Daredevil readies for rocket launch over Snake River Canyon
Given his particular line of work, professional stuntman Eddie Braun knows about danger – and he plans for the worst.
That's why he paid bills several months in advance. He set up emergency cash reserves to take care of his family and engaged in an emotional talk with his teenage son about looking out for his mom and three sisters.
Braun's simply putting things in place before he buckles into his steam-powered rocket cycle this weekend and flips the switch to launch him over the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. He's replicating the jump that could have cost his boyhood idol, Evel Knievel, his life four decades ago.
''I tied up loose ends, as I would for any life-or-death type stunt coming up,'' said Braun, a longtime Hollywood stuntman who will launch sometime between noon Mountain time Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday, depending on wind conditions. ''The last thing I want burden my family with on top of the shock of me being …
He took a deep breath.
''I feel very optimistic about this jump,'' the 54-year-old Braun continued. ''I wouldn't be doing this if I thought it couldn't be done.''
As a tribute to Knievel, Braun named his rocket ''Evel Spirit.'' It's identical to the model Knievel used for his failed canyon attempt on Sept. 8, 1974, when he walked away with only minor injuries. Braun wants to prove Knievel could've made it had his parachute not prematurely deployed.
Braun's endeavor is more than three years in the making and cost him around $1.5 million out of his own pocket, with corporate sponsors hard to line up. He's drawn the interest of ABC's ''Good Morning America,'' which will air an interview with him Friday morning. Only fitting since Knievel's launch was shown on ABC's ''Wide World of Sports.''
''This is about the kid Evel inspired and about the Evel spirit,'' said Braun, who will launch from a spot about five miles away from Knievel's site just outside of Twin Falls, Idaho.
Along for the journey are two sons yearning to fulfill the legacies of their dads: Kelly Knievel, who was present the day of the crash, and rocket designer Scott Truax, whose father constructed the original ''X2 Skycycle'' for Knievel. Scott followed his dad's blueprints down to the last bolt, except with one deviation – updating the parachute system.
Braun's rocket will reach a top speed of 400 mph in about 3 seconds and an altitude of 3,000 feet before the engine cuts off and the parachute deploys. Braun says he expects to soar about 1,500 feet – or 0.28 miles – over the canyon.
For the last few months, they've conducted various tests on the rocket. First and foremost, a static fire test in which they welded the rocket to the ground to make sure it was generating the kind of power they needed to soar so far.
''Passed with flying colors,'' Braun said.
The parachute test was a different story.
''Shredded it,'' Braun recounted.
They feel they've addressed the issues. But it's a guess.
''We just don't know,'' Braun said. ''We know what Evel's problem was – his parachute coming out early. What we don't want with mine is it coming out too late. Therein lies the secret – what is that magic formula?
''Because up to the point of me climbing in it, there's no real test that can be done.''
Watching Braun's attempt closely will be Michael Hughes, a self-taught rocket scientist in Apple Valley, California. He almost teamed up with Braun a few years ago. But Hughes wanted to build rockets on his own.
On Oct. 18, Hughes will attempt to rocket over the ghost town of Amboy, California, once a familiar spot along Route 66.
The 60-year-old Hughes is unique in that his launch pad also doubles as a motor home. He successfully completed a jump on Jan. 30, 2014, in Winkelman, Arizona, but hurt his left and ribs on the fall back to earth because his parachute shredded.
Of course, he's hoping for the best for Braun. But the parachute design concerns him.
''If his rocket ever starts tumbling, which Knievel's did, it will land and not be a happy ending for him,'' explained Hughes, a limo driver in his spare time. ''You can get rolled up in the parachute.''
Braun tried not to make a big deal of the jump to his family. But he did have a serious conversation with his son. Braun told him that should anything go wrong, the son would one day walk his sisters down the aisle at their weddings.
''I had him promise,'' Braun said. ''Because that's important to me.''
On the Web: www.evelspirit.com; http://www.madmikehughes.com/