Red Bull pilots aim to wow with daredevil mid-air plane swap stunt

Michael Clark / Red Bull Content Pool

The daredevils at Red Bull have come up with their next mad-cap aerial stunt. On April 24, 2022, two skydivers will take to the skies and attempt a mid-air plane swap. 

The stunt coincides with Sports Aviation month at AeroTime and we’ll be glued to our screens watching, as no doubt millions of people worldwide will be. The plane swap was announced on March 16, and we’re taking a look at the plans as we kick off the month of April. 

Red Bull is known for its crazy aviation tricks. In 2021, Italian Red Bull pilot Dario Costa became the first person to fly a plane through two tunnels. Just watching the video makes you want to breathe in to avoid touching the edges of the narrow tunnels. 

And of course, the company hit the headlines when Felix Baumgartner jumped from the edge of space in the first ever supersonic freefall in 2012. In that feat, the Austrian flew to an altitude of 128,000 feet in a helium-filled balloon. He broke three records – the highest freefall, highest manned balloon flight and first person to break the speed of sound in freefall.  

How will the mid-air swap work?

Red Bull says its latest stunt has been 10 years in the making. The two skydivers, Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington, will each pilot their own aircraft to 14,000 feet. The two will then cut the power, put the planes into a vertical dive and jump out, leaving the Cessna 182 aircraft with no one at the controls. 

The two skydivers will attempt to fly into the other’s aircraft, recover them from the dive and bring them safely back down to land in Arizona. 

As Aikins said in an interview with CNN: “Jumping out isn’t the hard part, the hard part is getting back in.” 

Aikins explained more in the CNN interview. “We’ll fly in, chest to the ground, up to the plane, we’ll grab the wing strut, and then we kind of walk our way right into the airplane. As soon as your body gets halfway into the door, there’s no wind, it’s all fine. You’ll be able to flip the switches and recover the airplane, restart the engine, pull the speed brake up and bring it back around.”

The aircraft have been modified with a specially-engineered speed brake, attached to the landing gear. This slows the plane down enough to prevent a mid-air structural break-up. Engineers will also be monitoring the aircraft from the ground, thanks to additional sensors. 

Who are the skydivers?

Aikins is a skydiver, airplane and helicopter pilot and stuntman. The 48-year-old Texan grew up in a family of pilots and skydivers and was even raised at a private airport. Aikins got his pilot’s license at the age of 16, the year he also made his first skydive. To date he has racked up over  21,000 skydives and has more than 8,750 flight hours. 

Aikins was part of the team that worked on the equipment for Baumgartner’s freefall from the stratosphere. He has trained celebrities and military personnel in skydiving techniques. And he also carried out a record-breaking jump on live TV, where he jumped from 25,000 feet with no parachute, landing in a 100ftx100ft net. 

Andy Farrington is Aikins’ cousin, so this Red Bull stunt is a family affair. In fact, the two skydivers even share a property in Washington with its own hangar and grass runway. 

Farrington, 42, has been skydiving since before he was born. According to his Red Bull profile, his mother made about 100 jumps while pregnant with him. Farrington also made his first solo skydive at the age of 16 and now has more than 2,000 skydives to his name. In addition, he has made more than 1,500 BASE jumps and has about 6,000 hours as a pilot. 

He’s also a specialist in wingsuit flying, having won the Red Bull Aces wingsuit competition twice. 

The Red Bull plane swap will be broadcast via streaming site Hulu from 16:00 Pacific Time/ 19:00 Eastern Time / 23:00 UTC on April 24, 2022.

“I really want to show the world that I’m not just a skydiver, we’re not just these crazy stuntmen,” commented Aikins in a Red Bull release. “We can do the engineering, we can do the design, do a real flight-test program and showcase all our talents. It takes all of these skills.” 


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