Pilots Parachuting out of their Planes
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the supposed engine failure in a Taylorcraft B vintage aircraft over Los Padres National Forest in California: Vintage Plane Crash Possibly Done For Video Views.
Last week, the New York Times published the basics from a leaked document detailing the enforcement action against the pilot. Since then, a version of the FAA emergency order of revocation has been released as a part of the Freedom of Information Act act and published online. This document shows that the FAA agreed with what we had suspected, that the pilot had operated the flight to purposely crash the aircraft. They wrote that their conclusion was supported by key evidence that the pilot installed cameras inside and out of the aircraft before the flight, put on the parachute before the flight, and opened the left-side pilot door before claiming that the engine had failed.
Before jumping, they said, he
- made no attempt to contact Air Traffic Control on the Emergency frequency
- made no attempt to look for areas to land safely
- held a camera attached to a selfie stick while jumping
In addition, they pointed out that the pilot recovered the cameras and disposed of the wreckage, which did not give the NTSB a chance to inspect it.
As a result of the foregoing, the Acting Administrator finds that you lack the qualifications necessary to hold your Private Pilot Certificate and any other airman certificates issued to you.
The pilot must surrender his private pilot certificate immediately, with the threat of a civil penalty of up to $1,644 for every day that passes before he does so.
In defence of the FAA decision to revoke his certificate after a single event, the letter explains:
On November 24, 2021, you demonstrated a lack of care, judgment and responsibility by choosing to jump out of an aircraft solely so you could record the footage of the crash. Your egregious and intentional actions on these dates indicate that you presently lack the degree of care, judgment and responsibility required of a certificate holder.
The pilot responded with a YouTube video which I won’t bother to link to, this time, as it mainly invites the “haters and the lovers” to buy his t-shirts while the pilot replays his favourite news footage clips and complains that he never thought that posting a video would have this kind of effect.
As if that weren’t excitement enough for the aviation community, just four days after the New York Times reported the FAA’s decision, another pilot-parachuting situation arose. In this case, two pilots, each flying a Cessna 182, abandoned their plane mid-flight in an attempt to sky dive into the other craft.
This was a planned stunt as a part of a Red Bull Plane Swap, which Red Bull said:
…will go down in history as the first pilots to take off in one aircraft and land in another after sending their airplanes into a nosedive and jumping out of them!
The pilots, cousins who “grew up on an airfield and jumped as much as possible”, were to take their Cessna 182s to 14,000 feet, where they would get into formation and complete their last checks.
When the ‘go’ call is made both Luke and Andy will put their 182s into a tandem nosedive. For both the aircraft to remain in a nosedive they require a custom-built autopilot system to ensure they stay on the correct trajectory (more on the physics of the jump later). Each aircraft has also been fitted with a speed brake and larger than standard wheels to help create more drag and slow the rate of decent and ensure the skydivers can catch up to them. The autopilot will activate once the pilots have manually entered the nosedive and switched the engines off to cause the planes to stall in mid-air.
With the airplanes holding their trajectory in the nosedive, Luke and Andy will then exit their planes and skydive to approximately 2,000ft above ground level before getting into the other aircraft.
Once back inside their new aircraft Luke and Andy will switch off the autopilot, retract the speed brake and restart the engines, whilst pulling level. They will then switch off the smoke to show to all around the mission has been successful.
Red Bull also made an interactive infographic that shows the science behind the forty-second flight which had been over a year in planning.
Unfortunately, the Plane Swap did not quite go as planned.
One of the pilots successfully jumped and entered the other Cessna 182, which he landed safely. The second pilot jumped but was unable to make it to the remaining Cessna and instead used his parachute to return to the ground. The Cessna 182 also had a parachute which released automatically; however the aircraft was badly damaged on landing.
Worse, the FAA stepped into the fray once again, looking very unamused. Red Bull had requested an exemption for the stunt, in order to allow both pilots to depart the flight decks while their Cessnas were in a vertical dive, leaving both aircraft unoccupied during the swap. This appears to have been a relatively last minute request, with a clear statement that the petitioner “has made commitments regarding this event based on the assumption that the FAA would grant the petition for exemption.”
Plot twist: it didn’t happen. The FAA denied the exemption, saying it was not in the public interest and created unnecessary risk. They recommended that instead, each aircraft take a safety pilot who would stay on board and thus, could take the role of the Pilot-in-Command during the swap.
As one of the aircraft crashed, it is evident that there was no safety pilot on board, although the original petition stated that this was how the Red Bull pilots had been practising for the event.
The live stream from the event is available to watch now on Red Bull TV as a small part of the three-hour video Plane Swap 2022, with a focus on the testing and the successful swap by the first pilot. The show highlights “No one at the controls!” repeatedly in the lead up to the actual event, which is presumably why they vetoed safety pilots manning the cockpit during the swap.
The same day, the FAA spoke out against the stunt. The NTSB has released a preliminary document which states that they are investigating alongside the FAA.
It turns out the question of which pilots wear parachutes (and are willing to use them) is a bit more complicated in 2022 than in previous years. Let’s hope that’s the last jump.