wingsuit: high altitude

The fascination of freefall flying is the ultimate thrill for every skydiver. Many have tried to find a way to extend the time of floating between heaven and earth, and this was also the ultimate goal of Oliver Furrer's project ‘Time Zone 2000’.

In May 2000 the World Champion in SkySurfing attempted to break Joe Kittinger's record of 4 minutes and 36 seconds in freefall, dating back to 1960. One year of preparations was required until Oliver would be ready to jump out of a hot air balloon at 11'000 meters above sea level. In order to be physically and mentally fit for the extremely demanding jump, Oliver attended a special training course with the Swiss Air Force. In order to get familiar with the special oxygen equipment required, he had to climb into a low pressure chamber, where he was able to learn about the symptoms of hypoxia and how it affects body and mind. For all technical and safety aspects of the jump, Oliver was assisted by Tad Smith, an expert for high altitude jumps. In order to prove the freefall time, he hade to have a Digital Video camera sewed onto his suit, and was required to carry a data logger provided by Airtec, which would document all his movements during the jump. For further extension of flight time he would be wearing a newly designed WingSuit from ‘BirdMan’. Special modifications also had to be done on the balloon by the ‘driver’ Hampi Arnold to be able to reach 11.000 meters.

After some photo-jump's at normal altitude, a test jump from out of 9'350 meters above sea level was performed. The low temperature (minus 56°C) made the propane gas on the burner freeze. In addition transponder and radio problems complicated communication with Air Traffic Control. Finally, a technical failure of the balloon itself made it impossible to climb to a higher altitude.  

Once those initial problems had been solved, the team was finally ready for the record attempt on 3rd June 2000. After a one hour oxygen-prebreathing (to get the nitrogen out of the blood system), the team was ready for take off, which was scheduled for 4:15AM. Unfortunately a big temperature inversion stopped the balloon from climbing higher than 9000 meters above sea level and therefore Oliver had to exit the basket 2000 meters lower than originally planned. However he did his best and still managed to be in freefall for 3 minutes 47 seconds. This was the first and last record attempt under the ‘Time Zone 2000’ project, as it had to be stopped due to ongoing technical problems and lack of financial support. But the dream goes on and the future is open for new adventures……

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