Fly it across the English Channel

On July 31, 2003, Austrian daredevil skydiver Felix Baumgartner made history by becoming the first flying human to cross the English Channel. A triumph of science, technology and human will, this parachute jump was one of Baumgartner’s many feats. Join ASGanesh as he takes you on Baumgartner’s flight across the English Channel…

On July 31, 2003, Austrian daredevil skydiver Felix Baumgartner made history by becoming the first flying human to cross the English Channel. A triumph of science, technology and human will, this parachute jump was one of Baumgartner’s many feats. Join ASGanesh as he takes you on Baumgartner’s flight across the English Channel…

The English Channel is a narrow arm of the Atlantic Ocean which separates the south coast of England from the north coast of France. Also called the English Channel, it is one of the busiest sailing areas on the planet. The English Channel is also the scene of one of Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s historic parachute jumps.

Born in 1969 in Salzburg, Austria, Baumgartner found his destiny at the age of 16. Following his first skydive at that age, he was totally drawn to it and also got into extreme skydiving. He spent a few years with the Austrian Army’s demonstration and competition team, improving his aero-acrobatic skills, perfecting his parachute jump and learning the art of landing on small target areas.

In the 1990s, Baumgartner also took up base jumping, another dangerous sport that involves jumping from fixed objects and breaking the fall using a parachute. Base, in fact, is an acronym for the categories of objects from which the jump can be made: buildings, antennas, spans (bridges) and Earth (mountains, cliffs, etc.).

Scientific endeavors

Having earned a reputation as a daredevil, Baumgartner sought to understand the limits of the human body and what we can achieve with it by training it. Apart from his desire to experience what no one else had, he also viewed his daredevil stunts as scientific endeavours, as they pushed the boundaries of our knowledge and skill on various facets of his deeds.

Before his flight across the English Channel, Baumgartner had already achieved several firsts. In 1999, he performed the world’s lowest base jump from the 30m high arm of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In the same year, he set the world record for the highest parachute jump from a building by jumping from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then the tallest building in the world.

Rigorous training

Baumgartner’s next big feat was his flight over the English Channel, but he didn’t just pilot it. On the contrary, the intense preparations actually lasted three years and included rigorous training – like strapping onto the top of a high-speed Porsche to prepare for what his planned journey might entail.

Equipped with a specially designed 6-foot carbon fiber wing, an oxygen tank and a parachute strapped to his back, Baumgartner wore a suit capable of withstanding a temperature of minus 40 degrees Celsius. On July 31, 2003, just a little after five a.m. local time to avoid commercial flights, Baumgartner jumped from a plane over Dover flying at a height of 30,000 feet (9,000 m). Over the next 14 minutes, Baumgartner made the first freefall flight across the 35km wide English Channel, before landing safely at Cap Blanc-Nez near Calais.

The flight was not without incident from the outset. Lack of oxygen at the height they were flying at before he jumped means a cameraman following him passed out. When he jumped, his legs and glider became entangled, causing him to cut his glider into pieces.

extreme cold

Initially reaching speeds of up to 360 km/h, Baumgartner admitted it was stressful coping with the initial extreme cold he experienced. His suit proved useful, as the temperatures reached minus 40 degrees Celsius. During most of the freefall, it traveled at 220 km/h.

Also, the cloud cover meant he couldn’t see where he was going. Suddenly, he had to follow his two planes to cross the English Channel without getting lost, holding the wing to steer.

At the end of his flight, Baumgartner said “it was complete freedom” and that he loved every moment of his 35km journey. While he admitted it was his “biggest project yet”, he also hinted at a “top secret” challenge that was in the works.

This turned out to be his Red Bull Stratos project nine years later. Jumping to Earth from the edge of space in October 2012, Baumgartner broke a number of records and became the first person to break the sound barrier in freefall. In addition to being an impressive stunt watched live by millions of people on YouTube, a lot of data was also collected during the parachute jump. This has led to significant advances in research relating to space and the stratosphere, and helped overcome scientific challenges related to safety equipment and space suits.