Physicist Explains How a Stuntman Lept From a Helicopter Without a Parachute and Lived

(Image: YouTube screenshot)

Just last week, stuntman Gary Connery jumped from a helicopter wearing a wingsuit and sailed to the ground 2,400 feet below onto a runway of 18,600 cardboard boxes without deploying a parachute.

(Related: Stunning video: Man skydives onto 18,600 cardboard boxes without a parachute)

Now, physicist Rhett Allain from Southeastern Louisiana University is ready to tell us just how Connery did it without, well, killing himself.

First, if you missed the video of Connery’s descent, check out this version Allain found:

For Wired’s Dot Physics Allain uses these reported measurements for comparison purposes:

  • That the 18,600 boxes were set up in a way that the runway was 12 feet tall, 350 feet long and 40 feet wide.
  • That Connery’s descent to the boxes began a mile in the air.

Allain says Connery had two things going for him in this descent: 1) how the “wingsuit slows him down a bit as well as allows him to “pull up” a bit before landing so that he is moving more forward than downward” and 2) how the set-up of the boxes break Connery’s fall and lessened his change for injury.

Allain uses Tracker Video Analysis tool to help him explain how he arrives at certain calculations involving Connery’s stunt.

Based on Allain’s measurements, Connery’s speed was 16.8 mph going downward and 46.3 mph going forward. Compared to reports of his speed, Allain was on target, which with the video analysis having some perspective flaws Allain says is “crazy it is so close [because] these things never work out like that.” Allain then finds that Connery was traveling 33.7 mph horizontally when he was descending upon the boxes at the end with a vertical speed at this point of 19 mph.

Connery's horizontal and linear speed. (Image: Wired)
Connery's motion in the direction of the boxes (horizontally). (Image: Wired)
Connery's horizontal data. See the drop off at the end after his hits the boxes. (Image: Wired)

Allain takes this 19 mph of vertical speed one step further wondering how high someone would have to be to reach this speed to fall onto the boxes (as if they were just jumping off a platform onto them). His calculations show they would need to be 60 feet in the air, which he states shouldn’t “be so bad if you land in these boxes” because “people have jumped from much higher distances and survived just fine.”

Check out Allain’s full post on Wired for even more technical detail here.