• Sun. Apr 2nd, 2023


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F.A.A. Investigating Crash After Midair Pilot-Swapping Stunt

The Federal Aviation Administration said on Monday that it was investigating a crash after a stunt that called for two pilots to parachute from nose-diving planes and swap cockpits in midair.

No one was injured on Sunday in the stunt, which featured the pilots and skydivers Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington flying over the desert in Eloy, Ariz., about 50 miles northwest of Tucson. They had planned to send their single-engine Cessna 182 planes into tandem nosedives at 14,000 feet and then jump out midair to switch planes.

One of the pilots landed safely by parachute as his plane spun out of control and crashed, the F.A.A. said in a statement. The other pilot regained control of his plane and landed safely. The F.A.A. did not specify which of the pilots landed by parachute.

Red Bull, the energy-drink company, organized the event, which it called “Plane Swap” and a “first-of-its-kind jump.” The stunt was streamed live by Hulu, a partner in the event, which had no spectators present. Red Bull and Hulu did not immediately respond to inquiries on Monday.

The F.A.A. said that it had denied a request for an exemption from federal regulations that cover the safe operation of an aircraft. In the request, Mr. Aikins sought the exemption because “during the swap, both aircraft will be unoccupied.”

In a reply, dated April 22 and signed by Robert C. Carty, the deputy executive director for flight standards service at the F.A.A., the agency said that granting an exemption “would not be in the public interest” and that the agency could not “find that the proposed operation would not adversely affect safety.”

Mr. Aikins and Mr. Farrington are cousins and third-generation pilots who often fly in formation and have completed more than 5,000 jumps together, Red Bull said.

Red Bull said the men grew up on an airfield, “jumped as much as possible” and both took their first solo flights at the age of 16.

For the stunt, which was a year in the making, the planes were equipped with custom-built autopilot systems so they could remain on the correct trajectory. The planes were also fitted with a speed brake and larger wheels to slow the rate of descent and ensure that the skydivers could catch up to the planes, Red Bull said.

Once the pilots entered the nosedives and switched their engines off to stall in midair, the autopilot would engage, Red Bull said. The men planned to skydive to 2,000 feet above the ground before getting into the other plane, Red Bull said.

It’s not the first time that Mr. Aikins has drawn media attention for his skydiving exploits. In 2016, he was the first person ever to attempt a skydive with neither a parachute nor a wingsuit.

His dive, which was broadcast live on Fox, began at an altitude of 25,000 feet, just 4,000 feet short of the summit of Mount Everest. He landed on a net less than half the size of a football field.