There are sketchy landings and then there’s this. 56 stories up on the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is a helipad. I repeat, a helipad. It’s no place for a fixed-wing plane to be. That didn’t stop Polish pilot Luke Czepiela going ahead and parking his customised Carbon Cub right on it anyway, setting a world’s first. He had 27 metres to work with, and a 212 metre drop on either side to contend with if he messed up. He’s spent years doing practice runs at ground level with over 600 attempts under his belt on the practice runs. On the day of the actual landing he managed to do it on the third attempt.
“The biggest challenge was the lack of any external points of reference, which is usually found at an airport where you have hundreds of metres of runway,” says Czepiela.
“Normally when approaching a runway, I see how high above it I am, and I can easily control the approach path. Today the helipad disappeared over the nose and my periphery was reduced. I had to rely on my practice and instincts if I wanted to come to a stop before running out of space.”
The other two attempts make you grit your teeth as you see him overshooting and not having enough brake time. To make it possible, his plane needed some customisations including nitrous to make the taking off again a blast, moving the gas tanks to the back to allow more aggressive breaking as well as reducing the weight to 425kg. As with all parts of this project, the weight was a balancing act, as too little weight would result in the plane being treated as a kite, as weird air currents cut around the helipad and the building that you’re not usually coming up against with regular terra firma landings.
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