Felix Baumgartner, the record-setting Austrian skydiver and BASE jumper, is best known for completing an unprecedented freefall flight over the English Channel. Now, with a big team he’s working to advance aeronautical research by becoming the first person ever to break the speed of sound in freefall.
Born on April 20, 1969, Felix Baumgartner was raised in Salzburg, where he dreamed of skydiving and flying helicopters and was inspired by astronauts on TV.
He made his first skydive at age 16. After sharpening his parachute skills as a member of a Special Forces demonstration team for the Austrian military, he supported himself by repairing motorcycles before becoming a skydiving professional. In the 1990s, Felix extended the range of his canopy skills with BASE jumping.
In 1997 he won the overall BASE jumping championship at West Virginia’s Bridge Day, which draws competitors from around the world. His 1999 jump from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur established a new world record for highest BASE jump from a building, and that same year he completed the lowest BASE jump in history from the Cristo Retendor ('Christ the Redeemer') statue in Rio de Janeiro. Just a small selection of Felix’s additional records includes jumping from the Millau Bridge in France (record for highest span) and Taiwan’s Taipei 101 tower (new highest jump from a building). He even BASE-jumped into a Croatian cave equivalent to a 60-storey building in depth.
Felix’s most renowned achievement to date has been his freefall 'flight' across the English Channel – non-motorised and without a vehicle. Requiring development of a special carbon wing, the project was three years in the making. When, on July 31, 2003, Felix jumped from an aircraft at more than 32,000 feet over Dover, England, his only protection from the extremes of the environment (a temperature of -40° F.) was a custom-built jumpsuit and helmet. Strapped to his back were the carbon wing, an oxygen tank and his parachute. He reached a speed of 220mph, and he completed the 22-mile freefall to Calais, France, in six minutes.
Named on Vienna’s Street of Champions and nominated for a World Sports Award and two categories in the NEA Extreme Sports Awards, Felix is also an advocate for the non-profit Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation. He has earned his gas balloon licence, and as the holder of private helicopter licences for the United States and Austria as well as his commercial European licence, he is living many of his childhood dreams. If the Red Bull Stratos quest to break the speed of sound is successful, he may even surpass those youthful imaginings.
In undertaking the training required for the mission, Felix divides his time between the United States and Switzerland, but, as he acknowledges, “The air is where I am at home.”