Failed Red Bull Plane Swap Stunt Investigated by FAA

Pilots’ licenses revoked by the FAA
Read Time: 3 minutes
May 18, 2022

In April, 2022, the energy drink company Red Bull sponsored a stunt called the Red Bull Plane Swap in which two pilots would attempt to switch planes in mid-air by sky diving to one another’s planes. The stunt was streamed live on Hulu.

The stunt did not go to plan, however, and while both pilots were unharmed thanks to their parachutes, one of the planes involved in the stunt crashed.

Why Did the FAA Investigate the Red Bull Plane Swap Stunt?

The FAA chose to investigate the failed stunt because of the danger involved. The FAA had denied a request from Luke Aikins, the lead pilot, for an exemption from the FAA’s regulations for what is considered the safe operation of a plane, a denial that Aikins later admitted to withholding from his team. The FAA called the stunt egregious and reckless.

What Were the Results of the FAA Investigation?

Both pilots have had their FAA certifications suspended for a year. Luke Aikins is also facing a $4,932 fine from the FAA for abandoning his aircraft as well as for the reckless operation of the plane. It isn’t known whether Farrington, the other pilot, also received a fine.

What Was Red Bull’s Reaction to the FAA’s Investigation?

Red Bull distanced itself from the investigation, stating that the matter was between the pilots and the FAA. However, both pilots are still listed as members of the Red Bull Air Force, which is the company’s team who perform aerial jumps and stunts, even though they cannot apply for an FAA certification for a year following the suspension.

What Was the Planned Red Bull Plane Swap Stunt?

The plan was for Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington, the two pilots, who were also sky divers, to fly Cessna 182s up to an altitude of a minimum of 12,000 feet over the desert in Arizona. The plan was then for the two pilots to put their respective aircraft into a steep dive, at which point they would each jump out of their plane and sky dive, maneuvering while in free fall, to the other’s plane, which they would then enter and take control of to recover from the dive before landing.

Both of the pilots did wear parachute for safety.

How Were the Planes Modified for the Stunt?

Plane in flight

So that the pilots could more safely complete the stunt, the Cessna 182s were modified. These modifications included grab bars on the exterior of the planes so that the pilots could more easily enter the planes as well as aerodynamic brakes that would prevent the planes from speeding up too much. The planes’ autopilot system was also modified with a custom flightpath in order to maintain the stunt’s uncommonly steep dive.

How Did the Red Bull Plane Swap Stunt Go Wrong?

One of the planes was landed successfully by Luke Aikins. The other plane, which was supposed to be piloted by Andy Farrington after the swap, had begun to spin in mid-air and Farrington was unable to enter the plane because of that. Without a pilot, the second plane crashed at a near-vertical angle into the desert. Fortunately, there were no reported injuries and Farrington deployed his parachute to safely land.

What Is the FAA?

The FAA is the Federal Aviation Administration. The organization manages everything to do with civil aviation, which is non-military aviation and includes both commercial and private flights. The organization issues regulations that aircraft makers, airlines, pilots, and anyone else involved with aviation must follow for the safe operation of aircraft. They also issue certifications for everything from aircraft design to pilot’s licenses.

What Is an FAA Certification?

An FAA certification can be for the design and manufacture of an aircraft, operation of an airport, piloting, and more. Anyone in the civil aviation industry will need certifications from the FAA. Each type of certification has certain requirements that must be met. They also only last for a year, so those seeking certifications must reapply every year and demonstrate that they still meet the FAA’s requirements for their particular certification.

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