Afraid of heights, Marc Hauser came up with his own “shock therapy” – skydiving.
Dubbed the “Jet Stream Superman,” Swiss adventurer Hauser is the first person to skydive into the jet stream, a feat which was officially recognized by Guinness World Records last month.
But he wasn’t only intent on conquering his fear of heights. Hauser wanted to raise awareness about what he says is the untapped, clean energy potential of the jet stream, a high-altitude air current in the atmosphere.
“So I just jump with a kind of fear,” Hauser told CNN Sport as he confessed that he’s only been successful in “managing” how he feels about heights.
“I’m still scared of it. I think you should be scared if you jump out of a plane anyway. So it’s a good thing. And I think it’s protecting me. I’m absolutely fine with being a bit scared and terrified.”
Before he performed his free fall jump into the jet stream in Australia in 2018, Hauser was already an unofficial record holder for the fastest horizontal speed without additional gear, reaching a top speed of 188.9 mph in 2012.
Although it has not, he says, been “ratified yet” by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), Hauser’s record has been validated by their most experienced GPS specialist, Brian Utley.
While many elite athletes are conscious of putting on weight, the opposite is true of the six foot seven-inch Swiss, who decided to take on more adventurous pursuits after going on a skydiving course in Spain aged 19.
“I really had to gain weight. I really had to become heavier because the heavier you are, the more free fall acceleration you get,” the 47-year-old said.
Through a combination of “good healthy food and some not so healthy – a couple of beers,” Hauser managed to put on the 12 kilograms he required to reach his ideal weight. Since then, he has maintained his weight of 110kg.
“It’s like when you’re on a bike, and if you drive downhill, then you lose against the fat guy.”
Hauser quickly discovered he was in a league of his own when it came to skydiving.
“I didn’t have any class because my suit has no wings. And so, my definition was I was ‘flying with zero wingsuit.’ And I was ranked number one,” he said.
To his surprise, he began to fall down the rankings because officials started taking tailwinds into account, which is where the idea to jump into the jet stream came from. “I said, ‘Okay, let’s take the best tailwind you can find,’” recalls Hauser.
Jet streams are defined as “narrow bands of strong wind in the upper levels of the atmosphere” by the USA’s National Weather Service.
Usually located four to eight miles above ground level, winds can surpass 275 mph and temperatures can sink to as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius.
“To combine kind of a superman stunt with a higher cause, I have this kind of superhero syndrome,” reflects the Bern native. “So I would like to fly without wings and at the same time, I would like to save the planet.”
With the help of director and filmmaker Claudio von Planta, Hauser’s jump was immortalized in an award-winning documentary “Chasing the Jet Stream.”
Putting his body on the line
While Hauser’s body has been through a lot – he’s had six operations on his right knee – jumping into the jet stream pushed him to the limit.
He underwent strenuous training, including experiencing minus 60 degrees Celsius temperatures, trialing a previously untested breathing apparatus and high-altitude training.
And while the physical strain he put his body through was “challenging,” it was the mental aspect of his preparation that really tested Hauser.
“Mentally, it was really, really hard to keep the team together, to find the good weather window, to find the shoestring budget we ended up with at the end,” said Hauser, who also works as a keynote speaker.
“But I was really the one guy who had to push in front of the whole team. And I really learned a lot about leadership because we didn’t have the money to pay the team. So all the guys, they were working just for free and it was absolutely mind blowing.”
A bumpy ride
Having already had to move the jump from Switzerland to Australia, Hauser’s team spent two weeks chasing the perfect location like a “tornado-chasing team.”
He was assisted by hot air balloon pilot, Steve Griffin, and skydiver, Tom Naef, and after climbing to 7,000m, the problems began.
The drop in temperature meant the oxygen regulators for Griffin and Naef froze open. It was so cold the hot air burners also froze, extinguishing the balloon’s flame.
While Hauser had anticipated complications, the number of problems “put a bit of a rush” on his exit, he said, meaning he jumped from a lower altitude than he had hoped for.
That meant Hauser failed to break his own speed record but, with hindsight, he describes breaking his own record as a “silly thing anyway.”
“I’m still the record holder of non-supported flight over ground without tailwind. But I’m sure you can be way faster than I was,” he said.
Although he was terrified for the safety of the two remaining passengers in the balloon, Hauser managed to complete the skydive.
Proving his point
Etching his name into the record books was one of his aims, but Hauser’s primary focus was to shine a light on the jet stream’s potential to provide a source of sustainable energy.
“It’s just in the beginning. There are about a dozen start-ups worldwide and they are really at the edge in jumping into the market,” he said.
But to take high-altitude wind farming to the next level, the industry needs a “couple of pioneers with deep pockets.”
“They are all at the same point where they’re now really needing substantial finance to go to the next level and to build these things for the markets and to bring the prices down,” he said.
“Because now they’re working on prototypes, they are flying that proof of concept. But for the next step, they all have the same problem. They need substantial funding, and that’s what they are all looking for.
“This is a solution, I think, which is not really well known. I think most people, they just know the winter mills and with that comes the wind energy. And the high-altitude wind power is just a new phenomenon to most of us.”