The Fast and Furious franchise is known for its over-the-top action sequences. What began as a series of drag racing films has evolved into action-packed mega heists. The series has wrecked an insane amount of cars. Fast & Furious 7 even featured the team driving their cars out of a plane with parachutes attached. The ensuing chase culminated in Brian (Paul Walker) running up a bus as it fell off a cliff. Incredibly, experts have rated this sequence as one of the more realistic of the series.
The skydiving cars stunt in Fast & Furious 7 is real
In Fast & Furious 7, Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian, and their crew need to catch the bad guys’ convoy in the Caucasus Mountains of Azerbaijan. So, with the help of the U.S. Government, they load their cars into a C-130 cargo plane and fly to Azerbaijan. Then, over the mountains, they drive out of the plane and hurtle earthward.
For thousands of feet, the team free falls. Brian in a Subaru WRX, Letty in a new Dodge Challenger SRT, and Dom driving his iconic 1968 Dodge Challenger R/T. At the last moment, they pop parachutes attached to their cars and glide onto the roadway.
Driving cars out of an airplane and plummeting earthward may seem like the most absurd stunt in any Fast and Furious film. But the U.S. Air Force regularly drops massive payloads, including humvees, by parachute.
The Air Force and filmmakers shot this particular scene at 12,000 feet about the Arizona desert. The production crew welded a round cargo parachute to the back of each car and covered it with a fiberglass body panel rigged with explosives. The team offered to remove the engine and transmission from the stunt cars, but the military said a heavier payloads would be more stable.
The military gave Dominic Toretto a lift
The crew used a helicopter and a team of skydivers to get the perfect shot of the dramatic drop. Unfortunately, during one take, one car’s chute failed to open, and it smashed to the ground. Luckily, no actors rode along.
The film only contains a couple of goofs: The military offered the filmmakers GPS-controlled directional parachutes capable of steering all the cars to the same location. The filmmakers decided traditional, round parachutes looked better. Yet in the dialogue, the characters still refer to their chutes as GPS-controlled. The cars even land in formation, as if they have directional parachutes.
In addition, when the military drops humvees, they do so with a small chute to keep the vehicle from tumbling. But in the film, the characters all ride their cars to the ground in freefall. None of them pull a parachute until the last minute.
“Go up the down escalator”
By the end of Fast & Furious 7’s Azerbaijan chase sequence, the bad guys trap Brian in their totaled bus as the vehicle slides over a cliff. Without any other choice, Brian must climb to the front of the bus, out over the sheer drop.
The vehicle begins to tip dangerously, so Brian scrambles out the door, climbs over the nose, and onto the side of the sliding bus. As it topples over the cliff, he runs up the side of the moving vehicle and leaps toward solid ground.
Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) sees Brian is not going to make the jump. So she drivers her Dodge Challenger SRT at the cliff, then throws it into a powerslide. While her back wheels hang over the cliff, Brian can grab the crash bar on her bumper.
‘A great example of Newton’s law of motion’ in Fast & Furious 7
The casual observer might think Brian is defying physics as he runs up a falling bus. But physicist Diandra Leslie-Pelecky sat down to rate how real several Fast and Furious stunts were, and this bus sequence was her favorite. She said, “I thought that was really creative and totally possible.”
Leslie-Pelecky joked, “We’ve all tried to go up a ‘down’ escalator, right? That’s all he’s doing here.”
She explained, “This whole stunt relies on him being able to run faster than the bus is falling.” In the Fast & Furious 7 scene, Brian runs while the bus is still falling by cantilevering–it is not yet accelerating in freefall. Leslie-Pelecky pointed out, “When they filmed this, the stuntperson did actually run up the bus as it was falling.”
The retired professor of physics even noted how accurate one aspect of the scene’s physics is. “When he’s holding the bar, and she stops (the Challenger) suddenly, you get this really great example of Newton’s law of motion…he keeps flying around.”
When Lesli-Pelecky rated the accuracy of all the Fast and Furious stunts, she gave the Fast & Furious 7 bus sequence a 10/10.