Wed, Feb 06, 2013 - Page 7 News List

‘Fearless Felix’ fell to Earth reaching Mach 1.25: report

AP, CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida

Supersonic Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner was faster than he or anyone else thought during his record-setting jump in October last year from 38km up.

The parachutist known as “Fearless Felix” reached 1,357kph, according to official numbers released on Monday. That is equivalent to Mach 1.25, or 1.25 times the speed of sound.

His top speed initially was estimated at 16kph slower at 1,342kph, or Mach 1.24.

Either way, he became the first human to break the sound barrier with only his body. He wore a pressurized suit and hopped from a capsule hoisted by a giant helium balloon over New Mexico.

Baumgartner was supersonic for a half-minute — “quite remarkable,” according to Brian Utley, the record-keeping official who was present for the feat on Oct. 14 last year.

The 43-year-old’s heart rate remained below 185 beats a minute and his breathing was fairly steady.

The leap was from an altitude of 38,969m. That is 75m lower than original estimates, but still stratospheric.

“He jumped from a little bit lower, but he actually went a little bit faster, which was pretty exciting,” said Art Thompson, technical project director for the Red Bull-sponsored project.

“It’s fun for us to see reaching Mach speeds and proving out a lot of the safety systems,” Thompson said in a phone interview from his aerospace company in Lancaster, California.

Thompson said everything pretty much unfolded as anticipated, with no big surprises in the final report. The updated records were provided by Utley, official observer for the National Aeronautic Association’s contest and records board. Utley was in Roswell, New Mexico, for Baumgartner’s grand finale following two test jumps.

Based on all the data collected from sensors on Baumgartner’s suit, Utley determined that Baumgartner was 34 seconds into his jump when he reached Mach 1. The speed for breaking the sound barrier depends on the temperature at a given altitude; for Baumgartner, that came together just shy of 33,528m.

He reached peak speed by the time he was at 27,800m, 50 seconds into the jump, and was back to subsonic by 23,000m, give or take, 64 seconds into his free fall.

His entire free fall lasted four minutes, 20 seconds. He used a parachute to cover the final 1,500m, landing on his feet in the desert outside Roswell.

Not everything went well.

Baumgartner went into a dreaded flat spin while still supersonic. He spun for 13 seconds at approximately 60 revolutions per minute, making 14 to 16 spins before using his body to regain control, Thompson said. The skydiver was well within safety limits the entire time, he added. Baumgartner’s brain remained under 2G, or two times the force of gravity, during the spin.

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