of double-pylon “gates” faster than the other guy. However, execution is the tricky part, as each gate is just 33 to 49 feet wide, and pilots must maneuver their planes sideways in one direction and then sideways in the opposite direction to make it through without striking one of the pylons.
“Private flying can become mundane,” the Maynard resident explained at his office — a large hangar at an airport in North Andover.“But racing is very fun, and very fast.” Life in the fast lane
Speed has always been a constant in Goulian’s life. Though his super-sleek aircraft reaches speeds of up to 250 mph, he also craved speed as a boy.
“I’ve been a competitor my whole life. I played hockey since almost before I could walk,” he said, adding that slow-paced sports like golf just weren’t part of his makeup.
“My dad started a business in 1964 at Hanscom Air Force Base … doing aircraft maintenance and flight training,” he said. “I just fell in love with it.”
Goulian said a movie he saw in the mid-1980s got him fascinated with aerobatic flying, so he decided to petition his father for lessons when he was 16.
“My dad wanted me to realize it wasn’t a right to do this [flying], it was a privilege,” he said. “So I’d work all week washing planes for him, and take the money I’d earned to pay for a $150 flying lesson.”
He hasn’t forgotten what his father taught him. His present-day hangar is at Lawrence Municipal Airport, the same airport where he used to take lessons 25 years ago, and he still thinks about flying in his father’s terms.
“It’s a privilege to do this, not a right,” he said. “I never thought that when I started this in 1986 that I’d ever make a career at it.”Humble beginnings
It takes time, practice and perseverance to become a professional race pilot, and many of Goulian’s flights came not in the back of a sleek racing plane, but a corporate one.
“I flew corporate jets from 1988 to 2002 to gain some financial independence to be able to do this,” he said, adding that financing the various airplanes he has flown over the years has not been cheap.
Although the first plane he got was similar in cost to a car — about $20,000 — as he got more skilled and his needs increased, so too did the cost of his planes, from $50,000, to $150,000 to $420,000, the cost of his current racing plane.
“When you’re passionate about stuff like this, the risk doesn’t really matter, and the money doesn’t really matter,” he said. “It’s just one of those things you know you’re going to do.”
Goulian said it was certainly a risk — fiscally and professionally — to try to become a Red Bull pilot.
“It takes 15 years. You need to have been in a world championship, and once you do that, you put in an application to go to a training camp.
“If you pass that, you’re in an audition pool to be selected,” he said.
For Goulian, that call came four years ago, and he’s been racing in competitions all over the world ever since.
“It’s really neat. It’s a complete honor to compete and to get to fly in beautiful cities.”Executive Flyers
Following in the steps of his father, Goulian has continued to run the family flight school that was opened in 1964. In addition to providing lessons for beginner pilots, Executive Flyers is also one of just a handful of schools in the country that offer lessons in aerobatics, he said.
“Aerobatics are very fun and very safe,” he said. “Up until the mid-70s, aerobatic flying was not organized … and a lot of people would get killed because the equipment wasn’t very safe.
“Now, the planes are built specifically for aerobatics. It’s almost like a Formula 1 racing car.”
For example, the engines and fuel systems of the planes are designed to allow the engine to run while upside down — something normal planes can’t do.On the ground
Goulian lives in Maynard with his wife Karin and 3-year-old daughter, Emily.
“When I first met Michael, I didn’t know anything about aviation,” said Karin.
After Michael took her up in her first small airplane, however, that changed, as Karin got her private flying license three years ago.
“Flying is awesome — it’s like being in a roller coaster, but you’re in charge,” she said.
Although she does worry about her husband’s safety when he flies, Karin knows he isn’t as reckless as some of the other pilots out there.
“His plane is in great shape, and he doesn’t do anything stupid,” she said.
Which is important, because daughter Emily may someday want to fly.
“She sees me on TV all the time,” said Michael. “And now she thinks that’s what everybody does.”