Red Bull Air Force
© Michael Clark / Red Bull Content Pool
Aerobatic Flying

Pushing the limits of human flight

With the tradition set to be continued, take a blast from the past and see the history already written.
By Jorge Martin
11 min readPublished on
Buckle up folks, another unprecedented aviation feat is coming your way on April 24. In a compelling mission to be showcased to the world live on Red Bull TV, industry pioneers Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington will cut the power to their planes mid-air, and when the planes begin to free fall, jump out and into each others’ plane. Pretty simple, right?
Plane Swap’ promises to be an extreme test of planning, testing, engineering, physics and a daring spirit to continually go higher, faster and further. It’s an audacious challenge Aikins is inspired by.
Luke Aikins

Luke Aikins

© Michael Clark / Red Bull Content Pool

I really want to show the world that I’m not just a skydiver, we’re not just these crazy stuntmen. We can do the engineering, we can do the design, do a real flight-test program and showcase all our talents. It takes all of these skills.
Before embarking on a new adventure in human flight, let's revisit some brave heroes who set the bar in what's possible in the world of aviation.
Check out the following timeline of feats that prove that with proper planning, training and skill, pretty much anything is possible.
01

2012 - Red Bull Stratos (New Mexico, USA)

Felix Baumgartner - Red Bull Stratos

Felix Baumgartner - Red Bull Stratos

© Red Bull Stratos / Red Bull Content Pool

Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you are.
Felix Baumgartner’s skydive from the edge of space surpassed human limits and advanced scientific discoveries.
Austrian pilot and parachutist Felix Baumgartner took off on the Red Bull Stratos mission knowing the whole world was watching. In the pre-dawn hours, he stepped into a capsule that would be pulled skyward with a single goal: to jump from the edge of space. And it looked and sounded like a space mission, with Red Bull Mission Control down at Roswell, NM monitoring and communicating with Baumgartner every second of the ascent. One of his main advisors was Luke Aikins, who was one of the voices in Baumgartner’s ears all the way up. When Baumgartner opened the capsule’s hatch, he set his feet methodically onto a step and said, “I know the whole world is watching now, and I wish the world could see what I see.
With that, he saluted and jumped from a world record height of 127,852.4ft – about 24 miles above ground. His special suit had enough oxygen for 10 minutes. For the first 4:22 of that time he was in a freefall that set the highest speed ever recorded without an aircraft at 843.6mph, easily breaking the sound barrier. His freefall distance traveled was another record: 119,431ft.
Immediately after landing gently, nine minutes, 16 seconds after he jumped, he revealed: “When you’re standing out there on that step, top of the world, you become so humbled. The only thing you want is to come back alive.”

2 min

Red Bull Stratos

Red Bull Stratos

02

2012 - Airplane Vs. Parachutist (Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic)

Martin Šonka

Martin Šonka

© Mihai Stetcu / Red Bull Content Pool

Aerobatic pilot Martin Šonka flies in tandem, wing by wing, with parachutist Petr Mestak.
As a celebrated Red Bull Air Race pilot, Martin Šonka was used to navigating his plane through challenging maneuvers. This stunning maneuver used all his knowledge and experience as he joined expert skydiver Petr Mestak in the skies for a tandem flight like no other.
With Mestak stable in the air having jumped out of a plane, Šonka flew alongside him and managed to maintain the same speed, elevation and trajectory by holding his plane in a titled position as if in a helicopter.

2 min

Aeroplane vs Parachutist

Aerobatic pilot Martin Šonka and parachutist Petr Měšťák join forces for a one-of-a-kind stunt.

03

2015 - Barnstorming (Llandbedr, Wales, UK)

Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones fly through a hangar at Red Bull Barnstorming

Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones fly through a hangar at Red Bull Barnstorming

© Olaf Pignataro / Red Bull Content Pool

British pilots fly in formation through a hangar.
Another low-flying display of aerobatics happened in 2015 when pilots Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones took off from Llanbedr Airfield, in north of Wales. The duo combined supreme confidence, precise planning and perfect execution to perform a flying stunt never before done: two planes flying through a hangar in formation.
Approaching at 185mph, the two pilots got down about 3ft off the ground, one plane trailing slightly behind and to the left. At that speed, any small mistake would be disastrous. “Ultimately, if we get it wrong, we hit a building,” Bonhomme said.
There’s nothing that quite compares with the feeling when you’re 650ft before the hangar.
Steve Jones
Headed straight for the empty hangar, they were full-speed ahead, smoke trailing from both their tails. They flew into the hangar, each plane having an outside wing close to clipping the sides of the hangar. Their landing gear was barely a meter above the ground. They were only in the barn for a few seconds, but their trails of smoke lingered, visually marking the astounding feat.

2 min

Red Bull Barnstorming

Red Bull Barnstorming saw Matadors Aerobatic Team leader Paul Bonhomme and his wingman Steve Jones fly their planes through a barn at 300kph in a world-first event.

04

2016 - Extraordinary Slalom Flight (Oberzeiring, Austria)

Hannes Arch performs during the Windpark Rallye at the Windpark Hohe

Hannes Arch performs during the Windpark Rallye at the Windpark Hohe

© Philip Platzer / Red Bull Content Pool

Slaloming through fourteen wind turbines at one of the world’s highest wind farms.
The late Hannes Arch, Red Bull Air Race 2008 World Champion, had a unique idea of his own when he saw the 14 wind turbines at Tauerwindpark in Styria, Austria. At 6,233ft above sea level, he would fly towards and around each of the 195ft turbines like he was an Olympic skier doing the slalom…at 185mph. Flying side to side, his wings perpendicular to the ground as he was executing each turn, it was almost as if his plane were on a roller coaster track taking him around each of the windmills.

1 min

Hannes Arch slaloms through a wind farm

Probably the first person ever to do this – Hannes Arch flies slalom at speeds exceeding 300 kph in a wind farm

05

2016 - Storm’s Edge (Florida, USA)

Sean MacCormac sky surfs during the Storm's Edge project

Sean MacCormac sky surfs during the Storm's Edge project

© Craig O'Brien / Red Bull Content Pool

American Sean MacCormac becomes the first skydiver to surf Florida’s infamous thunderstorm clouds.
To set the stage for another incredible flight, the skies above Southwest Florida were threatening a thunderstorm. That only emboldened Sean MacCormac to perform something he’d only dreamed of: skysurfing through heavy rain clouds and the occasional lightning strike. When the conditions looked their “best” – or worst depending on your perspective – MacCormac and the crew flew into the clouds.
His snowboard attached to his feet, MacCormac jumped and flew toward the ground from two miles up. He occasionally grabbed the edge of his board, lightning intermittently striking around him. When he opened his parachute, he wafted to the ground, the rain falling heavily.

1 min

Chasing Lightning: Skysurfing in a Thundercloud

Find out what happens when Red Bull Air Force athlete Sean MacCormac dives into the edge of a storm.

06

2017 - BASE Jump Records (Idaho, USA)

Miles Daisher BASE jumps for 24 hours and sets world record with 63 jumps

Miles Daisher BASE jumps for 24 hours and sets world record with 63 jumps

© Christian Pondella / Red Bull Content Pool

Miles Daisher reclaims his BASE jump world record after performing 63 jumps in 24 hours.
Miles Daisher knew records were made to be broken, yet he thought his mark of 57 BASE jumps in 24 hours set in 2005 would stand for a while. After it was broken, Daisher zeroed in on June 21, 2017, the summer solstice, to take another crack at the record.
Everyone will fail in life at some point but it’s how you spend this time while you’re alive, that’s what’s important to me.
Taking off from the 486ft high Perrine Bridge in Idaho, Daisher performed a variety of acrobatic jumps before his parachute opened and he landed shortly thereafter on the bank of the Snake River. Then he climbed back up, a task he performed after each jump. By the time of his 63rd jump in less than 24 hours, it was the equivalent of climbing to the peak of Mount Everest (more than 29,000ft) in a day.
07

2017 - Door In The Sky (Bernese Alps, Switzerland)

The soul flyers seen after B.A.S.E jumping off the summit of Jungfrau

The soul flyers seen after B.A.S.E jumping off the summit of Jungfrau

© Thibault Gachet / Red Bull Content Pool

The Soul Flyers BASE Jump off a mountain and land mid-air in an aircraft.
Fred Fugen and Vince Reffet, known as the Soul Flyers, wanted to BASE Jump from the top of Jungfrau Mountain in Switzerland and maneuver their wingsuits to literally fly into a plane.
A helicopter took them to the summit of the mountain, an elevation of 13,123ft. As the plane was circling into position, the jump had to be timed exactly. They had just 2 minutes and 45 seconds to freefall 10,500ft and land safely in the plane.
On their second attempt, and with the plane pointing at about a 45-degree decline, they made their approach. Each maneuvered their wingsuits to literally dive into the padding inside the open door in the sky. When they were done, Fugen summed it up succinctly: “All these months of preparation, doubts, stress, and fear, and we’d done it!

8 min

A Door in the Sky

Get to know the Soul Flyers and see what went into making a ground-breaking BASE-jump happen.

French +8

08

2018 - Hot Air Balloon Training (Arizona USA)

Kirby Chambliss performs with hot air balloons in Eloy, AZ

Kirby Chambliss performs with hot air balloons in Eloy, AZ

© Chris Tedesco / Red Bull Content Pool

Pylons are switched for hot air balloons in Kirby Chambliss’ unique and eye-catch display.
Kirby Chambliss has been there and done it all in the world of aerobatic and air race flying but this display to mark National Hot Air Balloon Day was something novel even for him.
The two-time Red Bull Air Race world champion and legend of the skies took off with a series of hot air balloons secured on the ground. As they were slowly released into the perfect Arizona sky, he demonstrated all his aerobatic skill by swerving in and out of them as if they were pylons.
Chambliss said: “Weaving back and forth between the balloons is very different than pylons because they are so much wider, and you can’t hit the balloons!”
09

2019 - Supermoon (Los Angeles, USA)

Mike Swanson wingsuit fly through downtown Los Angeles on 20 March, 2019.

Mike Swanson was lucky enough to take part in the Supermoon flight

© Michael Clark/Red Bull Content Pool

Fitted with LED lights, the Red Bull Air Force swoop into downtown LA with a supermoon backdrop.
March 20, 2019: Los Angelenos began reporting strange lights in the skies. Was it a rocket? A comet? An alien invasion? None of the above. It was actually the Red Bull Air Force trio of Jon DeVore, Mike Swanson and Andy Farrington commemorating the final supermoon of the decade with a jump from a helicopter high above downtown Los Angeles. Donning lighted wingsuits, they streaked across the sky, leaving a trail of sparks and making national news.
Devore said: “Ever since I moved to LA I dreamt of something like this. It’s a top-three moment in my life.”

1 min

Supermoon POV

Red Bull Air Force celebrate the March 2019 supermoon by wingsuit-flying into downtown LA.

10

2019 - Inverted Heli (New York City, USA)

Aaron Fitzgerald, performs flips, barrel rolls and nose dives in NYC

Aaron Fitzgerald, performs flips, barrel rolls and nose dives in NYC

© Predrag Vuckovic / Red Bull Content Pool

Aaron Fitzgerald stuns onlookers with helicopter aerobatics over New York City.
It isn’t just planes that defy the laws of physics. Red Bull pilot Aaron Fitzgerald planned to have a helicopter do tricks hardly ever seen anywhere. Yet Fitzgerald took it even further by performing these feats over New York Harbor in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.
Loops, barrel rolls, back and front flips - helicopter pilot Aaron Fitzgerald performed them all while casually looking down at the Statue of Liberty in New York. Even 'seen-it-all' New Yorkers stood dumbfounded and many grabbed their phones to capture the astonishing Bo-105 helicopter's aerobatic maneuvers themselves.

2 min

Watch: Helicopter Does Flips and Tricks Over New York City

Check out Aaron Fitzgerald's inverted flying and aerobatic maneuvers around New York City.

11

2020 - Marfa Lights (Texas, USA)

Skydiver der Red Bull Air Force im Nachthimmel über Marfa, Texas.

Skydiver der Red Bull Air Force im Nachthimmel über Marfa, Texas.

© Red Bull Air Force

Reinterpreting the world-renowned, mysterious Marfa Lights phenomenon Red Bull Air Force Style.
Marfa, Texas is known for its amazing light displays in the night sky. Some call them UFOs, but in a memorable moonless pitch black flight Amy Chmelecki, Jeff Provenzano, and Sean MacCormac sought to recreate those nighttime phenomenons. Jumping out of their plane while wrapped in lights, the athletes turned on sparks seemingly streaming from their shoes. They looked like real-life Captain Marvels streaking through the night sky. At least for one night, the mystery of the Marfa Lights was solved.

7 min

Red Bull Air Force – Marfa Lights Jump

See the Red Bull Air Force Team combine with the Marfa Lights to create a spectacular result.

12

2021 - Tunnel Pass (Istanbul, Turkey)

Dario Costa of Italy after flying through dual Catalca Tunnels in Istanbul

Dario Costa of Italy after flying through dual Catalca Tunnels in Istanbul

© Samo Vidic / Red Bull Content Pool

A new chapter in aviation history is started as Dario Costa flies through two tunnels at an average speed of 152MPH.
Italian aerobatic pilot Dario Costa had the thought for the flight of a lifetime from an early age: to take off from one tunnel, and fly through another tunnel.
Perfection was mandatory. Even a fractional mistake could result in disaster. Every angle was studied throughout the dual Çatalca Tunnels in Istanbul, Turkey. Costa had studied physics and even taught aerodynamics at the high school level. He drove a race car through the tunnels at 167.8mph to simulate the speed at which he’d be flying.
On Sept. 4, 2021, the preparation was complete. Costa went into the cockpit of his Zivko Edge 540 V2 plane, a combination of nerves and excitement coursing throughout his body. “I’m 100% scared,” he said.
​​I know that I have no backup option. The fear that I have is exactly the fear that I need to push myself.
He took off, speeding in a direct line with his plane not wavering in any direction but forward, the edges of the tunnel barely outside the tips of each wing. That proved to be the easy part. As the plane lifted off, Costa kept the wheels barely above the ground so that he could enter the next tunnel in flight and at a high speed of 172.7mph. Costa’s plane was a blur as it entered the second tunnel.
For 10 seconds, everything was a confluence of aerodynamics, physics, steady hands and nerves. Costa kept the plane in the air and flew through the 3,280ft tunnel just as if he were in the race car he used to prepare for the flight of a lifetime. Even though the end of the tunnel initially looked so far away, he knew he’d be there in a matter of moments. Once he hit daylight, his plane flew through the air and circled over the twin tunnels. “Yeahhhhh!” Costa yelled, a combination of excitement and relief being unleashed. Aviation history was made, just a few feet above the ground.

2 min

Tunnel Pass

Race and stunt pilot Dario Costa of Italy sets a new world record with a 245kph flight outside Istanbul, Turkey.

English

13

UP NEXT: April 24, 2022 - Plane Swap (Arizona, USA)

Plane Swap

Plane Swap

© Red Bull

Stay tuned for a first-of-its-kind event with Luke Aikins and his cousin Andy Farrington where they will take off in their respective airplanes customized for this event, put the planes into a nosedive, jump from their own planes, race through the sky into each other’s planes, take control and fly away.
Two planes, two skydivers, one live attempt. The Plane Swap livestream will capture the world’s attention on Sunday, April 24 beginning at 4:00pm PDT/7:00 p.m. EDT. on Hulu, the exclusive streaming partner in the U.S.

Part of this story

Luke Aikins

Breaking boundaries is second nature to American skydiver and pilot Luke Aikins.

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Andy Farrington

Andy Farrington is a king of the skies with more than 26,000 skydives and over 1,500 BASE jumps to his name, not to mention about 6,000 hours as a pilot.

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A Door in the Sky

Get to know the Soul Flyers and see what went into making a ground-breaking BASE-jump happen.

8 min