42-year-old Gary Connery jumped out of a helicopter at 2,400ft and is travelling rapidly over the English countryside.
Parachute? They are for sissies. Mr Connery prefers his sail-like ‘Wingman’ suit, which, everyone hopes, will allow him to steer towards a (relatively) soft landing on a bed of cardboard boxes.
Ah yes, the landing. He admits that’s the tricky bit.So as we wait for him in a sunlit field in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, all eyes are skyward.
Standing nearby is his loyal wife Vivienne, who has spent the last couple of days helping her husband and an army of volunteers arrange a 12ft-deep layer of 18,600 boxes in a 40ft wide strip, about the length of a football pitch.
Yesterday, as he clambered into the helicopter from which he was to make his leap of faith, the ex-paratrooper and veteran film stunt expert was confident he had left nothing to chance in his campaign to become the first man to pull off this death-defying stunt.
Through binoculars, we can see him standing on the skids wearing helmet and neck brace. Then he steps into fresh air.
Like a distant speck on a canvas of blue, he comes gradually into view. He looks like a cross between Superman and a flying squirrel, arms outstretched with the suit spreading out to his fingertips.
To one side, a circling red kite gives him a suspicious glance. Vivienne goes momentarily quiet.
Suddenly, we can make out his face.
Then, with the rather satisfying but seldom-heard percussion of man against cardboard, he cannonballs into the boxes at 50mph – and into the record books. He calls Vivienne on a walkie-talkie before emerging triumphant. Mission accomplished.
Although he had an emergency parachute (the Civil Aviation Authority insisted on it) it would never open in time to save him once he passed a certain altitude.
Thus, the critical point – no one dares call it ground-breaking – came 200ft up and 400ft from the boxes. ‘Essentially it’s a controlled crash,’ he tells me rather perkily. ‘Once I got six or seven seconds away, I was totally committed.’ First question: Why?
‘Why not?’ he replies. ‘Ask an artist why he paints a picture or stands all day at a block of rock with a hammer and chisel. This is my art.’
What does it feel like to fly?
‘It’s beautiful,’ he says dreamily ‘It’s a very emotional experience – so serene, so surreal.’ And landing? ‘Amazing. So soft.’ The birdman, who flew under sponsorship from the Bremont watch company, based in his home town of Henley-on-Thames, admits there was a risk involved but does not accept it was foolhardy, or even dangerous.
He has, after all, come close to death in a jump from the Eiffel Tower, ridden a bicycle over Beachy Head and parachuted from the top of the London Millennium Eye.
He once leaped from Tower Bridge into a moving boat, and plunged off a cliff after setting himself ablaze.
Next? ‘He is planning to become a human firework,’ Vivienne casually discloses.