Can you pursue a 1000-hp drift car in a helicopter - like in the action scene of some Hollywood film - just a few metres off the ground? Alongside Polish professional rally driver, Jakub Przygoński, Red Bull Stratos world record holder and helicopter pilot, Felix Baumgartner shows us that anything is possible as long as you’re in perfect control of your flying machine.
In the Red Bull Heli Drifting video, you see Baumgartner in his two-tonne MBB Bo 105 (a Flying Bulls aerobatics helicopter) going after Przygoński’s Toyota GT 86 down a runway in Debrzno, Poland. In this redbulletin.com interview, Baumgartner tells us why he destroyed a dartboard and which job in Hollywood he’s most tempted by.
THE RED BULLETIN: Felix, the Red Bull Heli Drifting project saw you pursuing a 1000-hp drift car in an aerobatics helicopter. You get dangerously close to the Toyota GT 86 on several occasions. Do you get goosebumps now when you watch the final video?
FELIX BAUMGARTNER: I’m more proud than anything. I had two huge dreams as a child: to do parachute-jumping and fly a helicopter. As I come from a humble background, it looked for a long time like I wouldn’t be able to make my helicopter-flying dream come true. But a couple of years ago I got my helicopter pilot’s licence and since then I’ve racked up 940 flying hours. But that only partially prepared me for Red Bull Heli Drifting. There were manoeuvres there that you don’t normally do in a helicopter.
You mean chasing Jakub “Kuba” Przygoński in the Toyota. Why was it you wanted a drift expert to partner you in the project?
I was asked if I was interested in a project where a helicopter would be chasing a car. I said, “Of course. But I don’t know if I can.” That’s why I practised the manoeuvres on the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg first, under the watchful eye of my flying instructor Sigi Schwarz. And then I went to Poland after that.
You and Kuba filmed the stunt on a disused airfield. What were the most complicated things for you as the pilot?
You’re flying just above the ground. The rotor above your head is 10.5 metres across. If you tilt the helicopter too far, it could end in disaster. I had to watch Kuba’s car and at the same time keep an eye on the car that was filming. And I was constantly in the danger zone. There’s also one scene where I’m flying backwards and zigzagging in front of Kuba’s car. I had to orientate myself against a shifting horizon. It’s definitely the most difficult manoeuvre I’ve ever had to make.
Manoeuvres like those require huge trust. How do you choose your partner for such complicated stunts?
Normally I’d take a much closer look at the guy. But as Kuba is a Red Bull sportsman, I know he’s going to have the character traits 0character I need: discipline and a proper sense of safety. I really did only meet him when I got out of the helicopter in Poland.
What was your first impression?
Kuba is a really great guy. And he is in total control of his car. You can see that in the way he holds his line when he’s drifting. With a stunt like this, your partner can help you but they can also put your life in danger.
Did you try and drift in your own car when you were younger?
I’d have loved to. But my first car was a 70-hp VW Scirocco. So not a lot of drifting to be had there (laughs.) I’ve had a few rally coaching sessions since then. But at 45 it’s a bit too late to make much headway in professional drifting.
The highpoint of the video is the bull’s-eye stunt. With the right skid of the helicopter, you pulverise a dartboard mounted on the roof of Kuba’s car. How did Kuba react when you first told him of your plans?
Obviously he wasn’t thrilled (laughs.) Imagine it: a helicopter is hurtling towards you at 160 kph. The target is just 60 centimetres above your head. But we did practise it beforehand and Kuba had seen the way I fly. That built up his confidence. But he still wasn’t 100 % relaxed. But I think it was good for him in the end.
In any case, the camera in the dartboard didn’t survive the stunt…
…no, it didn’t. That was a huge challenge. I smashed into it with the skid. The camera copped it there and then. The problem is that the data are only stored on a file when you press stop. But I’d destroyed the camera before there was time for that. We had to send the broken camera to GoPro. The technicians there managed to read off the data. I now have the destroyed camera hanging on a wall at home as a memento of the stunt.
The final video is edited like a Hollywood action sequence. Would you be tempted by a job as a stunt pilot?
We deliberately edited the video to make it as spectacular as possible. Everyone watching should get the feeling they’re seeing Mission: Impossible at the cinema. And if anyone ever needs a good stunt pilot… Then of course I’m available.
You could star in the next Mission: Impossible film. You’ve got Tom Cruise’s mobile number, after all.
Indeed. I met Tom in 2012 when we were both guests on Jay Leno. Tom came to see me in the Green Room beforehand. We gabbed on for so long that they were late recording the show (laughs.)
Mr Cruise is a pilot too, of course.
He is. He really knows his stuff. Tom flies old warbirds [vintage military aircraft that have been modified for civil use]. He gave me his number. He said that if ever I came to Los Angeles, we could fly a Mustang. Then we met again after Red Bull Stratos. He greeted me like I was his little brother.
Last year you were on the starting grid for the 24 Hours Nürburgring. Now you’ve filmed a helicopter stunt. What’s your next project?
From September 4th to 6th, I’ll be flying the contestants up into the air at the Parachute World Cup in Thalgau. That’ll be a bit easier than the drifting stunt. It’ll just be up and down over a three-day period.