Watch a Plane Land on a Skyscraper Helipad

A helipad is not a runway to land a plane, but to Red Bull pilot Luke Czepiela it'll do just fine.
Joerg Mitter via Red Bull Content Pool

One of the many benefits of a helicopter is that you can land it on the helipad of your favorite office building or hotel—or the infield of the Indy 500. However, if you’ve got the skills of one Red Bull pilot and a penchant for breaking records, you could simply land your plane there instead.

Red Bull Air Race pilot Luke Czepiela is known for his flying skill and his thirst for impressive stunts. That led Czepiela to set himself the goal of landing on the helipad on the side of the Burj Al Arab hotel. Per Red Bull’s chronicle of the event, the pad measures just 88 feet in diameter and is located 695 feet above the ground. Just 65 feet of that diameter is actually usable as a surface for a touchdown. Sticking the landing would score Czepiela a place in the history books, with the record for landing on the world’s shortest runway.

Achieving the feat required the utmost from both plane and pilot. For the plane, CubCrafters provided a heavily-customized Carbon Cub for the job. The plane was put on a heavy diet, with steel fasteners swapped out for titanium items wherever possible. Other components like the seats and wheels were also swapped out for lighter alternatives, helping to get the weight down to just 937 pounds. The plane was also modified for better low-speed handling to give Czepiela the ultimate control as he approached the pad.

For the skilled pilot, this meant rigorous practice to ensure he could actually land and stop the plane in the tight distance required. The training involved rehearsing landings in a painted circle on a regular runway until he’d mastered the technique. His best efforts netted a 26.2-foot braking distance from touchdown, indicating the stunt would be achievable if conditions permitted.

Early attempts didn’t go perfectly smoothly. YouTube/Red Bull

First attempts at the landing proved troublesome. An early shot saw Czepiela barely graze the pad with one wheel, while another approach came in too high. In the end, though, the practice and hard work paid off. The successful landing saw the Carbon Cub touch down right on the threshold of the pad, with Czepiela slamming on the brakes and coming to a stop neatly within the lines.

Picking the right moment was key to the whole endeavor. “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,” said Czepiela. In the end, everything lined up, and he was able to deftly nail the landing on the pad, in line with his expectations. “In fact, flying entails 90 percent waiting and 10 percent hurrying, and this project wasn’t any different,” he said.

It’s an impressive feat, but it raises a further question. Once you’ve landed your plane on a helipad, how do you get down? Well, Czepiela had the answer to that too. You take off again in a distance of 70 feet, with the aid of a nitrous system to boost your engine output up to a total of 230 horsepower.

It’s impressive to see Czepiela pull off such a landing while making it look trivially easy. Regardless, the celebration of the crew afterward indicates just what a feat this was, after two long years in the making. All in all, I can’t wait to see what Czepiela turns his talents to next.

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