This is one of those videos you really have to see to believe. 43-year-old Arnaud Longobardi flies into the open doors of a moving cable car in the Alps. On purpose! Successfully completing this unthinkable feat required an improbable convergence of a tight-knit team, perfect weather conditions, unimaginable permission from the cable car company, cutting-edge equipment, pinpoint accuracy, a bit of luck, and above all, extraordinary courage.
For this stunt to work, Longobardi had to perfectly time his takeoff after the cable car left its dock in order to enter its door at the precise point on its journey when it was briefly traveling horizontally rather than at an angle up or down. In addition, an unexpected gust of wind from any direction could blow either the pilot or the moving cable car off their trajectory, causing them to, at best, abort the landing and at worst, cause Longobardi to crash into its side and go spinning towards the ground.
Longobardi described the challenge: “For this to be possible would require the glider to actually stall as I entered the door. At 200 meters from the cable car I was traveling at 80kph. From that point, I had to make a very controlled deceleration to 35 kph – the precise speed where the glider would stall and collapse – at one meter from the cable car and my momentum would carry me in. If I stalled before reaching the door – disaster.”
To add to the critical nature of this stunt, the cable car was only 150 meters above the ground. If the wing collapsed and Longobardi went into a spin before entering the door, he would need to carry out emergency maneuvers and deploy his reserve parachute which takes a minimum of 80 meters to open. This would leave him only 70 meters – a matter of seconds – to carry out the emergency maneuvers.
So how did he come up with this extraordinary idea? Longobardi: “I had this project in mind for a full year before I did it. I thought about it every day, thought through all the challenges – speed, angle, height – all the different scenarios from the takeoff to the approach to the landing. After 6 months, I finally decided OK, I’ve thought through all the possibilities and there is nothing that can happen during the flight that I haven’t imagined and mentally prepared for. This is do-able.”