‘Plane swap’: Luke Aikins takes full responsibility

Luke Aikins has publicly admitted that he knew the FAA had not granted him the necessary exemption to perform the Red Bull-sponsored plane swap.

This statement concerns an impressive but now controversial stunt, involving piloting and skydiving. As we saw earlier, the event would have seen two pilots each flying a Cessna 182, in close formation. Then, after reaching 14,000 feet, the plan was to dive their plane, jump, and change planes. Luke Aikins was the owner of the company organizing the aircraft swap event, with Red Bull as sponsor.

Luke Aikins entering the second plane. Photo: Predrag Vuckovic / Red Bull Content Pool

To make all of this possible, the team had to find a way to prevent the Cessna from accelerating during a dive. The solution involved installing a giant air brake, multiplying the amount of drag generated by the aircraft. The team tested the setup several times, even performing a plane swap, but with safety pilots on board the plane. These tests proved to be conclusive.

Airplane swap, Luke Aikins and an FAA exemption (wasn’t)

But on the big day, the plan didn’t quite work out. When Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington attempted the plane swap on April 24, one of the planes went into a flat spin. Farrington, who would have embarked and disembarked him, deployed his parachute and landed safely. The plane deployed its own parachute. But if the purpose of the parachute was to keep the plane intact, it failed.

The blue Cessna 182 just before its crash. Photo: Keith Ladzinski / Red Bull Content Pool

However, the crash was not the main issue for Luke Aikins and the aircraft swap team. As we have already seen, the FAA had previously refused to grant Aikins an exemption he needed for the stunt to proceed. It had to do with the fact that during the exchange, neither aircraft would have anyone flying.

The relevant rule is § 91.105(a)(1) of Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR):

During take-off and landing, and en route, each required flight crew member must:

(1) Be at the crew member’s station unless the absence is necessary to perform duties related to the operation of the aircraft or for physiological needs; and

(2) Keep seat belt fastened when at crew station.

Both planes. Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool

Nobody else knew

As we explained, Luke Aikins (i.e. the petitioner) did not get this exemption – but sued anyway. The rejection had come two days before the event. At first, some felt that Aikins may have gotten the green light at some point between the denial and the event. However, it now seems clear that he did not. But he also claims no one else on the team was aware of the FAA’s denial. Importantly, he says his sponsors didn’t know either. Here’s what Luke Aikins posted on Instagram, about the FAA and “Plane Swap”:

As project manager and chief pilot, it was entirely my responsibility to operate within the regulatory framework to ensure a successful outcome.

I received an email on April 22, 2022 from the FAA stating that a specific exemptionas not granted and I have made a personal decision to go ahead with the plane swap. I regret not having shared this information with my team and those who supported me.

Luke Aikins. Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool

Additionally, Aikins, who is a commercial pilot, says he turns his attention “to work cooperatively and transparently with regulatory authorities when considering planning and execution. Aikins made the statement on April 29. The FAA would investigate the incident. For a detailed view of the event and its background, check out the MentourNOW! video below: