When Scott Holmes started to get serious about flying planes, he was just 11 years old and wanted to be a fighter pilot.

Fifteen years later, the Edmonton man is in Thailand, preparing to race a small plane against seven others in the Air Race 1 World Cup.

The racers fly in a five-kilometre loop at 400 km/h, 30 to 50 feet off the ground around marked telephone poles. It's like NASCAR in the air.

"They're a lot of fun to fly," Holmes told CBC's Radio Active.

His love for flying began when his dad took him for his first flight. "I was, I think, four or five. I was a really little guy," he said.

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Holmes, five years old in this picture, found his love for flying on this day. (Scott Holmes/Supplied)

But as Holmes began flying, he ran into a major hurdle: Planes cost money. However, a phone call from a friend suggesting he look into Formula One Air Racing. Those planes cost about the same as a vehicle.

Holmes said he wasn't quite sure about flying the small planes at first. 

"I was quite nervous to get on, but once I was on and once you prepare yourself enough in advance and build up your [G-force] tolerance and everything, it actually worked out fairly well."

Fairly well is a bit of an understatement.

Tough competition

Holmes was named Rookie of the Year on the Formula One Air Racing tour in 2016.

Now in his second year, he has finished in the middle of the pack. But considering who he's up against, he's pretty satisfied with that result.

"I'm quite a low-time pilot compared to everybody else," he said. "Half of them have significant military experience.

"I was quite nervous going in with only 300 hours [of experience]."

Less experience, coupled with the problem of only getting to fly his plane six months of the year in northern Canada, made Holmes feel at a disadvantage.

To make up for it, he's building a new plane, with help from his dad and a few other crew members.

He said his current plane, a 1993 Cassutt racer, is kind of like the 1969 Ford Mustang of planes, in that it's moderately fast, but unable to keep up with the quicker carbon-fibre planes.

He's flown his current plane as fast as 400 km/h, and hopes his new one will be able to hit 520 km/h.

Holmes said he doesn't want to reveal what his new plane looks like because other racers can potentially use his ideas.

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Holmes's plane being carted out in Thailand. (Air Race 1 World Cup Thailand/Facebook)

"Every single piece has been scratch-built from nothing," he said. "We'll have way more success with both racing and setting records."

Those records? Holmes wants to try to set altitude and distance records with his plane, too.


Holmes's crew, Outlaw Air Racing, is called that for a reason — flying the planes without special permits is illegal.

"Both airworthiness and flight rules in Canada have to be broken to do this kind of aviation," he said. "[The plane] is kind of equipped to being not able to fly."

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Holmes, flying his current plane, the 1993 Cassutt racer. (Air Race 1/Supplied)

For that reason, the crew has to work closely with Transport Canada to ensure they get all the correct waivers and permissions before they take flight.

High-altitude flight and racing seem like dangerous activities, but Holmes said the only danger is mechanical failure. He's prepared for potential stalls, but said he takes great care of his plane.

Holmes begins his test runs Tuesday, and is preparing to race starting on Friday.

Listen to Radio Active with host Portia Clark, weekday afternoons on CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM/740 AM in Edmonton. Follow the show on Twitter: @CBCRadioActive.