The jet was gaining speed when the pilot’s canopy broke loose, hit him in the head and flew off the airplane!


I’m a filmmaker, explorer, and storyteller who’s spent the last three decades exploring and creating visual stories in multiple mediums for high-profile clients. I have a knack for consistently finding myself in unusual situations in offbeat locations with fascinating people. These are my stories.

I almost died today at the Reno Air Races. Or so I was told by former Space Shuttle Commander “Hoot” Gibson after it was all over. Somehow looking through a viewfinder on a camera makes everything less real. But let me back up — I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Reno Air Races

You see, I’ve been here at the Reno Air Races filming the national championship races. In case you’re not familiar with the Reno Air Races — it’s fantastic. Air racing is the fastest, most dangerous motor racing sport in the world. Imagine flying an airplane, souped up to go 500 miles per hour and racing it around pylons on a race course with up to 10 other airplanes doing the same thing. “Fly low. Fly fast. Turn left” as the saying goes.

The National Championship Air Races are divided into several classes depending on the aircraft type. Biplane, Formula One, Sport, T-6, Jet, and Unlimited classes all compete in a week of eliminations resulting in the final championships on Sunday afternoon. It’s really the most thrilling sport in the world. Of course, I’m biased – I absolutely love airplanes. I’m here with a skeleton crew documenting the races, interviewing the pilots, telling their stories, and generally celebrating the love of flying…..really, really fast.

Filming The Jet Race

Today I got to go on a ride along in an L-39 Albatros jet pace plane to film the jet races. Before you go up, you get loads of instructions on how to evacuate the jet in case of emergency. Basically, you learn how to open the canopy of the cockpit in case you need to escape. Although I’d really like to learn to skydive, but I didn’t want to do it today — especially not because I had to eject from a jet. It was super exciting to be in the back seat of the L-39 Albatros jet filming the race. First, all the jets line up on the runway to begin the race. (I guess I better clarify here that the race starting line is in the air, not on the ground.) So we lined up on the tarmac and then we took off one by one.

Because my jet was the pace plane, we were the first to take off. We peeled off from the lineup and started down the runway. The jet was gaining speed and we just started to rotate (lift off the ground) when the pilot’s canopy broke loose, hit him in the head, and flew off the airplane!

The Pilot’s Quick Thinking

We were about to run out of tarmac and a very steep drop-off was approaching quickly. It’s funny how time slows down in an emergency situation. My camera dropped for only a few seconds while I accessed the situation. The pilot was okay. We still had a little bit of runway and were committed to landing. We weren’t egressing yet…. So, I thought I might as well film it. And that’s how I got close-up interior footage of an L-39 jet canopy flying off a cockpit midstream.

After the pilot got the jet safely stopped, the Airport Emergency Crews immediately surrounded us wearing what looked like tin foil suits. I realize it’s the hazmat fireproof suits to fight extra hot burning aviation fuel fires. The gravity of the situation barely started to sink in. Our jet was not on fire. We didn’t crash. The jet stopped just short of the end of the tarmac. We were both fine.

Close Call

Later, I was talking with Hoot Gibson, former space shuttle commander and one of the jet pilots in that race. He came up to me and gave me a big hug and told me how close we came to a complete disaster — such as: the pilot being knocked out, the jet crashing off the end of the runway, etc. In truth, we were lucky. We were lucky we weren’t in the air. We were lucky the canopy didn’t hit the pilot any harder than it did. I was lucky that the pilot was an incredibly skilled pilot. Did I say, the pilot was incredibly skilled? I can’t emphasize that enough. His quick reactions saved us from disaster.

The Aircraft Design Defect

It turns out that several canopies of L-39 jets have flown off in mid-air. It’s not uncommon. It’s a design defect in the canopy latch system. After engineers reviewed my footage from the incident, they were able to reverse engineer and identify where exactly things had gone wrong. It enabled them to develop a fix for this issue and mitigate future malfunctions such as this one from occurring.

As for me, I’m still waiting for my L-39 Jet ride.

Check out the slo-mo of the canopy coming off….



Haley Jackson directs Endeavour project


Check it out! I directed the official documentary about the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s move from Kennedy Space Center to the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles.

Read More
Haley Jackson directs Endeavour project


Check it out! I directed the official documentary about the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s move from Kennedy Space Center to the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles.

Read More »


The bustling metropolis of Istanbul is one of the most important centers for trade and commerce worldwide and has been for centuries.

Read More »
Exploring our world


Have you ever looked up at the stars and wondered what it would be like to explore them? Today, technology and exploration have formed a captivating marriage that offers us all mind-blowing possibilities.

Read More »


There’s so much history here that it feels like you’re standing on top of an ancient ruin every time your foot touches the ground.

Read More »
Haley Jackson and Mike Ruggerio at The Royal Tour premiere at Paramount Studios


If you’ve been thinking, “where’s Haley been lately?” it’s because I’ve been head down working hard behind the scenes.

Read More »

Contact Info

I also send love notes

Be the first to know what I’m up to.

©Haleyjackson. All rights reserved. 2024