American Luke Aikins is not your typical skydiver. Born into a skydiving family, Aikens has continued the family tradition with more than 20 years of skydiving experience and 18,000 jumps under his belt. Last week, the daredevil became the first person ever to skydive from 25,000 feet without a parachute or a wingsuit. Aikins’s success can be attributed to more than just skill and chance. Though both of those factors played into the jump, Aikins also took advantage of cutting-edge technology to help him in his aerial descent, reports Scientific American.
The key to Aikin’s success was his aerial navigation system, which helped him guide his flight trajectory so he could successfully land on the target net. Aikins was guided by a GPS module on his helmet that relayed his position to a guidance system on the ground. The guidance system tracked his progress and estimated his landing location based on his freefall trajectory. The system was connected to a series of lights around the target net that were white when he was on target and red when he strayed from the course. As he fell, Aikins could use the light-based signals to move his body into place for a successful landing. All this communication was done in real-time, allowing Aikins with just enough time to adjust his flight.
The idea for Aikins’s jump came from a friend and physiologist, Chris Talley, who worked with Aikins on previous jumps. Aikin at first refused Talley’s challenge due to concerns over how the dangerous nature of the jump would affect his family. After giving it more thought, Aikins changed his mind and began preparing for the world’s record jump.
Aikins freefell for more than two minutes before he flipped over to his back and safely landed on a 100 foot by 100-foot net that was suspended up to 20 stories high to accommodate the freefalling skydiver. When he landed, Aikins was traveling close to 150 miles per hour. The breathtaking stunt was captured on live television.