Interview with Alan Eustace, Recipient of the 2015 Breitling Milestone Trophy

2015 FAI Awards Ceremony 29American engineer Alan Eustace (left with FAI President Dr Grubbström, right), 59, was awarded the prestigious 2015 Breitling Milestone Trophy at the 2015 FAI Awards Ceremony of the 109th FAI General Conference in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, for developing a self-contained flight system for manned stratospheric exploration, and for advancing space crew egress systems.

He set three FAI Absolute World Records in the process, on 24 October 2014: Exit Altitude, 41,422 meters (breaking the previous record of 38,969 meters set by Austrian Felix Baumgartner in 2012). Distance of fall with a drogue, 37,623 meters, and vertical speed of fall, 1,320 km/h (breaking the unofficial records held by American Joe Kittinger since 1960).

This stratospheric jump demonstrated the reliability of the StratEx self-contained flight system, paving the way for the advancement of stratospheric exploration and future space crew egress systems, which will bring far-reaching benefits to aeronautic and astronautic endeavors in years to come. The project has expanded the boundaries of the aerospace frontier, with innovations that pushed the limits of technology and human ingenuity, making it an achievement worthy of the Breitling Milestone Trophy.

The Breitling Milestone Trophy is indeed reserved for an individual or a group of individuals having achieved a significant milestone, technological step or invention in aeronautics or astronautics (first flight, new technology, etc.) during the previous year and that might contribute to future developments, especially for the practice of air sports.

What were your first thoughts after having received the news that you are the winner of the Breitling Milestone Trophy?

Alan Eustace: Thrilled and humbled, given all the amazing records that were broken in 2014.

How and where did you start parachuting?

July 5, 1975. My best friend convinced me to join him when he turned 18.

Do you practice any air sports beside parachuting?  

I love aviation. I got my pilots license in 1990, and have flown everything from amphibious Aircam's to Citations. I also have helicopter and balloon ratings.

How did you get the idea of making a stratospheric jump?

Joe Kittinger was my hero, and I've read almost everything that's ever been written about stratospheric jumps. Red Bull used a pressurized capsule, but I've always thought that the right model for stratospheric exploration is to build a scuba-like system. It's much lighter and less complex. I researched it for a year and concluded it was possible. I couldn't stop there - I wanted to form a team to build it, and then to fly it.  

What is your next challenge?  

Much closer to earth. I'm learning to hang glide, paraglide, and surf, and I just completed my very first wing suit jumps earlier this week. I'm always learning!

[flickr user=me tag="gc2015eustace"]