The National Transportation Safety Board has released its final report regarding the crash of a Cessna 182 that was part of the Red Bull Airplane Swap stunt.
The stunt, which was streamed on Hulu on April 24, 2022, involved pilots and skydivers Luke Aikins, 48, and Andy Farrington, 39, flying a pair of modified C-182s.
The plan was to fly the aircraft to an altitude of more than 12,000 feet above the Arizona desert. The pilots would then put the aircraft into synchronous steep dives, bail out of their respective airplanes wearing parachutes, and maneuver in freefall in order to enter each other’s airplane. Once aboard, they would recover the aircraft from their descents and land normally.
The aircraft were modified with a range of equipment including aerodynamic brakes to keep them from gaining excessive speed in the near-vertical dive, and grab bars to help Aikins and Farrington get back into the airplanes during the plunge. The 182s each included a custom autopilot designed to maintain an unusually steep descent path.
Video of the event shows the aircraft entering the nose down attitude and the pilots departing the cockpits. As Aikins departed the accident aircraft, the nose pitched up and it entered an inverted spin. Aikins was able to enter the other aircraft and fly it to the landing spot.
Farrington chose not to attempt to enter the spinning aircraft and instead descended to the ground via parachute.
According to the NTSB, the probable cause of the crash was a ballast shift aboard the unoccupied aircraft that resulted in it exceeding the critical angle of attack. The aircraft entered a stall and subsequent spin from which it did not recover.
Investigators noted the accident aircraft was equipped with a ballistic parachute that was designed to trigger at an altitude of 1,000 feet. The parachute did activate while the airplane was inverted, but it did not fully deploy. The aircraft hit the ground and was substantially damaged. It was noted in the final report that the NTSB did not travel to the site of the accident.
Because of the nature of the stunt, practice in advance of the streaming on Hulu was not an option, as Farrington stated on the Red Bull website: “There is no way to test it until you do it.”
FAA Revokes Pilot Certificates
The FAA noted that Aikins and Farrignton did not have permission to perform the stunt. In a statement issued to FLYING shortly after the stunt failed, the agency noted it “denied the organizer’s request for an exemption from federal regulations that cover the safe operation of an aircraft.” Aikin later admitted in an Instagram post that he had received the FAA denial but he did not inform Red Bull or his team members.
Following the failed stunt in May, the FAA issued an emergency revocation of both Aikin’s and Farrington’s pilot certificates. Neither one will be able to apply for or be issued a new airman certificate for one year. The FAA also proposed a $4,932 fine for Aikins for violating three regulations: FAR 91.105(a) flight crew members remaining at their stations, 91.113(b) the duty of the pilot to see and avoid other aircraft and 91.13 the operation of an aircraft in a careless and reckless manner.