Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington attempted to become the first pilots to swap planes. The general feeling amongst the aviation community is that the stunt was an outright failure Luke and Andy however believe the aspirational feat was partially accomplished.
Pilots and cousins Luke Aikins, 48, and Andy Farrington, 39, attempted to become the first pilots in the world to take off in one aircraft and land in another. The goal of swapping planes mid-air for the first time was partially accomplished.
The preparation for their latest project had been a year in the making, but a lifetime of experience led Aikins and Farrington to their attempt to swap planes, unassisted. Both began skydiving in their teenage years and have jumped more than 5,000 times together. Individually their experience speaks volumes. Aikins entered the event with 21,000 jumps and 8,750 commercial flying hours, and Farrington had 27,000 jumps and 6,000 commercial flying hours to his name.
Plane Swap was Aikins’ brainchild and was inspired by a photo in an aviation publication in the 1990s. He put his name against some of the most successful aviation feats in the years that followed. He served as a consultant on the Red Bull Stratos mission, performed a historic first-ever skydive without a parachute on live TV (2016) and developed Red Bull Aces, the first-ever wingsuit slalom competition (2014).
In the 12 months leading to their attempt to swap planes, Aikins and Farrington worked on a pair of experimental Cessna 182s and enlisted the help of Lead Aeronautical Engineer Paulo Iscold. Relying on thousands of hours of skydiving, piloting and engineering experience respectively, the goal was to prove the act of a pilot swapping planes as possible.
“I mean, we proved that it was possible,” said Aikins. "We're pushing boundaries out here and what's great is I jumped from one aircraft, I got in the other one, we landed, I landed safely. Andy landed safely under a parachute. The plane landed under a parachute. All of our safety protocols worked.
“That's why we're here where we are and everybody's safe. The parachute system works just like it was supposed to. There's no way to test it until you do it.”
Drawing on all his aviation experience, Farrington decided to abort his attempt to enter the plane he was approaching, instead of deploying his parachute. The aircraft’s safety mechanisms were also activated, but the aircraft was severely damaged. However, the most important outcome had been achieved – neither he, Aikins or anybody else was injured.
“Yeah. I mean, we were there, all the numbers matched up and everything like that," said Farrington. "Everything should have been good to go. For some reason, it wasn't that way. At the end of the day, we're both here. We're both good to go. Everybody's safe and sound and I guess that's the important part.”
The FAA may not agree with the duo, In a statement, the FAA confirmed that the stunt's organizers were denied an exemption request from the agency days before the crash. According to the statement, "The agency on Friday denied the organizer's request for an exemption from federal regulations that cover the safe operation of an aircraft."
In the denial letter, the FAA stated "The FAA has considered the petition, and finds that granting an exemption from § 91.105(a) would not be in the public interest and cannot find that the proposed operation would not adversely affect safety."
The general consensus is that the two pilots will face severer sanctions from the agency, judging by the harsh penalty that was issued to Trevor Jacob who intentionally crashed his Taylorcraft BL-65 they can't expect much leniency.