Luke Aikins has been skydiving for 26 years and has about 18,000 skydives under his belt. But it was a jump earlier this summer that truly captivated the world.
On July 30, Aikins, 42, jumped from an airplane at 25,000 feet without a parachute. Two minutes later he was on the ground, alive, hugging his family and celebrating the fact that he was the first person to ever pull off such a feat.
At last week’s GeekWire Summit, the veteran skydiver from Shelton, Wash., chronicled what it took to live to tell the tale — and even though he was standing there on a Seattle stage, the sense in the room almost seemed to indicate that people couldn’t wait to find out if he made it OK.
Aikins, who said he’d rather jump out of a plane with no parachute than speak in front of a big crowd, defied that notion by deftly weaving his family skydiving history and technical preparation into his presentation.
“When I say this is in my blood, it is actually in my blood,” he said, while showing a photograph of himself skydiving with 10 family members, including his 84-year-old grandfather. “This is all that I’ve done since I can remember. So that’s pretty cool.”
When he was first approached with the idea for the stunt, about 2 1/2 years ago, Aikins wasn’t super interested in the initial plan. But he went to work on trying to imagine a more technically sound way to land at 120 mph without seriously hurting or killing himself.
In his talk, he detailed the netting system that he conceived and that eventually became the method by which he would land safely. He spoke of a dummy, loaded with accelerometers, that was dropped into his netting during testing, as he sought to understand the level of g-force his body might experience.
On one particular test day, Aikins’ wife and his son were there to watch, and a miscalculation sent the test dummy crashing to the ground.
“Luckily, my wife understands. My son’s 4, he’s like, ‘Man, Dad, that wasn’t very good,'” Aikins said as the Summit crowd laughed.
About 16 1/2 minutes into his talk, Aikins got to the video of the actual jump.
“Believe it or not at this point I’m not nervous anymore. You can’t be. It’s time to focus on what’s going to happen. You have to just concentrate,” Aikins said as the video showed him leaving the airplane — with no parachute.
For 2 1/2 minutes he free falls toward a tiny target that is difficult to make out with the naked eye. But GPS and lighting technology that he’s wearing guide Aikins toward the target so that he will hit dead center. Just a few hundred feet from impact, he rolls to his back and lands in the net.
In the audience at the Summit, there is applause, as once again the crowd was waiting to make sure it all turned out OK for the guy who is standing there giving the talk.
“Once I was in there I kicked and screamed and I had a good time,” Aikins said. “And then I took a second to absorb it and take it all in as I was standing up. … The medical examination was a high-five.”
Aikins told the crowd he has done a lot of things in his life, but “the adrenaline that came from a jump like that was just out of this world.”
When asked by GeekWire’s John Cook why he did it, Aikins said that he just wanted to show that anything was possible.
“Whether my son wants to be a doctor, a dancer, an astronaut, whatever. If he sets his mind to it he can do anything,” Aikins said. “People would have thought this wasn’t possible, and we just showed that it was and luckily I had the skills and the team to back me up.”