Mangold is at the top of the standings in the Red Bull Air Race World Series and he can wrap up his second title in as many seasons with a victory in the series’ season-finale Saturday in San Francisco. Mangold, 49, has been flying since he was 18-years-old, and all of his flying experience has helped him in being the best pilot in the Air Race World Series, a mix of aerobatic flying and slalom flying while being timed. The tour takes place in seven different countries over land and sea, on a course approximately 1,400 meters long and 400 meters wide. The pilots zoom around and between a series of inflatable 60-foot-high pylons, while performing aerial maneuvers, such as loops, figure-eights, drops and rolls. Most private airplane pilots take their planes out for a recreational spin on the weekends, but not Mike Mangold. In his job as a commercial pilot for American Airlines, the Victorville resident is flying at high altitudes as safely as possible. In his free time, Mangold is pushing his Zivko Edge 540 single-seater to the limit at high speeds and low altitudes, while pulling aerial maneuvers that would make the Red Baron reach for a paper bag. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 “Our course is like an obstacle course. It takes us two or three days just to get the course down,” Mangold said. “It’s like going to the pet store and watching the rats going around the wheel in a cage.” Except Mangold’s version of a rat is an airplane flying no more than 10 feet off the ground at an average speed of 280 mph pulling about 10 G’s. And his version of a wheel are pylons and bridges that he must fly under. When Mangold was a child growing up in Sacramento, he said he was captivated by the B-52 bombers he would see at the neighboring Mather Air Force Base. “I said, ‘I’d like to do that,’ ” Mangold said. “And when I decided to enter the military, I figured that if I was going to serve my country, I’d do it as a pilot.” Mangold entered the Air Force Academy and was the Outstanding Graduate in his F-4 Phantom class at the Top Gun Academy in 1983. That’s right, Mangold was a Top Gun, which he said has helped him get through tough times, like in Zeltwig, Austria, when his plane went into a stall during a turn. “I had to ease off in my flying to regain my composure and my plane’s composure,” Mangold said. “Obviously, I’m a little more composed up there than the average pilot. You still have to respect it because you’re in the position where you can kill yourself.” Mangold, who is a commercial pilot and married with two children, risks his life for little recognition and the $5,000 prize money that is just enough to pay for travel and transportation of his plane. The prize fund of $595,771 is split over the seven races and among the nine pilots on the tour. The reason why he puts his life in danger is simple and direct. “It’s another aviation challenge and we like to compete” said Mangold of himself and his eight competitors. “The sponsorships are coming in and hopefully it will evolve.” Mangold said his wife, Julie, is supportive because she is also an aerobatic pilot. And while his employer isn’t thrilled, it doesn’t discourage him either. “The biggest problem they (work) have, is that it’s another guy who’s unavailable on the schedule,” Mangold said. “Plus if something happens to me, then they’ll be associated with it because I’m a pilot for American Airlines. But everybody at work is stoked. I’ve met hundreds of people who think it’s really cool.” It was the challenge that drew Mangold into the series at a competition last season when his friend and now competitor Kirby Chambliss invited him to compete in Reno. “At first, I thought it was a hokey thing. But shoot, once I went thought the course, it was something different and something new,” Mangold said. “You’re getting more excited about it. It’s kind of neat pulling gees off the ground and going though obstacles.” It also was neat to excel. Mangold won the event in Reno and has won four of the six events this season, leading Peter Besenyei of Hungary by two points heading into this week’s season finale. Chambliss said Mangold’s success has come as a product of his skill. “He’s really hanging it out,” Chambliss said. “He’s just quick through it. He’s got pretty good reaction times and he’s pretty good with the strategy.” “It just kind of worked for me,” Mangold said of his success. “I might just have had the right touch or right plane.” Chambliss said his friend has another advantage because unlike many of the other pilots, Mangold isn’t thinking about style. “My background is with precision aerobatics and when you do that, it’s very precise,” Chambliss said. “With this aerobatic stuff here, all you have to do is get the maneuver in. I kid him with, ‘Well, it’s because you’ve always kind of (stunk) with aerobatics.’ “ Mangold’s next challenge is figuring out how to change the post-race celebration where the top three finishers spray each other with champagne from giant bottles. “I’ve tried telling the guys to spray the crowd instead,’ Mangold said. “I’m tired of getting champagne baths. It gets kind of sticky.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!