RECORDS ARE TOUGH TO BREAK
Fraser Corsan has quite the title - fastest man horizontally unpowered in the world. We caught up with him to hear about his thrill-seeking experiences as a wingsuit pilot, and learn what it takes to break records from 42,000ft.
Dundas London: Hi Fraser, pleased to meet you. You are the world’s fastest unassisted human! I’m sure that has intrigued our audience, please can you tell us a bit about the world record you hold?
Fraser Corsan: Good to meet you too, as for the record I am the fastest man horizontally unpowered in the world, which means I have travelled without any propulsion at 246.6mph over the ground. To achieve this speed, I jumped from an aircraft at 35,508ft with a very high-performance wingsuit and full Oxygen system and flew at an angle to maximise my speed. The journey to the record was a long one; I started skydiving in 1996 and in 2001 I took up wingsuit flying. At the time there were only three of us in the UK and around a dozen in the world. The wingsuit is a passion; it allows you the ability to come as close to human flight as possible without the structure and propulsion of normal aircraft, of course you still need to deploy your parachute prior to landing, however instead of the usual one min of freefall, we are achieving three and a half to four minutes of flight from 13,000ft. The suit is made of a rip stop nylon and has a top and bottom skin and ribs like any aircraft wing, this inflates in flight and allows you to glide, hence decreasing your fall rate significantly. In 2017, after four years of finding sponsors and putting together the right team from my Defence and Aviation network, we set out to break a few records and raise money and awareness for charity. The goal was four records for time, altitude, distance and speed. These were to be completed over two jumps - one from 37,000ft using an aircraft and one from 42,000ft using a balloon. As we were way above normal skydiving altitude, I needed O2 both onboard the aircraft and during my descent. On top of this I needed to log the record with three GPS units, record footage, navigate, have the right clearances as I was flying through commercial flight lanes and deal with extreme cold (it was -56C on exit), so we had to insulate and heat all systems. Basically, I needed to stay alive and of course deploy my parachute at the end and find a safe landing spot. The record brought some huge challenges which we broke down and solved one by one. After we secured the world speed record it turned out we had also secured four others for highest UK and European skydive and longest UK and European freefall. I still hanker to go back though to 42,000ft and we still have the team so there may be more to this tale yet!
DL: Incredible! When did the idea of becoming a wingsuit pilot enter your mind?
FC: I have always been fascinated by flight and I originally wanted to be a Harrier pilot, but whilst passing academic selection I discovered I was colour blind, so I instead went into aviation safety and ended up being lucky enough to work on some iconic programmes from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight to the Eurofighter Typhoon. After I took up skydiving in 1996 there was the start of modern-day wingsuit flying, so in 2000 I bought a suit and started to fly. The dream of flight was always there and the sensation of flight and exploring cloud formations is special.
Photo thanks to Jarno Cordia
DL: Like any adventure, there is a great amount of risk in what you do. How have you learnt to respond to that and stay calm when things don’t go as planned?
FC: Training and preparation are key, in aviation and particularly skydiving you have extraordinarily little time to ponder ‘what should I do?’ and so muscle memory and drills for any eventuality are essential. We drill these and have many what if scenarios already programmed into us from years of training so if an issue arises, we can deal with it. For the record we thought up multiple things that could go wrong and then worked up multiple actions to address them, these typically ran into Plan, A, B, C and even D for some scenarios.
DL: Are you able to share any of your hairiest moments with us?
FC: Hairy moments are incredibly rare, however the most recent was on the record jump in 2017. As I approached the end of the jump, I was slowing my forward speed down from the 200mph+ to around 120mph and the insulating suit I was wearing under my wingsuit was made of exceptionally fine fibres which had expanded with the lower pressure at 35,000ft and so tightened my sleeve inside my wingsuit. This meant that as I went to pull my pilot chute (which initiates the deployment of my parachute), I could literally only touch the tip of the pouch but not get any grip. I brought my arms forward and went back into flight so as not to lose much altitude as with arms swept back you would continue into a steep dive quickly. I then punched my arms out at the wrist and went back in to pull the pilot chute out, got a clean grip and had a beautiful parachute over my head three seconds later. This was an exceptionally complex jump and a minor issue, over the last twenty-five years of jumping I have only had to use my reserve parachute twice and the last time was in 2001.
Fraser wears the Dundas Blue
DL: You have seen the world from a very unique perspective (quite literally), what amazes you most about the natural world?
FC: The World is full of contradictions. Naturally it can be incredibly beautiful and appear resilient, yet it can also be incredibly vulnerable and having observed a lot of it on my travels and my flights the impact of humanity is increasingly evident. I am humbled by its raw power whether in a storm or observing an ocean swell breaking, we need to learn how to both appreciate it more and understand its multiple systems are intrinsically connected and its continued exploitation is not sustainable.
DL: Why do you think adventure and adrenaline are so attractive to so many people?
As a species we have millions of years of hunter gatherers’ DNA programmed into us, yet for the last century we have become increasingly protected and cosseted in our lives. Our lives are generally safe, we have rules governing our actions, boundaries at every turn, 24/7/365 medical care available, and all of this does not satisfy our adventure gene. So, I think more and more people seek to step outside of the bounds of the societal safety net to feel a little fear and a little adrenalin and realise what their bodies and minds are capable of and truly feel alive.