There’s been a lot of talk lately about the Red Bull Stratos project. Felix Baumgartner will be attempting a world-record setting skydive from the very upper reaches of the atmosphere, during which he will break the speed of sound in free-fall. Baumgartner was supposed to jump on October 8, but high winds caused a cancellation of his attempt; if the weather cooperates he will try again this Sunday, the 14th.
However, high-altitude and high-speed dives have been done before. Jalopnik has a great piece on the high-altitude, high-speed semi-ejection of Bill Weaver, a test pilot whose SR-71 disintegrated around him when his right engine “unstarted” during a turn at speed. Weaver’s pressure suit and stabilization chute automatically deployed, and he was lucky to survive his fall back to earth from the edge of space. His unfortunate co-pilot, Jim Zwayer, died during the breakup of the aircraft from a broken neck.
The SR-71 was an amazing machine, but operating at the edge of the envelope is always risky business. Go read the story at Jalopnik. It’s fascinating stuff.