6 incredible stunts performed on top of Dubai buildings
Audacity, but make it penthouse…
The UAE has always had that ‘dare to dream big’ philosophy at the core of its development. It’s translated into some pretty large buildings — World Record-clinching ones no less, and as something of a side effect, it’s also spawned a rare breed of adventurers with an absolutely massive set of ambitions. We’ve rounded up some of the most wild real life and big screen, sweaty-palmed, cloud-bothering, tower top stunts to have ever been caught on camera in the UAE.
The double fault in our stars
We’d love to have been in the room when the idea to play a game of tennis on the helipad of the Burj Al Arab was first pitched to Roger Federer and Andrea Agassi back in 2005. “Yeah it’s basically a normal, casual knockabout, 210 metres in the sky, oh and there’s no safety rail, it’s windy and warm and we’d recommend shoes with grip because *shrugs* astroturf”. If that was us, you can guarantee the exhibition would have consisted of one complete mishit into the waters of the Gulf, followed by 30 minutes of fetal-position-net-clinging and snot-faced McEnroe sobs. Fortunately, the now iconic back-and-forth between the two aces was a little more professional than that. And it was all for the grand cause of promoting the, at the time fledgling, Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. It proved to be an immediate smash hit around the world and since that time, there have been boxing bouts, races, BMX drop-ins, and kite-surfing jump-offs all played out on the pad.
It’s lonely at the top
Looking back at the pandemic, much of what happened seems surreal now in the clear light of the de-masked dawn. Maybe that is the real ‘new normal’, a fizzy mix of PTSD and nostalgia for some of the more bizarre (Tiger King, banana bread, Zoom quizzes) elements of our shared existence. One thing, that absolutely did not feel weird at the time — though looking back serves as a pretty clear yardstick of where we were all at emotionally, was when Nicole Smith-Ludvik, a skydiver posing as Emirates cabin crew, stood on the spiky bit at the top of the Burj Khalifa (at 2,722 ft, still the world’s tallest building) to share, via the medium of handwritten signs, a message of hope. It was a celebration of Britain being taken off the Red List (for entry into Dubai). And a feat made even more impressive, and significant, by knowledge of the fact Ludvik is one of just a micro alumni of BK-topping stars that also includes the Crown Prince of Dubai, H.H Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Tom Cruise and Will Smith.
I dreamed a dream
You know those dreams where you’re falling, and then you wake up just before, well, the ‘unpleasantness’. A slightly more bouyant version of that seems to have been part of the inspiration behind a 2015 collaboration between SkydiveDubai and XDubai. The DreamJump System, located right at the top of Princess Tower (stat check: “the world’s second highest all-residential structure”) featured a base jumping platform, a zipline to (as close as makes no difference) oblivion and 558 jumpers of varying experience from seasoned professionals to actual first timers called towards the terminal velocity void. The rest, as they say, is history. And panic attacks in the viewership.
Wheely big deal
HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, AKA Fazza, is no stranger to braving heights. He’s a seasoned skydiver of course, he’s strapped himself to the top of a biplane and ‘wing-walked’ on at least one occasion, and as mentioned before — he’s one of a modest few to have summited the very top of the Burj Khalifa. Adventure, we feel it’s safe to say, is firmly in his wheelhouse. Which is why, when it’s reported that the royal has recently enjoyed his morning coffee ‘with a view’, we’re always expecting something big. And his, now famous, cup of grounds, high above the ground, atop one of the pods of the “world’s tallest observation wheel” (Ain Dubai, 820 ft) — takes some beating.
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A Lykan for heights
We’re breaking our own rules on this one, because, spoiler — it never actually happened. Yes, this particular vertiginous stunt is entirely CGI fabricated, the magic of cinema, artistic license and a scornful diss track to gravitational physics. It makes this list on the basis of spectacle alone. It’s a scene in the movie Fast and Furious 7 — Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) finds himself in a (locally manufactured) Lykan super car, some 40 or so stories up one of Abu Dhabi Corniche’s most easily recongnisable landmarks, Etihad Towers. Peril in the form of a tooled up Shaw (Jason Statham) beckons, and Toretto’s fight-or-flight dilemma is resolved by a floored accelerator and an attempt to jump the 50 metre gap between the Etihad Towers. Twice. Because despite what Newton tells you, it’s family, not gravity that is the strongest, most compelling force in the universe.
Red Bull’s eye
We’ve come full circle and now we’re landing right back where we first took off, 210 metres up the Burj Al Arab. In March 2023, pilot Luke Czepiela surmounted the seemingly unsurmountable — landing a plane on the 27 metre-wide Burj Al Arab helipad. That’s right, this man woke up one morning and decided to land an actual plane on a space that helicopter pilots have to train for years to land on (and that is an aircraft specifically designed to hover). A famously seven-star hotel, posing a stunt with an 11-star difficulty (Czepiela’s own ‘out of 10’ rating for the feat). After a nerve-racking 650 practise landings, the Polish pilot struck the bullseye, ending up just inches from the pad’s edge. How did he celebrate? By launching straight off an into another stunt of course. They say Red Bull gives you wings, but it’s really up to you what you do with them.