Courtesy of Red Bull Air Race Media Service
The decorated former TOPGUN Commander Jim DiMatteo, now Race Director of the Red Bull Air Race, was named “Best of the Best” in a gala ceremony in California.
Aviation’s most eminent figures turned out in black tie and dress uniform on February 16 as the Palm Springs Air Museum – a prestigious “living history” institution that ranks among the world’s top aviation museums – celebrated eight inductees into its Hall of Fame for demonstrating “The Best of the Best.” DiMatteo was honored along with such high-profile dignitaries as Apollo 12 astronaut Captain Alan Bean, who was the fourth man to walk on the moon, Clay Lacy, the general aviation icon who has more turbine engine flight time than anyone in the world, and Pat J. Halloran (Major General USAF Ret.), the top U-2 and SR-71 pilot of the US Air Force.
“I am so incredibly proud and grateful to receive this recognition, as it is one of the most prestigious aviation awards one can be honored with in our country,” stated DiMatteo, who will be featured on the museum’s Wall of Honor in an original oil painting commissioned from acclaimed artist Stan Stokes. “It is an unbelievable honor and very humbling to be included with other aviation icons that I respect so much.”
DiMatteo, whose military callsign (nickname) is “Guido,” devoted nearly 30 years to flying fighters in the US Navy, logging almost 5,000 hours in five iconic aircraft (the only pilot to ever do so): the F-14 Tomcat, F/A-18 Hornet, A-4 Skyhawk, F-5N Tiger II and F-16N Fighting Falcon. Navy Fighter Weapons School, also known as TOPGUN, was formed to train the top one percent of fighter pilots in aerial combat, and DiMatteo was not only among that elite group, but also went back to be an instructor and then on to be the first in history to command the TOPGUN Adversary squadrons on both the East and West Coasts, known as the VFC-13 Saints and VFC-111 Sundowners. Before he retired in 2013 as a Captain, DiMatteo concluded his military career at CNAF (Commander, Naval Air Forces, which is the headquarters of Naval Aviation) in Coronado, California, where he still makes his home today.
Meanwhile, in 2007 DiMatteo was recruited as Race Director for the Red Bull Air Race – the first person from the United States ever to hold the role for what has become the official World Championship recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. While his foremost responsibility is to ensure the safe and efficient execution of the races, his presence extends much further, from monitoring and ensuring fairness (a task he describes as similar to a head referee) to serving as a spokesperson for the sport, and, ultimately, providing leadership as a peer respected by the race organization and pilots alike. When the Red Bull Air Race revamped during a three-year hiatus from 2011 through 2013, DiMatteo’s input was key in determining the new direction of the sport. The expertise he shared helped to make the series even more safe, competitive, fair and – also important – exciting for spectators at the international race locations as well as for viewers watching the broadcasts live around the world.
Although DiMatteo has been awarded an unprecedented amount of individual aviation and squadron command awards, including Fighter Pilot of the Year, Adversary Pilot of the Year, TOP HOOK (top pilot landing on the aircraft carrier), and the esteemed Britannia Award from the United Kingdom for Top Strike-Fighter Pilot of the Year, he said none of those compare to being inducted into this Aviation Hall of Fame:
“It is truly the most humbling recognition I have ever received. To be included with such aviation icons from the military, NASA and general aviation is overwhelming to me. It reinforces my acknowledgement and appreciation that this has always been a team effort and not just an individual performance, and I am thankful and grateful for all those around me, my family, wingmen and squadron mates who supported me in the Navy, and all the incredible pilots and colleagues at the Red Bull Air Race whom I am privileged to work with today.”
DiMatteo’s impressive resume additionally includes three years running one of the planet’s largest aviation events, the EAA’s “AirVenture” in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, as the Vice President of Flight Operations, Features and Attractions. He was also entrusted with leading Breitling Aviation in the United States, including flying with and serving as Director of the first-ever American Tour of the Breitling Jet Team, which thrilled more than 50 million spectators throughout the USA and Canada. Further, he is a “Plank Owner” and one of the original Board Members of the renowned USS Midway Museum in San Diego, California, which is the most visited aviation and ship museum in the world.
Although DiMatteo’s recent honor would normally be considered a lifetime achievement award, his career only keeps taking off. Currently, he and the rest of the Red Bull Air Race team are deep in preparation for the second of eight stops this season: a race at Cannes, France on 20-22 April 2018. It’s the first French stop in the history of the sport, and DiMatteo is applying his deep background and his experience organizing and managing large-scale aviation events to the inevitable challenges of presenting a complex aerial event in a brand-new location.
“I truly love the sport of Red Bull Air Race and am so proud to be part of it. It really is the new dimension of motorsport and it has had an incredibly positive impact on aviation throughout the world,” he commented.
“In some ways, my job as Race Director reminds me of being a Squadron Commander. The competitive side of Air Racing is reminiscent of the feelings you get in a fighter squadron ‘ready room’ – competition, emotion and camaraderie amongst pilots with exceptional skills,” DiMatteo continued. “I feel very fortunate to have enjoyed such a fulfilling career so far, and I’m looking forward to being part of the Red Bull Air Race Team and helping take this aviation sport even higher. SMOKE ON!”
The highly anticipated French debut of Red Bull Air Race World Championship takes off in Cannes on 20-22 April. For more information on tickets and all the latest, visit www.redbullairrace.com
About Red Bull Air Race
Created in 2003, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship has held more than 80 races around the globe. The Red Bull Air Race World Championship features the world’s best race pilots in a pure motorsport competition that combines speed, precision and skill. Using the fastest, most agile, lightweight racing planes, pilots hit speeds of 370kmh while enduring forces of up to 12G as they navigate a low-level slalom track marked by 25-meter-high, air-filled pylons. In 2014, the Challenger Cup was conceived to help the next generation of pilots develop the skills needed for potential advancement to the Master Class that vies for the World Championship.