They Tried to Swap Planes Midair. It Didn't Quite Work

FAA probing Sunday stunt in Arizona, which led to one plane crashing; both pilots are OK
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 21, 2022 6:30 PM CDT
Updated Apr 25, 2022 8:13 AM CDT

Update: The Federal Aviation Administration has launched a probe into a failed stunt in the sky. Cousins Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington, daredevil Red Bull skydivers who'd hoped to swap Cessna single-seat airplanes in midair, didn't see their feat go as planned on Sunday: One of the pilots made it and landed the aircraft in the Arizona desert, but the other didn't, sending the second plane crashing to the ground; that pilot still managed to parachute to safety, per NBC News. No one else was injured, but the FAA is steamed, as it had denied the pilots' request for certain safety exemptions to carry out their Hulu-livestreamed stunt. "The FAA has considered the petition, and finds that granting an exemption ... would not be in the public interest," the agency noted in its Friday denial letter, adding it couldn't determine "the proposed operation would not adversely affect safety." Check out the failed attempt. Our original story from Thursday follows:

A pair of cousins with a fondness for both flying airplanes and jumping out of them are about to attempt both in the same flight—while swapping planes midair. The never-before-seen stunt will be attempted Sunday by Luke Aikins, 48, and Andy Farrington, 39, members of the Red Bull Air Force aviation crew. Aikins—who became the first person to jump from 25,000 feet and land safely without a parachute in 2016—says he's been thinking about the stunt for more than 20 years and is finally ready to make the attempt. "It's the pinnacle of my career, and my goal is to inspire the world and show that anything is possible," he says in a statement, per ABC News.

In an event to be live-streamed on Hulu, the pair will take off in separate Cessna 182 single-seat aircraft. Red Bull says three of four seats were stripped from the aircraft to lighten the aircraft and create space. At 14,000 feet, they'll put those planes in a synchronized nosedive, cut the engines, engage custom airbrakes meant to "hold the planes in a controlled-descent" at 140mph, then exit, per USA Today. After skydiving to the opposite plane, they'll enter the cockpit through a door "about the width of a household refrigerator," disengage the airbrakes, restart the engines, and hopefully land safely. It will take all of 40 seconds, according to Red Bull.

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"Literally all the work that I've been doing for a year is for 40 seconds of dive flight," says engineer Paulo Iscold, who worked on the custom airbrakes, without which the planes would fall too fast to catch. "What we're trying to do here is to inspire people" and to show no problem is too big to tackle. "You can set your mind on something that at times seems wild, crazy, and unattainable, but through ambition and creativity, you can make it happen," says Aikens, who's completed more than 21,000 jumps, compared to more than 27,000 for Farrington. Aikens also made history as part of the team that helped Felix Baumgartner survive his 24-mile plunge to Earth in 2012. (More daredevil stories.)

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