NTSB Issues Clipped Analysis Of Plane Swap Crash


In what may be the shortest final report ever issued by the NTSB, the board found the probable cause of the crash of a Cessna 182 being used in a made-for-streaming airplane swap stunt for Red Bull last April to be “exceedance of the critical angle of attack which resulted in a stall, subsequent inverted spin, and impact with terrain.” The board spent just 150 words in its analysis of what went wrong (and right) with the stunt, which sparked intense media and forum discussion for days after the 182 slammed vertically into the desert. 

Red Bull pilots Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington were trying to switch airplanes while they and the aircraft were freefalling. Aikins managed to get into Farrington’s plane and safely land but Aikins’ plane went into an inverted spin and Farrington had to parachute to safety. Both pilots had their certificates revoked. The FAA revealed that they had applied for an exemption from FAA regs that would have prevented the stunt. The FAA refused to allow the exemption and the pilots proceeded with the flight, which had been heavily promoted and was livestreamed on Hulu.

The NTSB cut through all the extraneous chatter and concentrated its analysis on the cause of the spin itself. It interviewed Aikins, who postulated that extra fuel added as ballast to replace the weight of a safety pilot caused the spin. He also told the board that the plane had a ballistic parachute that released automatically at 1,000 feet AGL but it went off when the plane was inverted and didn’t fully deploy.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. I expected something more like, “The probable cause of the accident was the pilot jumping out of the airplane.”

    • Tickets yanked. Good for FAA. Intolerable stupidity. They should also go after Red Bull too.
      Wrecking a nice C182. smh.

  2. Or that an auto pilot needs to be engaged and disengaged by an actual in the seat pilot. If that’s not in the POH, it should be.

    • I presume since the accident involved “substantial damage” to the aircraft, they were required to investigate the crash. And it wouldn’t surprise me that if they took any shortcuts on it, some politician down the line with an axe to grind would twist it against them (and it wouldn’t be without precedent).

    • Not investigating this disapproved stunt and proceeding anyway because of Red Bull promoting it, one of the two pilots knew the stunt was disapproved, the public fully engaged would have presented the FAA as looking the other way with repercussions from the aviation community. This goes along with the previous stunt of bailing out from an airplane with parachute to garner YouTube fame. All three pilots deserved their flying privileges revoked.

  3. Liberals would have us all wearing helmets at all times. This stunt posed no danger to anyone but the daredevils involved. The NTSB and the FAA and go pound sand.

    • Doug, I seriously disagree with you. Yes, the crashed aircraft didn’t hit anyone or anything. Other than the ground. However, it did have the potential of doing so. A pilot less aircraft with full fuel isn’t something I would want to encounter. Especially If it was headed towards my house.

      • “However, it did have the potential of doing so.”

        Any aircraft has the potential of doing so.

        “A pilot less aircraft with full fuel isn’t something I would want to encounter.”

        Wait until you hear about these new fangled things they call “drones” and “UAVs”. It’s gonna knock your socks off.

    • Rejected! Airplane falling on the head of farmer out walking his fields is harmful to others.

      Yah, the world is full of Darwin Candidates, remember the Evil person who jumped motorcycles over busses, and recently many cases of people falling over cliffs trying to take a photo of themselves.

    • Whether or not this commercial stunt should have been approved by a federal agency is an issue of political affiliation? Somebody needs a hobby.

      • Seems some right-wing commenters are just lashing out like the misguide Canadian trucker’s convoy which hurt freedom by initiating force against innocents, giving cover to terrorist wannabes, and giving a shallow pandering politician an excuse to copy his daddy and restrict freedom without necessity.

        (In the convoy blocking border crossing in southern AB were armed persons intending to kill police.
        PM ‘jefe’ Trudeau Jr. invoked an Emergencies act then lied that police wanted it, just like his father invoked an earlier act against a small bunch of tinpot terrorists. Marxists all.)

    • Isn’t the cornerstone of conservatism that you face consequences for breaking the rules? That’s the standard that conservatives apply to nearly everything else! Yet here we have two pilots knowingly and purposely broke the rules and are facing ordinary consequences.

      I guess your point is that if you personally disagree with a rule it’s ok to break it.

    • I also disagree, but only because your a utterly wrong with the “no danger to anyone” line.

  4. After all this time, there continues to be folks believing that this was done over an area that contained population.
    Can anyone out there convince these people otherwise?

      • How would it have glided any significant distance? A speed brake was installed (and tested) so that the plane would dive pretty much straight down…and that’s approximately what happened.

    • Perhaps you’ve not heard of the recent increase in popularity of outback exploring and 4-wheeling, not to mention the spate of wildfires during a western drought.
      If it appropriately addressed the public safety then FAA would have had a difficult time denying the permission. Doh.

    • Agreed. That’s what Discovery Channel did.

      It’s on thing to argue that FAA should have granted a permit to do the stunt. I think they should have!

      But that’s different than saying it’s OK to do the stunt anyway even after the FAA said no.

    • And US government research agencies did with an airliner to test crash, because of bureaucracy in US.
      But later another test crash was done in the US.

      • Red Bull was not suggesting they were doing a regulated “test crash” with appropriate fire/rescue personnel and safety measures in-place. They also were not performing this stunt in an approved restricted area. Stupid is as stupid does.

  5. I’d prefer people like our little Dougie to wear straightjackets. A helmet provides the wearer protection, where as a straightjacket protects everyone around the wearer.
    And the NTSB report was way too long. It should have said the cause of the accident was, “STUPIDITY”!

  6. Who but an outrageously high dollar corporation would already have a live stream HULU show scheduled without even getting the permission first. “Cart before the horse”. It may have taken some time but I believe they could have done it correctly and through the proper channels. But “Red Bull” has “ball$” and money so up your FAA.

  7. There’s enough problem with fool pilots on useful missions.

    USMC MV-22 crashed in Norway because pilot went too low with excessive bank angles, in maneuvers not in the training plan.
    A retail body-worn video camera was found in the wreckage.