Click image to see the stunt
In all the time that I have been a pilot, my most exciting flying experiences have been low to the ground and through tight spots. Aerobatics are bitchin', but in my opinion flying "on the deck" is the biggest rush of all. So when MTV asked me if I would attempt a flight through a canyon, I was game. They had a particular canyon in mind that I had never seen. I was sort of cocky about the whole thing and told them that it would be no big deal. But the producers felt that I had better go look at the canyon first, and then make a firm decision. So they sent me out to a section of the Grand Canyon called the Lower Colorado Gorge. I found out when I got there that this particular section of the Grand Canyon was owned by the native Navajo Indians. That is why I would be allowed to legally fly an airplane down in there. There was no way in hell that the United States government would ever allow such a thing.
I took a helicopter tour of the canyon with one of the local Navajos. She pointed out the section that was owned by the Indians, where I was allowed to fly. I was in shock at what I saw. It was a mere sliver in the earth. It looked more like an earthquake fault than a canyon. I immediately pointed to a wider portion of the canyon and said, "What about over there?" She shook her head and told me that section was not theirs. Now I was worried, because I honestly did not know if an airplane could make it through the "Indian section." When I got back to Los Angeles, I was honest with the producers and told them I really wasn't sure if it could be done. I would need to check it out with my airplane. They told me it was alright because they would plan some other stunts out there, and if I felt good about it I could go for the flight as a bonus.
A month later I was back at the Gorge, this time with my plane. We were shooting stunts all week out there, including a BASE jump and wing-suit flight into the canyon. The funny thing was, I did not have the least concern about those other stunts. I was really losing sleep thinking about that canyon. I just knew I would go for it, and was crossing my fingers that I would pull it off. When the day came for the real deal, I was mentally charged. I had seen the canyon quite a few times by now and knew each of the turns pretty well. I had a mental picture of how I would have to maneuver at each point. There were a couple of super tight turns that bothered me and one or two false corridors that were merely dead ends. If I were to get confused and choose one of those false corridors, it would be over real quick. I knew I had to be ultra alert and stay one step ahead at all times. I was ready.
Once I was airborne and committed to dropping into the canyon, I felt like Luke Skywalker going into the trough of the Death Star. I actually had it worse because this canyon had turns in it and was 1500 feet deep, and I was going all the way to the bottom with no option of turning back. It started out wide enough to get warmed up, then got so tight I was just about running my wheels along the sheer walls as I made each turn. Every time I squeezed through a tight section, I held my breath, waiting for a part of the plane to impact with the rock. But I made it through clean. Reaching the end of that canyon was probably my biggest flying feat ever. I was stoked and would never do it again.