The ultimate breath-taking thrill – the HALO jump

Tom Cruise Halo

To many, the thought of boarding an aircraft with the knowledge that you won’t be on board when it lands is a terrifying prospect. For adrenaline junkies, it’s a thrill. When you take part in a standard skydive, you’ll climb to around 12,500 feet before launching yourself from the plane. Few will experience the specialised military high-altitude low open (HALO) jump – which involves jumping from around 28,000 feet – more than twice the altitude of a normal skydive.

What does this mean for HALO jumpers? From this height, you’ll need an oxygen mask to prevent your brain from becoming disorientated. You’ll fall at around 120mph, and as you plummet through the sky you’ll see the curvature of the earth. When timed correctly, you’ll experience two sunrises – one as you descend to earth, and another when you are safely back on terra firma. The adrenaline courses through your system as you feel the freezing cold air pummelling your body and you watch the earth become more defined as it rushes up to meet you.

A HALO jump is a method of delivering military personnel, equipment and supplies from a transport aircraft at a high-altitude. The parachutist opens their parachute at a low altitude after free-falling for a period of time, from an aircraft that flies above the detection zone for surface-to-air missiles. In the event of active anti-aircraft fire near the drop zone, the HALO technique minimises the parachutist’s exposure to fire.

Fans of the Mission Impossible series will have seen Tom Cruise complete a HALO jump over Paris in Mission Impossible – Fallout. Those familiar with the adventure movie franchise won’t be surprised to hear that the Tom Cruise HALO sequence was done entirely without a stuntman. It took 106 total jumps to get enough film for three scenes – all done after Cruise broke his ankle earlier in production.

Each type of parachuting technique carries a risk, but HALO jumps are especially high risk. At high altitudes, classed as greater than 22,000 feet, the partial pressure of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere is low. Decompression sickness can occur on the rapid ascent in the jump aircraft, so a pre-breathing period prior to the jump takes place, where the jumper breathes 100% oxygen to flush nitrogen from the bloodstream. The jumper also faces temperatures of -45 degrees Celsius and can experience frostbite – although special clothing is worn to prevent this.

So which person are you, the one who stays on the aircraft or the one who takes the plunge? If you want to reenact Tom Cruise’s epic HALO and think you’re up to the challenge, find out more about HALO freefall experiences with Pencari Black on our freefall parachuting page.