A Stunt Pilot Just Shattered the World Tunnel Flight Record
While flying a plane through a tunnel is potentially deadly enough, consecutively flying through "two" tunnels is something reserved for actual daredevils.
On September 4, Istanbul, Turkey witnessed a thrilling event. Dario Costa, an Italian professional Red Bull Air Race and stunt pilot, broke a total of "four" world records including the Guinness World Record for the longest tunnel flight with a plane by consecutively going through two tunnels in the Çatalca district on Turkey's Northern Marmara Highway.
Red Bull reported, "From take-off to exiting the second tunnel, the flight covered a distance of 2.26 km [1.4 miles]. And in less than 44 seconds, Dario Costa had set a certified Guinness World Record plus four more," on the website's official news release.
A world-first flight through a tunnel
The Italian pilot's first-ever tunnel flight also marked the longest tunnel flight in the Guinness World Records, opening up a new chapter in aviation history.
Just after dawn, at exactly 6:43 AM local time, Costa took off on his modified Zivko Edge 540 race plane to do what had never been done before by any other pilot. According to Red Bull, the weight-reduced race plane was fitted with a Formula One seat, human-made 'sharkskin' to reduce drag and improve efficiency and lift, and a laser measurement system for training.
The 40-people team sponsored by Red Bull chose to perform the flight early in the morning since the Sun would be at Costa’s back rather than in the front, making it easy for him to see. The website also explains that the temperature difference inside and outside the tunnels was ideal early in the morning, minimizing the effects of air pressure for a smooth and stable flight.
The airflow changes within the tunnels and the sensitive steer of the plane required expertise in aerobatics. The skilled pilot had to keep the plane on a stable flight path between 27 inches to five feet above the asphalt (70 cm to 1.6 meters) with 13 feet (four meters) between wingtips and the tunnel walls. The flight path, however challenging it may be, was necessary to keep the aircraft from crashing into the tunnel's crown or walls.
Costa first flew through a shorter tunnel and later entered the second and longer tunnel. The Zivko Edge reached a speed of 152 mph (245 kph) flying through the second tunnel. However, when in between the two tunnels, he had a hard time flying the plane due to the crosswinds out in the open air.
“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 at 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.”
After the flight, Costa said: “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. It was a big relief, of course, but big, big happiness was the main emotion. For me, it’s another dream come true."
Costa celebrated the successful completion of the flight by flying through Istanbul's iconic Bosphorus on the next day, going under the Bosphorus Bridge three times while putting on a marvelous show.
And this stunt shows that every now and then, following the craziest, most dangerous ideas can make for a historic moment. While modern engineering applications help us push pretty much any vehicle to the limit, it shows that anything is possible with enough hard work and imagination.
Professor Gretchen Benedix is an astrogeologist and cosmic mineralogist who studies meteorites and figures the forming stages of the solar system.