Pilot lands plane on a helipad — 212 meters above sea level

Landing a plane successfully is hard work, but landing on a helipad? That's tough, and it's even tougher when it's on top of a skyscraper.
John Loeffler
A Red Bull plane approaching a helipad attached to a building
A Red Bull stunt pilot coming in for a heck of a landing.

Red Bull/YouTube 

Not everyone can land a plane, but even fewer can land a plane on a helipad attached to one of the tallest buildings in the world.

But that's exactly what stunt pilot Luke Czepiela did this week by touching down a Red Pull stunt plane onto the helipad of the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, a luxury hotel in Dubai.

At just 27 meters in diameter, Czepiela really didn't have a lot of runway to work with, and at 212 meters above the ground, he had even less room for error. In order to achieve the landing, Czepiela practiced landing more than 650 times on a regular runway with a target painted on the tarmac. As you can see in the video of the stunt, it took a lot of work to get right.

“The landing was the first time I performed this maneuver in real life,” Czepiela said in a Red Bull statement. “I imagined it, trained on a simulator, but never used it in real life before.”

In order to nail the landing, Czepiela and his team had to strip the plane of any unnecessary weight and modify a number of other systems in order to get the plane light enough that Czepiela could stop it in under 27 meters.

In the end, he only needed just under 21 meters to come to a complete stop.

"We needed specific wind direction and precise speed,” Czepiela said. “With too little wind and I wouldn’t be able to stop, too much of it would generate turbulence so intense that it would be tossing the plane, making me hit the building. Therefore, it was essential that we waited for the right conditions. In fact, flying entails 90 percent waiting and 10 percent hurrying, and this project wasn’t any different.”

Still, Czepiela's team members were confident that the accomplished aerobatic pilot could pull off the tricky maneuver.

“We modified a plane specifically to complete this task, but it wouldn’t have been possible with just the aircraft,” says Mike Patey, an engineer and bush pilot who assisted Czepiela in pulling off the stunt. “There's only a couple [of pilots] on all of this planet that I would feel comfortable making this attempt. Luke is exactly that guy… I've never had any doubts whether Luke could land on the helipad.”

Landing the plane was only half the challenge though. Czepiela still had to take off again from the helipad. He was able to do so with the assistance of nitrous oxide to boost the plane's acceleration for takeoff.

“It was the first time such a technique was applied for a helipad take-off,” Czepiela said. “With the use of nitrous, a plane accelerates so fast that after reaching the edge I could basically take off normally. However, we couldn't deny ourselves the pleasure of diving down along the wall of this spectacular landmark.”

Stunt pilots continue to break records — at great personal risk

Czepiela might make it look easy, but flying stunt planes is no joke. Last year, a pair of pilots attempted to swap planes mid-flight, but one of the planes lost control at 14,000 feet and spiraled into the ground. No one was hurt, but that failed Red Bull stunt highlights how dangerous such stunts can ultimately be.

They can also be controversial, as was the case in Australia back in 2018 when a Royal Australian Air Force C-17 flew just 100 meters over the city of Brisbane and between a pair of buildings as part of an air show in the city.

While the stunt went off without incident, many felt it was much too risky for such a large population center. A training accident for an air show in 2010 involving a C-17 killed

But with records to set, the allure of stunt flying will invariably drive pilots to take risks in pursuit of glory.

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