Get stoked for the USPA National Skydiving Championships. The Eloy, Arizona event running from October 24-November 3 features every skydiving stunt you can imagine. Think formation skydiving, freeflying, freefall style, freestyle skydiving, accuracy landing, vertical formation skydiving and even “canopy formation” — the act of parachutists “docking” on top of each other. There are few athletes with the nerve and skill to go beyond the confines of an already intrepid sport to accomplish feats like these — and some of them have made history.
Here are five of the world’s most extreme skydivers.
On Oct. 14, Felix Baumgartner, nicknamed “Fearless Felix,” completed his highly-anticipated space jump - becoming the first skydiver to break the sound barrier and setting records for the highest and fastest skydive in history. He spent five years planning for this stunt, which was delayed from its intended schedule due to inclement weather. The previous skydive world record holder, Joe Kittinger (who we’ll discuss next) maintained radio contact with Baumgartner during his over 128,100 ft (24.2 miles) ascent to space and his equidistant plunge back down. During the more than four-minute free fall, Baumgartner tumbled chaotically at certain points, but after descending 119,846 feet down (a third record), he righted himself and deployed his parachute. A few minutes later, he landed to the relieved, ecstatic applause of his family and crew and proclaimed, “Trust me, when you stand up there on top of the world, you become so humble. It’s not about breaking records anymore. It’s not about getting scientific data. It’s all about coming home.”
We’d argue setting three new world records in the meantime isn’t such a bad deal.
Fearless Felix broke the record for the highest and fastest skydive set way back in August 1960: the early years of the space race. Then, Air Force Captain Joe Kittinger jumped from an open-air gondola basket that rose 102,800 feet (19.5 miles). Kittinger’s feat, his 33rd skydive, proved that people could handle the pressure of a high-altitude setting. Now 84, Kittinger spent the last four years prepping Fearless Felix for his stunt and was there guiding him on the big day. Asked if anyone could learn to bust the sound barrier in a sky dive, Kittinger’s answer was “no.” “To find someone with the talent and skills Felix has is very unusual. He’s the perfect person to do this jump,” Kittinger said. Perhaps even more unusual than Fearless Felix, Kittinger was the first man to make a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a gas balloon in 1984.
John Fleming and Dan Rossi
On September 13, 2003, daredevils John Fleming and Dan Rossi became the first two blind skydivers ever to do a freefall together, setting the record for the largest freefall formation of blind skydivers. The two daredevils flew from 14,000 feet. “We really pulled it off. I can’t believe it,” Fleming said after landing back on the drop zone. “It was beautiful,” Rossi said. Proving that breaking records requires more than guts, Rossi added that the stunt took months of planning and practice. “A lot of people have to be in the right place at the right time,” he said. To prove that they had not just got lucky, Fleming and Rossi repeated the jump the next day. The duo’s daring was all the more impressive because two days before the original leap, Rossi got “lost” on a practice jump because of tricky dynamics including low light. Rossi landed in a field over a mile from the landing area, but was undaunted.
The highest speed ever reached in a speed skydiving competition is 327.41 mph (526.93 km/h). The record was set by Swiss adventurer Christian Labhart in Utti, Finland at the World Cup in June 2010. Labhart’s high-speed stunt seems especially stunning when you consider that the average belly-to-earth formation skydiving body speed is about 120mph. Labhart was going at dragster speed. Speed skydiving is said to be the fastest non-motorized sport on the planet. To reach and maintain top velocity, you must adopt a head-down aerodynamic posture. Picture how Labhart felt on his lightning-speed head-first date with the ground.
There’s no rule that says if you want to skydive in style you must wear a parachute. You can always up the ante by wearing a wingsuit, which adds surface area to the human body to generate lift — turning extreme athletes into birds. The fastest speed reached in a wingsuit is 225.6 mph, achieved by Japan’s Shin Ito over Yolo County, California, USA, on May 28, 2011. Ito was armed with full HALO (High Altitude, Low Opening) equipment, “Gamine Colorado 300” GPS, an “Altitrack” skydiving computer and a “Vampire 3” wingsuit made by Phoenix Fly, Inc. He launched himself from a height of 32,000 ft. Ito also holds the record for the greatest horizontal distance flown in a wingsuit: 26.9 km (16.71 miles). Ito achieved this feat over Yolo County, California, USA, on May 26 2012.