How to jump out of a plane without a parachute

How to jump out of a plane…

Words: Ben Smithhurst​
Illustration: mark thomas

… without a parachute! Skydiver Luke Aikins did exactly that. He lived to share this tale

“Spread your body out wide to help slow down, aim for a steep hillside, preferably one covered in snow, and say goodbye.” That’s Aikins’ tip on plunging unexpectedly from a plane without a parachute. Not promising coming from the ex-Navy SEAL and Iron Man 3 stuntman who trained Felix Baumgartner for his 2012 plummet from the edge of space.

However, jump with the precautions Aikins took in July when he dived 7,620m without a parachute or wingsuit and you can walk away.

“The landing didn’t hurt. My right shoulder looked like a tennis racket had smacked me, but it was gone in the morning.”
Luke Aikins
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1 Do it your way

“The project crew said, ‘We want somebody to jump without a parachute, no wingsuit, no anything’, with this crazy idea of landing on a giant slide. I didn’t want to do it – I have a wife and son – but I said, ‘OK, but only if I get to control the whole set-up, because I understand the engineering stuff. I’m not a crazy daredevil who doesn’t care if he dies.’ They said yes.”

2 Don’t be a guinea pig

“I brought the concept of landing in a net held up by cranes, plus air pistons to decelerate impact. I worked with two stunt riggers I knew from Iron Man 3. Their idea was to use a helium bag to lift the net, but we dropped a 99kg dummy from 300m and the impact was hard. Eventually I talked them into trying it without the bag. I went, ‘Wow! Not only will this work, it’ll be a very light impact if done right.’”

3 Stay frosty

“From 7,620m to the ground there are a lot of wind direction and velocity changes – you’re going to get pushed out of position. Slowly work your way back into alignment. If you watch my jump, you’ll notice that when my team broke off from me, I took off and dove forward pretty hard. That’s because I’d drifted out. Don’t panic, and keep anticipating the wind.” 

4 Think quick

“Once, I was flying a high-performance parachute when a guy in a wingsuit smashed on top of me. We were tangled in my parachute, tumbling. I realised if I released he’d be wrapped up with no tension on the lines to get out and the bigger picture set in: if I leave, he’s gonna die. So I waited half a beat, he got clear, then I opened my reserve.

5 Don’t freak out

“It’s two minutes falling, so halfway down you start to focus. At 1,500m, I’m all in. All you’re thinking about is flipping to your back. The net bends you on impact – land on your belly and it would be hard on your back and limbs. When things aren’t right, you mustn’t overreact. I wasn’t exactly lined up with the middle of the net, but in that two-second window I had a choice: try to move dead centre and risk sliding, or hit with zero horizontal speed and have a clean rotation. Calm, analytical, split-second decisions.”

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01 2017 The Red Bulletin

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