Dario Costa sets world record before the rest of us even had breakfast
Nobody had ever flown an aeroplane through a tunnel until Italy's Dario Costa sped through two tunnels near Istanbul at average speeds of 245kph.
It was just after dawn on Saturday, September 4, 2021, that Dario Costa, a professional race and stunt pilot, fired up his specially modified Zivko Edge 540 race plane inside one of the dual Çatalca Tunnels on Turkey's Northern Marmara Highway.
With over two decades of flying experience and numerous aviation feats to his credit, the 41-year-old had logged in excess of 5,000 hours in the air – more than half in high-performance aerobatics. He’d even become the first Italian to notch a win in the Red Bull Air Race Challenger Class. Costa had been dreaming of Tunnel Pass for years, and it would be his most demanding and complex undertaking yet.
I’d never flown in a tunnel in my life – nobody had ever done it
Surrounded by the concrete arc of the walls, Costa took off in the dim light of the first tunnel at 6:43am local time, with the early hour putting the sun at his back and offering optimal ambient conditions. Limited overhead clearance meant that he had to keep the aircraft on a flight path just above the asphalt while also managing a claustrophobic margin of only about four metres between each wingtip and the unforgiving walls.
Changes to airflow, combined with the highly sensitive steering of the aircraft, required reaction times of less than 250 milliseconds as Costa executed fine hand movements of mere millimetres throughout the flight.
One of the most critical moments came when the plane flashed through the 360m gap between the tunnels, which exposed the lightweight aircraft to crosswinds as Costa prepared to thread it into the narrow opening of the second tunnel.
“Everything seemed to be happening so fast, but when I got out of the first tunnel, the plane started to move to the right because of the crosswinds and in my head, everything slowed down in that moment," explained Costa. "I reacted and just focused on getting the plane back on the right path to enter the other tunnel. Then in my mind, everything sped up all over again.”
As Costa continued, he was averaging 245kph while also managing changes in the second tunnel’s incline and shape. When the race plane shot out of the other side, the Italian pulled it into a celebratory loop before landing.
Everything seemed to be happening so fast
From take-off to exiting the second tunnel, the flight covered a distance of 2.26km. And in less than 44 seconds, Costa had set a certified Guinness World Record plus four more records.
The Tunnel Pass flight was recognised with a Guinness World Record for Longest Tunnel Flown through with an Aeroplane (1,730m) and Costa was presented with the official certificate. The four other notable records were: first aeroplane flight through a tunnel, longest flight under a solid obstacle, first aeroplane flight through two tunnels and first aeroplane takeoff from a tunnel.
Costa was mentored by aviation legend Péter Besenyei of Hungary. In all, the Tunnel Pass project required a team of 40 people, specially developed training technology and more than a year of preparation.
“I’d never flown in a tunnel in my life – nobody had ever done it – so there was a big question mark in my head whether everything would go as we expected,” said Costa. “It was a big relief, of course, but big, big happiness was the main emotion. For me, it’s another dream come true.”