If there are limits to everything, no one told Chuck Aaron. The 60-year-old is the first and only civilian pilot to be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration to perform aerobatics in a helicopter, which he does 25 times a year across the U.S. in a tricked up BO-105, courtesy of Red Bull. “People absolutely can’t believe what they’re seeing,” Chuck says, laughing. “How can a helicopter go upside down and flip over backwards and do all those crazy things?”
After flying 33 different helicopter models for more than 18,000 hours of flight time, you’d think Chuck, with his laid-back demeanor, handlebar mustache and surfer blond hair, would have absolutely no fear of flying. “I’m nervous every time I get in an aircraft for an air show,” Chuck says. “I have this ritual where I sit in the helicopter for 30 minutes and redirect my thinking to the maneuvers and the safety mechanics. But risk is what it takes in life.”
He’s been in charge of NASA’s Space Shuttle Air Rescue Program and done stunt flying in films like the Rock and television shows like NCIS. He helped the U.S. Department of Defense develop and test night-vision systems and rebuilt three Cobras from leftover military parts. He’s been a crop duster and traffic reporter and has flown banners at the beach. But it’s what he does these days in a helicopter—back flips, 360-degree rolls, and a heart-stopping combination known as the Chuckcilvak—that has earned him daredevil status.
The future is likely to find Chuck hovering upside-down in the Red Bull helicopter—“I’ve pretty much figured out the mechanics, I just need to convince the pilot,” he says. Whatever we catch him doing next, one thing is certain: The sky is the limit.