Last weekend’s Red Bull-sponsored plane swap was a half success. One pilot made the transfer and landed the companion aircraft. But the other airplane spun out of control and crashed in the Arizona desert. Now the FAA is curious about why this stunt went forward without waivers on required flight crew. AVweb’s Paul Bertorelli runs down the problem.

50 COMMENTS

  1. In my 60th year of flying, and 2nd in the FBO business–I’ve joined with others in doing anything I can to promote aviation. This “stunt” sets it back–all the way to the “Black Cats” “thrill-em/kill-em” shows of the 1920s. Is it any wonder that 100 years later, aviation is still perceived as “dangerous” and pilots “crazy”?

    Does anybody REALLY think that flying an airplane through a tunnel, or skydiving without a parachute, or skydiving from one airplane to another REALLY promotes aviation? It need not be this direct–every time someone does a “stupid pilot trick”–the entire industry has to defend it–“That’s NOT US!”

    I’ve always wondered why people watch low-level aerobatics at airshows. Back when I used to skydive, when we did an exhibition, I’d look down from the open door and see all of the upturned faces–all I could think of is “You gore-loving SOBs–you are just waiting to see someone bounce or crash–or in the vernacular of the Rubes–“I was there, I SEEN IT!”

    • Exactly. There are better ways to promote STEM and get people, and especially kids, interested in STEM through aviation. Take them up for a Young Eagles flight. Let them participated in building an experimental aircraft. Let them get a hands-on experience. This was just a dumb stunt.

    • I agree that such stunts may do little to promote aviation, but they are still fun to watch. Personally, I really enjoyed watching the Red Bull Air Races. The skill of the pilots was really something to see. I think that the real reason for low level aerobatics is simply that anything above 1000 feet AGL is just too far away for most people to appreciate. Proximity to the ground also enhances the perception of speed (and thrill.) I have seen a fatal accident in an aerobatic show and I certainly hope that none of the spectators was there to see that. Certainly there was no reaction I saw from anyone other than stunned silence.

    • I tend to see air shows as low level demonstrations of aircraft and pilot abilities at a level where the general public can see the aircraft and pilots flying them.
      Yes, it is very dangerous. That is why waivers are required so the pilots can be checked out. The question must be made… Are they nuts?… that is the FAA job.
      Is what they are doing really worth the danger to themselves or the people around them? In this case I would have to say… NO. And is likely why the FAA didn’t approve it. Yes, reckless and dangerous covers the pilot flying, not just the people that may suffer on the ground.
      I have no problem with air shows, until the ‘show’ is a jackass maneuver like this one was. There was no real purpose other than to show just how dangerous they could be.

    • Not sure putting Adolphe Pégoud in this group is fair. His looping of a Bleriot was part of a test program and his demonstration of a parachute went on to create a device that has saved thousands of lives.

  2. If committing suicide is not a criminal offense, then two pilots trying to do so is up to them.

    On the other hand,
    § 91.13 Careless or reckless operation.
    (a) Aircraft operations for the purpose of air navigation. No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.

    If they didn’t “endanger the life or property of another” we are entitled to think they are jerks and that is it.

    • We can think what we want.
      However, the FAA pulling the “careless or reckless operation” card on some jerks in the middle of a desert testing something new is a slap in the face of all the test pilots who did the same in the 50’s and 60’s. If we think that the FAA is correct here, then Chuck Yeager needs to have his certificate pulled ( posthumously).

      • Having sat through the Naval Test Pilot School, I can attest that nothing they do is careless or reckless. It is very calculated and done for a specific purpose. Safety is always the most important concern. Nothing is done to deliberately make the test more dangerous.
        Can the same be said here? I think not.
        This flight here was done for the purpose of being ‘dangerous’. It was let’s see just how dangerous we can be.

    • Here is some news, suicide is not lawful. And yes, you will be locked in a nut house if you try it. So, no you are not permitted to kill yourself. Not much they can do to you if you succeed though. Kind of like robbing a bank successfully. Not much can be done if you get away with it.
      These guys didn’t.

  3. I appreciated this video. I think it was the voice of reason as opposed to the social media mob which is forming. I wonder if there was such outrage over the purposeful crashing of two locomotives over 100 years ago, just to get it on film(new technology at the time) and show it to audiences.

    I think it’s fair to condemn Trevor Jacob and Red Bull for their disregard of public safety, FAA regulations and ignoring the denied waiver, and want severe consequences to prevent copy cats and still celebrate the daredevil spirit and aviation spectacles when done correctly.

  4. I disagree with the comparisons with the other “stunts” Paul mentioned. There exists between pilots and the rest of ground-bound society an unspoken pact: we pilots will do our best to avoid hurting anyone or damaging property on the ground. If something goes wrong when a pilot is flying an aircraft through an empty tunnel, or when a daredevil jumps from a plane without a parachute there is little chance anyone other than the person involved will be injured. Once the two people involved in this plane-swap stunt exited their respective aircraft they ceded the primary means to hold up their end of the pact. (This is the reason–I suspect–the FAA chose not to issue a waiver.) This stunt would have lost little of its wow factor by keeping a safety pilot aboard both aircraft, to take control in the event something unexpected happened.

    • I agree. If they just had a safety pilot on board, I suspect the FAA would have granted the waiver, and the stunt wouldn’t have lost any of it’s excitement factor.

      The main thing that’s at issue here at this point is not so much that it didn’t go as planned, but that Red Bull asked for a waiver, was denied, and went forward with it anyway. It’s the “getting a no and doing it anyway” that puts it in the same category as that other idiot who jumped out of a perfectly good aircraft (though with the intention of the aircraft crashing). I think if they had done the stunt without asking for a waiver, I would have given it a little more of a pass, because the intention was for the aircraft to be landed normally at the end. And the whole “easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”; but that goes out the window if you ask for forgiveness and are denied but do it anyway.

  5. Obviously, “spun out of control” applies to everyone involved in this stupidity.
    “I’m bored. Let’s go almost kill ourselves (and anyone that we might not be aware of on the ground) while we destroy an expensive, FLYABLE airplane.

  6. Book em Dano. Start with the CEO of Red Bull and work your way down the ladder.

    This is yet another perfect example of rules not applying to the rich and famous. This self-aggrandizing stunt needs to come with a big price. Spit in the face of our FAA safety system like these bozo’s did, go directly to jail.

    Throw away the key Dano.

        • Read closely the google information… it doesn’t say it is an Australian owned company or was started in Australia. It got popular first in Thailand. It was started in China.
          Like Continental engines started in America is now a China owned company, Red Bull real ownership is hidden from public knowledge by saying Red Bull is a brand sold by an Australian company… doesn’t say who owns the company or where Red Bull came from. It came from China, is owned by China. First was popular in Thailand, and now is marketed out of Australia.
          It is a China drink.

          • Do you even know the difference between Austria and Australia? Austria is the one in Europe, remember?

            Red Bull is an Austrian company managed by an Austrian billionaire named Dietrich Mateschitz. His partner is Thai, who originated a version of the drink. Thai. Not Chinese, not Australian.

  7. I spy with my little eye…..5 FAA certificates being yanked by the Flight Surgeon’s office:
    2 pilot certificates; 2 medical certificates; 1 parachute rigger’s certificate. And that’s all there is for the FAA to yank for this little prank.

  8. WOW – A LOT of negative stuff about this event!
    Something went wrong with the stability of one of the planes as we saw, so, did that endanger
    anyone? Of course not.
    Guess I’m the only one here who does not have a negative comment.
    Now, that STUPID guy who bailed out of his T Craft – achieved what? I don’t know.

    • No, what went wrong… people went out attempting to make a flight more dangerous for no other reason than to make it more dangerous so people would watch it.
      The people evaluating the stunt at the FAA thought it was not safe… and they were right. The people ignored the FAA.
      Bye bye certificates.

    • “so, did that endanger
      anyone? Of course not.”

      No TFR and no NOTAM. Public use airspace. Yes – it potentially endangered the guy in the legal Cub without a radio or anyone else legitimately traversing the airspace.

  9. I love the closing argument. Indeed, the FAA does turn a blind eye to certain aviation activities like skydiving and ultralights. Stunts like this challenge the detente, and force the FAA to pay attention, an unwelcome attention for both sides. It’s better to let sleeping dogs lie. Now the hornets’ nest is stirred, and for what? Eloy is one of those places where the FAA would prefer to never visit, the resulting paperwork burden being so onerous.

    • Sky diving is done with safety in mind. They go out of their way to make it as safe as possible.
      The same can not be said here for this ‘stunt’. They went out of their way to be dangerous for clicks.

  10. Back when aviation was nascent and exploring boundaries there could be some acceptance of the dare devil, the showman, because just getting up in one was seen as a risk. It can also be noted that even if filmed, the number of people who (1) watched it and (2) had access to try and repeat or be inspired was very small. Most barn-stomers did their thing in front of locals with mainly word of mouth popularity. By WWII those that took risks did so by pushing boundaries that helped expand aviation (longer distances, faster speeds, higher altitudes etc). They pushed technology with the risks that then turned into next generation of airplanes.

    Aviation today is mature; it is reliable and the world is both smaller and more populated so the idea of taking risks has the potential for putting people in harms ways. More over, what’s the point. I agree with the FAA’s that this stunt served no public interest, it certainly did not promote a positive aspect of aviation, and it only served to help promote a company.

    All that said, my issue is that when told “No”, both the company and people involved thumbed their noses, ignored a lawful command and did it any way. That is the bad example here, not two thrill seekers getting a hard-on for their action. It is becoming disturbing how often this is happening today and yet the general attitude is “who cares”. I’ve said this before, but Rules, Laws, they hold back chaos and anarchy and honestly I don’t think we want to live in a world where anything goes if you can get away with it.

    If those two want to potentially destroy airplanes and kill themselves they I would say go at it, but find a country that does not care. In a country that does, respect the rules, change the rules, or leave, but don’t just ignore them. I wonder if this would have been done if the FAA had said “Sure, go ahead, but you cannot film it or post it publicly”. This was not for STEM, it was for promotion and all involved that decided to go ahead after the rejection needs to be punished.

    I do agree that things like Red Bull Air racing, Reno Air racing and aerobatic exhibitions do serve a public interest and are fairly well regulated for safety while still providing the “thrills” aspect as well as discovering more efficient aerodynamics, better training for pilots, and perhaps better safety equipment.

    The Taylorcraft video, this, and least we forget the “emergency ditching” of a Bonanza off Catalina Island was for attention, money, and followers and not to benefit aviation.

  11. Good review Paul. Hard to argue with anything you say here. My stance here is if they get away with blatantly ignoring the regs after the denial of their waiver, we are once again demonstrating that we are becoming a people with no accountability, and that is bad. At some point we are going to have to start actually enforcing our laws or let’s just throw them all out the window. This looks like an attitude from Red Bull, and the participants with any FAA certificates of, “what are you going to do about it?”
    Me personally, I hope they throw the entire book at em.

  12. Thinking about it a bit more, I’m surprised no one thought of THIS alternative ‘safety backup’ strategy. If they would have equipped both airplanes with Garmin AutoLand with an external observer able to remotely activate it by radio, I’d have far less heartburn with this truly dumb serves no purpose — other than sensationalism — act. From a standpoint of reliability, there were multiple single point failure modes which — in the end — ‘got’ one of the airplanes. Had an airplane landed itself when the primary idea of switching pilots failed, it might have demonstrated that technology saved the day. As it ended, all it did was cast two very dumb pilots in the worst possible light … if nothing else, of killing a decent airplane. That nothing on the ground was hurt was more luck than planning.

    • I doubt if this is technically possible at this stage. It’s mainly a G3000 thing for turboprops. Quite an engineering undertaking to get it into a piston. Although I didn’t mention it in the video because I couldn’t confirm the details, they had remote control BRS aboard the airplanes and it was activated. (Not sure if it was BRS or some other canopy system.) Sort of a crude range safety system.

      The easiest solution would have been a safety pilot in each airplane with video showing he never touched the controls during the swap, but was there for safety. No harm, no foul and no FAA bust.

  13. Just saw Paul on Tapper’s show on CNN, being consulted as an aviation journalist and skydiver for the stunt coverage. In the few seconds they had to describe the stunt and its accompanying troubles, I thought they did a fair job, considering. Someone there knew who best to consult for the piece. 👍