Skydiver prepares to attempt first unassisted flight across Channel

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The Independent Online

An Austrian skydiver plans to become the first person to fly unassisted across the Channel, by jumping from an airplane at the same altitude as Everest with a carbon-fibre wing to help him steer.

The wing will be discarded when he reaches 1,000ft so that he can deploy his parachute.

If 34-year-old Felix Baumgartner succeeds, he will take just 10 minutes to cover the 22-mile (35km) horizontal distance between Dover and Cap Blanc Nez in Calais - though he will have covered slightly more because of his vertical fall of roughly six miles.

The jump, which will require perfect weather, is being planned for the coming weeks; Mr Baumgartner and his team are already camped on the northern French coast, waiting for the right conditions. The earliest that they could start would be tomorrow, although forecasts of rain and cloud have put off the start until Thursday or Friday.

Mr Baumgartner said he was not scared of the jump. "I don't get off on the fear - but it's fear that makes something like this so desirable in the first place, so you can't ignore it."

An assistant said: "He needs the visual element to steer, so he can't jump if there are clouds."

To avoid air traffic he will jump at 4am. The air temperature will be so low, at about -55C, that he will need both a heated suit and his own oxygen supply.

The key to his survival as he travels at more than 120mph will be controlling the angle of the carbon-fibre wing strapped to his back. "It's like driving a Formula 1 car: the equipment is extremely sensitive and quite delicate, which means any small problem very quickly becomes a huge one."

The wing measures 6ft (1.8m) across and weighs just a few kilograms. Mr Baumgartner has been on test runs where he was strapped to the wing on top of a Porsche car and driven around at high speed.

Mr Baumgartner is the first man to have jumped from the 1,500ft twin Petronas Towers in Malaysia, the world's tallest building.

The Austrian reckons his feat would most closely mirror that of Louis Bleriot, who flew across the Channel in 1909 in an aircraft that he had built himself.