Sky diving from 120,000 feet
Sunriver company playing role in world-record sky diving attempt
"Fearless Felix" Baumgartner, an Austrian sky diver, will attempt to
jump from more than 120,000 feet this summer, breaking the world record
and the speed of sound. If he succeeds, it could mean fame and glory for
Velocity Sports Equipment, the small but fast-growing company in
Sunriver that is making his harness.
The jump is being sponsored by Red Bull, which has branded it "Red Bull
Stratos." Velocity is one of several companies contracted to build
different parts of the project - the hot air balloon, the parachute, the
electronic monitoring and recording equipment and the capsule from which
the sky diver will jump at nearly 23 miles above the ground.
Kelly Farrington, Velocity's founder and president, says he got the job
because his cousin, Luke Aikins, another sky diver, is a consultant on
the Stratos project. Aikins steered Red Bull to Velocity after problems
arose with another company that was originally supposed to build the
Velocity builds harness and container systems for recreational sky
diving - "pretty much everything but the parachute," Farrington said. He
started out about 12 years ago in Washington state, where he spent his
adolescence at his aunt and uncle's sky diving center. He moved back to
Central Oregon, where he was born, at the end of 2006 "for the climate,"
Farrington and six employees design and sew harnesses, or "rigs," in a
shop behind his house in Sunriver. The rigs cost between $1,800 and
$3,000 each and Velocity usually sells about 300 a year.
Farrington has been working on the Stratos rig for about 200 hours over
a year and he says it's between 90 and 99 percent done.
The Stratos system is similar to the custom rigs Velocity usually
builds, but with a few modifications.
The Stratos rig has to have extra pockets for oxygen bottles and
electronics, and be sized to fit snugly around Baumgartner even as his
pressurized suit deflates during the fall.
The Stratos rig also includes a unique emergency parachute called a
drogue that will deploy to slow Baumgartner if he falls too fast. The
plan is for Baumgartner to break the speed of sound at 690 miles per
hour in high altitude, but he could lose control of his descent if he
goes much faster.
If Baumgartner falls too fast and the drogue parachute deploys, some
will say the jump wasn't a true free fall. That's one of many small
things that could go wrong, causing him to have to abort the jump or
miss the record - his helmet could fog over, for example, or he might
start turning forward flips and be unable to stop.
But the great fear is that something fatal could go wrong - a tangled
cord, a loss of oxygen or a drastic change in pressure.
There's not much that can go wrong with the harness, though. Farrington
says if something awful happens, it won't have anything to do with
Velocity's rig - it would most likely to be due to the shock waves
created at transonic speeds.
"My main concern is going to be with the shock waves when he actually
goes supersonic," he said. "I don't know what kind of effect the shock
waves are going to have on different parts of his suit that are flapping
in the wind. ... The worst thing is that his pressure suit would get
damaged and he'd lose all the air pressure in the suit that's keeping
The project has already brought attention to the small company.
Farrington has gotten several inquiries from people who heard about
Velocity because of the project. And it could be the reason the company
got a sudden rush of orders this year.
"We just had an explosion of orders starting around the middle of
February," he said. "In the beginning of February, we were kind of
twiddling our thumbs wondering what we were going to do. Now we're
sitting on about a six-month backlog."
If Baumgartner breaks the record, it would give Velocity more
credibility in the industry, Farrington said.
But if Baumgartner fails - or worse, if he dies - it could temporarily
associate Velocity's excellent name with tragedy, even though its
harness is highly unlikely to be the cause and its involvement has been
behind the scenes. Velocity is mentioned on the website for the Stratos
project, www.redbullstratos.com, but not in any of the mainstream coverage.
Baumgartner will attempt the Stratos jump this summer, Red Bull has
said, but no specific date or place has been set.
In the meantime, Farrington has plenty of work to keep his mind off the
"what ifs." He hired three new employees, who are working to get the
backlog of orders closer to the usual six-week wait. And he and his wife
just had their first baby in April.
But like millions of others this summer, he'll be holding his breath
when "Fearless Felix" jumps.
Adrianne Jeffries can be reached at 541-633-2117 or at