Luke Aikins jumped 25,000 feet without a parachute and survived. The veteran skydiver and daredevil made history when his record-making jump, which was titled “Heaven Sent”, was shown on live television. How did he do it?
The preparation for the stunt took a little under two years when Aikins decided to actually go through with the stunt after turning down initial proposals for “Heaven Sent”. What followed was months of physical training for the intense stunt which would require Aikins to use only the air currents to direct his body towards a net specially designed to catch him.
The 100-foot-by-100-foot net, which is described as something akin to a fishing trawler, was raised 20 stories high. The device used runway lights as a visual marker for Aikins so that he could coordinate his landing during his jump. The net was meant to be tall enough that when Aikins landed into the net, it would cradle him downwards. To test the net’s strength, the crew used 200-pound dummies to simulate the impact. One of the dummies reportedly crashed right through the net. The perfect balance then was to make sure the net was tall enough to so as to not bounce Aikins up upon impact, but also not let Aikins fall straight through.
Aikins fell from 25,000 feet from a plane, ditching his oxygen mask at 18,000 feet. Since the air is lighter at higher altitudes, Aikins fell at around 150 miles per hour at the opening altitudes of his jump. As the air thickens closer to the ground, he would have reduced his speed to about 120 mph. All the while Aikins would be battling constantly shifting winds. At the very last moment, Aikins was required to flip over on his back in order to safely land into the net. Watching the video of the fall, Aikins was escorted briefly by three other skydivers, before they each released their parachutes and left Aikins alone to land in the net.
According to the United States Parachute Association, the typical altitude for opening one’s parachute is 2,500 feet. The net, which Aikins refers to as a “passive parachute” is 200 feet above ground. The 2,300-foot difference in height meant that despite his two decades of experience, Aikins required a special permit to conduct the stunt. Location was also another factor as Aikins and the team scouted a suitable location across several states before settling on a desert area near Simi Valley, California.
The producers of the event from Screen Actors Guild originally required Aikins to wear a parachute as a precaution if the stunt was to be filmed. This decision nearly made Aikins reconsider the stunt as guiding his body with the extra weight of the parachute would have made the stunt too dangerous to complete. The requirement was dropped at the last minute and Aikins proceeded with “Heaven Sent”.
The question now is whether another daredevil will attempt to break Aikins’ new record. However, it should be noted that Aikins is an experienced skydiver with 18,000 jumps under his belt and previously worked as a stuntman for films like Iron Man 3. Still, this remains the most impressive jump successfully landed without a parachute or wingsuit.