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‘Plane Swap’ Stunt Show Was Denied an FAA Waiver for Pilotless Planes

The Red Bull-produced event special went ahead anyway, and one plane crashed; neither pilot was hurt

The stunt show “Plane Swap” went ahead Sunday with its live broadcast of two pilots attempting to trade planes midair despite the rejection of a waiver sought through the FAA for a law that states aircraft must be piloted at all times.

Luke Aikens and Andy Farrington, the pilots who performed the stunt, had applied for the waiver, stating it was for “public interest” and would raise awareness in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math and would encourage students to pursue careers in them.

“One of the two single-engine Cessna 182 aircraft used in the stunt crashed after it spun out of control,” the FAA said in a statement to media. “The pilot landed safely by parachute. The other pilot regained control of the second aircraft and landed safely.”

The FAA said it was investigating the event.

In its rejection notice, the FAA had said it “would not be in the public interest and cannot find that the proposed operation would not adversely affect safety.”

The National Transportation Safety Board has also opened an investigation into the crash.

The Red Bull-produced event special had been in the works for two years, the company said. The show aired live Sunday on Hulu. It was not made available by the streamer to view after it aired.

Neither Hulu nor Red Bull immediately responded to a request from TheWrap for comment.

To perform the stunt, Aikens and Farrington placed their planes into vertical nosedives at 14,000 feet and then jumped out. They were to attempt skydives into each other’s planes as they hurtled toward the ground, but one of the planes turned immediately into a spin.

Aikens successfully completed the stunt while Farrington parachuted to the ground.

“We proved that it was possible,” Aikins said in a statement. “We’re pushing boundaries out here and what’s great is I jumped from one, 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, everybody’s safe. The parachute system works just like it was supposed to. … There’s no way to test it until you do it.”

Farrington said everything seemed to be lined up well.

“Yeah. I mean, we are there, all the numbers matched up and everything like that,” Farrington said. “Everything should have been good to go for some reason. It wasn’t that way,” Farrington added.

“But 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 an important part.”

As for the plane, before the event Red Bull called the Cessna 182 “a workhorse that has been in production since 1956” with more than 23,000 built.

“These airplanes are reliable and used for all sorts of tasks from training aircraft to military operations,” Red Bull said. “It’s the perfect companion for Plane Swap.”

For the record, this article has been updated to accurately reflect Red Bull is the production company behind the series.

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