French skydiver Michael Fournier plans to break skydiving records that have held since 1960, in August.
If successful, he will drop from a balloon-supported capsule floating some 130,000 feet over Saskatchewan, Canada, free-fall for about six minutes, and almost certainly exceed the speed of sound.
He calls his adventure Le Grand Saut, The Super Jump.
U.S. Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger set records for the highest parachute jump (102,800 feet), the longest parachute free fall (4 minutes, 36 seconds) and the first person to exceed the speed of sound without an aircraft or space vehicle (714 mph during free fall) on Aug. 16, 1960. Fournier hopes to break those long-standing records. Weather permitting, his jump is scheduled for the 46th anniversary of Kittinger’s.
Fournier, a 58-year-old former French army colonel and parachute officer, expects to reach a maximum speed of Mach 1.7 – roughly 950 mph – on his 25-mile dive toward Earth. If he reaches his planned altitude of at least 130,000 feet, he’ll also set new records for the highest flight by a manned balloon, not to mention the longest free-fall, which he calculates at 6 minutes, 25 seconds. The climb to maximum altitude is expected to take about three hours, he says.
On D(ive)-day, his high-technology balloon will carry Fournier skyward in a pressurized capsule slung underneath. Wearing a pressurized and ultra-low-temperature-protective space suit, he will de-pressurize the capsule at or near 130,000 feet and roll out into near-space, according to the plan. Special precautions have been taken to protect him as he lances through the upper stratosphere, quite literally with a bang, breaking the sound barrier.
Preparations for the jump already have contributed to aerospace medicine and to renewed consideration of high altitude rescue jumps for endangered Space Shuttle crews, Fournier claims. The Super Jump team believes the project simulates full-scale rescue of astronauts after descent to a critical high altitude.
Fournier already has 8,500 jumps to his credit, more than 100 of them from very high altitudes.
Kittinger’s 1960 high altitude record still stands but is unofficial, as it was a military operation not monitored by the National Aeronautic Association. Kittinger received the Distinguished Flying Cross on five occasions, two for his balloon experiments and three for his combat tours in Southeast Asia. During his last combat tour, as commander of the 555th Fighter Squadron, his airplane was shot down and he was imprisoned by the North Vietnamese.
For more information: TheSuperJump.org.