Plane what? Plain mad? Skydivers to attempt world-first aviation feat
The US’s Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington hope to become the first pilots in history to pull off a ‘plane swap’
In a world first, Red Bull Air Force members and cousins Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington will take their two Cessna 182 aircraft and pitch them into a synchronised nosedive at 4,000m, stop the engines, while a custom-manufactured air brake will hold the planes in a controlled-descent speed of 225km/h. The pilots will then exit their respective aircraft and skydive in tandem into each other’s planes, crossing over each other midair and regaining control, before performing a safe landing — all in less than one minute.
Here is all you need to know:
• This is the first time in aviation history a pilot will take off in one plane and land in another. The concept is Akins’s brainchild and was inspired by a 1990s photo in an aviation publication.
• Aikins’s career has seen him become an acclaimed skydiver, undertaking more than 21,000 jumps, commercial aeroplane/helicopter pilot, innovator and coach, and consultant on the 2012 Red Bull Stratos mission.
Plane Swap is the pinnacle of my career and my goal is to inspire the world and show that anything is possible.Luke Aikins
• The Washington native is always looking for ways to use science and engineering to push the sport to new heights. In 2016 he set a new world record by free-falling from the mid-tropospheric altitude of 7,600m without a parachute, landing in a carefully constructed 30m by 30m net. It’s one of three world records he holds.
• Farrington, also from Washington, was born to fly. Raised in a family of skydivers, his mom Jessie made about 100 jumps while pregnant with Farrington. He made his first tandem jump at the age of 12, went solo at 16 and has since become the king of the skies, having accumulated more than 27,000 jumps, 1,000 base jumps and 6,000 hours as a pilot.
• Hours of research and development have gone into the modifications required to ensure the feat is possible, with world-renowned aeronautical engineer Dr Paulo Iscold partnering with Aikins and Farrington to serve as lead engineer and solving the issue of how to produce a controlled vertical descent, the exact opposite of how autopilot systems are designed to function.
• This required the reverse engineering of the autopilot mechanics and resulted in a purpose-built air brake system installed on the belly that will hold the planes at a controlled descent speed of 225kph that closely matches the rate of the skydivers’ descent.
• “Plane Swap is the pinnacle of my career and my goal is to inspire the world and show that anything is possible. 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,” said Aikens.
The event can be viewed at https://www.redbull.com/int-en/events/plane-swap.