Stunt man Eddie Braun has achieved his childhood dream, successfully jumping the Snake River Canyon in Idaho in a treacherous steam-powered rocket bike. Completing Evel Knievel's dream and (we believe) setting a Guinness World Record in the process, Braun hit the button and launched himself over the canyon in a hissing rush of high-G acceleration that saw him hit speeds up to 430 mph (693 km/h) within a matter of 3-4 seconds. New Atlas was right there on site – here's some raw video of this extraordinary feat.
Sometimes, when you want something done right, you don't need a daredevil. You need a stunt man. Where Evel Knievel's rocket bike jump attempt in 1974 was underplanned, underfunded, undertested and underdone, Eddie Braun's team had this very dangerous stunt on lockdown. A peerless team of Hollywood stunt co-ordinators and rocket scientists oversaw the event and built a historically accurate but much safer Evel Spirit Skycycle, complete with a ballistic parachute system and hydraulic ram nosecone to soften the "lawn dart" style landing.
Braun didn't manage to raise enough money to fund the jump, so he dug into his own pocket to fund the jump attempt – to the tune of 1.5 million dollars. After more than 35 years as a stunt man, he was determined to retire with a bang.
And today, under perfect weather conditions near Twin Falls, Idaho, he did it. In front of a small crowd mainly comprised of family, friends, rocket scientists and the Hollywood stunt community, Braun was strapped into the Evel Spirit as it sat on a steep launch ramp. There was little fanfare and no messing about. Rocket engineer Scott Truax gave a countdown from five, Eddie thumbed his launch button, and the rocket did its fearsome thing.
A cutter sheared through the dog food can lids that were holding in 6,000 pounds per square inch of steam pressure, generated by a huge tank full of water superheated to over 450 degrees celsius. The ensuing release of steam launched Braun up that ramp so fast it was almost hard to follow, with some 6 Gs worth of acceleration over a 3-4 second blast.
If Braun was to black out from the high-G acceleration, there were stunt co-ordinators both at the jump site and the landing area ready to remotely trigger the drogue 'chutes and main ballistic parachutes to bring him down safely – "that main 'chute will bring him down so soft," said Aussie stunt co-ordinator Mick Van Morson, "that he could land on his head without a helmet and be absolutely fine.
Meanwhile, as the Evel Spirit left the launch ramp and rocketed into the sky, spraying anyone within a 130-foot radius with a cooling shower of water, the rocket started to spin –a terrifying sight as Eddie spiraled upward to some 2200 feet above the launch site, not counting the deep drop into the canyon below.
But this wasn't an Evel Knievel production. "Evel Knievel was a daredevil. Eddie's a stunt man," I was assured by Deirdre, the partner of one of Braun's lead stunt co-ordinators. "Stunt men prepare, and plan, and lock it down, because they don't wanna die. He's got the best in the business working with him today."
As Braun almost disappeared from sight, the first drogue 'chute popped out to the cheers of the crowd, followed by the larger 'chute deploying right on time. The launch crew, meanwhile, were sprinting to the pickup truck to make a bolt for the landing site.
Braun touched down, unharmed, in a bean field on the other side of the canyon - overshooting the canyon wall itself by a long way, and even going well past his expected landing site. Within minutes we had confirmation on the radio: he's out of the rocket, in one piece and one happy camper. The final distance covered was 4728.9 feet (1441.3 m).
It was over in the space of a minute, history made and a dream achieved. A privilege to witness and a heck of a spectacle. Well done, Eddie. Well done, team. You knocked it right out of the park.