In 1974, American stuntman Evel Knievel attempted to cross Idaho’s Snake River Canyon aboard a steam-powered rocket. Unfortunately, a parachute deployed prematurely and caused the rocket and its occupant to drift to the canyon’s bottom. While Knievel emerged relatively unscathed from the incident, he never got a chance to attempt the stunt again.
42 years later, on September 16, Hollywood stuntman Eddie Braun paid homage to the late Knievel by crossing the quarter-mile width of the 500-feet deep Canyon in a rocket almost identical to the one used in 1974. Powered by over 6,000 pounds per square inch of steam pressure generated by a giant tank filled with water superheated to over 450°C, the rocket, dubbed “Evel Spirit," accelerated to speeds of over 400 mph almost instantly.
The hundreds of fans gathered on each side of the canyon watched with abated breath as the rocket spiraled 2200-feet above the launch site. Just as it appeared to be disappearing came the first of three chutes that would land Braun safely on the other side. As the crowd cheered, the second, bigger chute appeared right on schedule, indicating that this attempt over the canyon would end well.
The event that took just four seconds of flight time and cost $1.6 million dollars (Braun’s entire life savings) culminated the stuntman's three-year quest to honor his hero, Knievel. The 54-year-old vividly remembers meeting with the daredevil as a child and says, "I felt like I touched Superman's cape that day." While that was Braun’s only encounter with Knievel, it was enough to convince him to become a stuntman. Over the years, the Southern California resident has performed heart-stopping stunts in several movies including “Sully” and “The Avengers,” as well as television shows like “Two and a Half Men.”
As Braun started to think about retirement, he thought, “What better way to end a career than to pay homage to the man that inspired me to get started, kind of like a farewell and good night and a thank you all in one."
So began the quest to attempt the one trick Knievel had failed to complete. Braun had originally planned to perform the dangerous stunt in 2014 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Knievel's attempted Canyon crossing. However, the preparations took longer than he had envisioned. The biggest challenge was constructing a rocket similar to Knievel’s Sky Cycle X-2. Fortunately, Scott Traux, whose father, Bob, designed the original vehicle, sill had the blueprints and was able to help. Braun also had to seek permission to take off and land the rocket on the private property on either side of the canyon, as well as obtain the official endorsement from Knievel’s family and the right to use their name.
The jump across the canyon was originally scheduled to be broadcast live on September 17. However, Braun’s team changed the date to Friday due to more favorable weather conditions. As for the television coverage? That, unfortunately, did not materialize, though the stunt actor says there is a documentary in the making.
While most people would think twice before spending their life savings on a stunt that lasted mere seconds, Braun has no regrets. In an interview after the jump, the stuntman said, “I've got to go get a job tomorrow because I just blew $1.6 million on a rocket. I have no money but, you know what, how do you put a price on something you are truly proud of?"
Resources: cnet.com, newatlas.com, cnn.com