Pilot makes crazy plane landing on skyscraper helipad 212 m above Dubai
In a world first, Polish pilot Luke Czepiela has successfully completed an incredible landing on Dubai's iconic Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. Using a customized fixed-wing CubCrafters Carbon Cub STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) airplane, he touched-down on the supertall skyscraper's helipad at a height of 212 m (695 ft) above the city, stopping with just a few meters to spare.
The helipad was a tiny target for Czepiela to work with. His "runway," such as it was, provided a length of just 27 m (88.5 ft) to land and safely come to a stop. After two unsuccessful attempts on the morning of March 14, he pulled it off on the third, stopping in 20.76 m (68 ft). Following a short pause for celebration, he then took off again successfully, despite the limited space available.
"The biggest challenge was the lack of any external points of reference, which is usually found at an airport where you have hundreds of meters of runway," explained 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 of the plane and my periphery was reduced. I had to rely on my practice and instincts when my last few references went away if I wanted to come to a stop before running out of space."
Czepiela is an experienced pilot, having logged approximately 12,000 flying hours and working as the captain of an Airbus A320 for his day job. He's no stranger to daring stunts either and previously flew under three bridges and landed on a Polish pier. To prepare for this latest challenge, he logged 650 test landings at ground level since 2021 throughout Poland, the USA, and Dubai, building his confidence and convincing himself he could actually pull it off.
He also had help. American aviation expert Mike Patey guided him onto the helipad and was in charge of modifying the 7.1-m (23.3-ft)-long, 10.44-m (34.25-ft)-wingspan Carbon Cub with the aircraft manufacturer. Patey and CubCrafters made a number of changes, including upgrading the suspension, moving the main fuel tank to the rear of the plane to allow for more aggressive braking, adding nitrous oxide tanks and replacing the fabric covering the fuselage and wings with a lighter alternative. In the end, the plane weighed in at 425 kg (936 lb), while its Titan CC340 engine has a maximum of 230 horsepower when the nitrous is engaged – which was needed to help him get up enough speed for takeoff from the helipad.
The Burj Al Arab Jumeirah's helipad has hosted a number of previous stunts in the past, including Tiger Woods teeing off and David Coulthard performing donuts in an F1 car. Designed by WKK Architects, the building hosts a luxury "7-star" hotel and is an impressive engineering feat in itself.
It was originally completed in 1999 and rises to a height of 321 m (1,053 ft). It's situated on an artificial island 300 m (984 ft) off the shore and has a spacious atrium rising through most of the height of the interior. The building's defining glass-fiber screen is meant to lend it the appearance of a billowing ship's sail and actually has a practical purpose too, reducing solar heat gain inside while still enabling diffused light to naturally illuminate the interior. The sail is attached to the building with steel cables, allowing it to flex with the wind. Due to the tower's location, it's also partly clad in Teflon, helping to keep the exterior from becoming too dirty and dusty in the sandy landscape.