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Felix Baumgartner survives 18-mile free-fall, plans to go higher

July 25, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • Austrian basejumper Felix Baumgartner has succeeded in jumping from a helium balloon nearly 90,000 feet off the ground and landing near Roswell in New Mexico.
Austrian basejumper Felix Baumgartner has succeeded in jumping from a… (Mike Vogl / AFP / Getty Images )

Felix Baumgartner, an adrenaline junkie who could write "daredevil" on his business cards, successfully plummeted more than 18 miles to Earth on Wednesday.

But -- yawn -- it was all just a training run.

Baumgartner, 43, is making final preparations to break the record held by skydiving legend Joe Kittinger, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel. Kittinger's record -- for free-falling from 102,800 feet, or more than 19 miles -- has been revered in the aviation community since it was set in 1960. At the time, no one knew whether a human could survive such a leap.

Now, with Kittinger himself serving as mentor, Baumgartner plans to shatter that record with a free-fall from 120,000 feet up, just over 22 miles. Baumgartner will be wearing a custom-made body suit that aims to allow him to travel faster than the speed of sound.

A date for a stab at that record and several other records will come as soon as weather allows. Baumgartner's team of international experts in medicine, science, engineering, aviation and design is looking for the perfect three-day weather window -- when the skies will be clear, with little wind and low humidity -- and then make the leap.

Red Bull Statos, the mission name that Baumgartner's sponsors have given to the endeavor, provided little information about Wednesday's test. "Felix lands safely after manned flight test #2 from a preliminary altitude of 96,640 ft and freefall speed of about 536mph. Details soon," was all that was posted on the website.

When Baumgartner tries to break Kittinger's record, he'll be using a pressurized capsule attached to a high-altitude helium balloon for a "stratospheric flight" to more than 120,000 feet.

"He will then exit the capsule and jump -- protected only by a pressurized 'space' suit and helmet supplied with oxygen -- in an attempt to become the first person to break the speed of sound and reach supersonic speeds in free-fall before parachuting to the ground," according to jump plans.

For Baumgartner, the record attempt will be just the latest in a career trying to push the limits. He flew across the English Channel in 2003 using a carbon wing. He was caught on video hitting speeds of up to 220 mph.

Among the related records he hopes to set and shatter: becoming the first person to break the speed of sound and achieve Mach 1 in free-fall, estimated at 690 mph.

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Join Rene Lynch on Google+ and Twitter. Email: rene.lynch@latimes.com

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