Connor And Company Leap From 38,000 Feet For New HALO Record


When Dayton, Ohio, businessman Larry Connor parachuted from 38,000 feet over Roswell, New Mexico, last month, breaking the world record for a formation HALO (high altitude, low opening) jump, Brandon Daugherty didn’t get quite as much attention as the wealthy Connor. But he was pivotal in ensuring that the risky jump went off as smoothly, and as safely, as it did.

The stunt was designed to raise $1 million and broad awareness for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF), which financially helps children in families of deceased special ops personnel, as well as provides kids of all awardees of the Congressional Medal Of Honor educational support. So far, according to Connor’s team, close to half of that sum has been secured, with donations still coming in. Importantly, none of the money raised went to financing the event.

On their big day, Sept. 28, the five parachutists (which included Connor and Daugherty), outfitted in oxygen masks and cold weather gear, rose to altitude in a giant hot-air balloon, then jumped out and linked together to form a circle. The team pulled its chutes at 7,800 feet, then gently coasted back to Earth.

Daugherty’s company, Operator Solutions (OS), prepared and trained the Alpha 5 project team, first near Melbourne, Florida, later in Roswell at the New Mexico Military Institute (see previous stories below). OS is a major provider of search-and-rescue training and on-site services for the Department Of Defense, and the spaceflight and private air industries.

We spoke with Daugherty by phone earlier this week. Following are edited excerpts from a longer conversation.

Jim Clash: I know you were originally heading up to 35,000 feet to jump, just high enough to break the existing record. Why the extra 3,000 feet of altitude?

Brandon Daugherty: We had always planned to go just above 38,000 feet, then drop down to 35,000 feet for the jump. When you get up to apogee, your highest point, you have to descend at 400- to 500-ft. per minute before you can jump. We had anticipated a longer time to actually get out of the balloon and prepare. Because we saved time there, it left us higher up than initially planned. We had said that 35,000 feet was our goal, but we always wanted to jump higher if we could get higher.

Clash: Why use a balloon instead of an aircraft to take you up?

Daugherty: It’s very difficult to find an aircraft that can depressurize that high. There are only a few in the world. Realistically, we would have had to charter a military aircraft. Even with those special planes, it’s hard to depressurize, then jump, from 35,000 feet.

The hot air balloon option did a couple of things for us: 1) It solved our problem of getting high enough for the record, and 2) It created a unique part of the story where we could spread the message better for the SOWF cause. The balloon allowed us to launch from anywhere we wanted, which, in this case, was the New Mexico Military Institute. More than 1,000 students attend that school, and they were all able to watch us. We felt we were helping inspire the next generation of leaders.

Clash: Now, after having done the jump, what was the most important part of the prep you had done?

Daugherty: Our dead-air exits from the balloon were most important. Because [of the thin air at altitude] we had to be quick to establish our five-way link up. The plan was to have three jumpers linked as they exited the balloon, and have the other two jump separately and join us as soon as possible. In Melbourne and Roswell, it was those exits and jumps that proved most valuable for the real thing.

Clash: How is Larry to work with?

Daugherty: Larry was the most focused member of our group, not that the rest of us weren’t focused. He set aside extra time for mental rehearsals and visualizations. He had us build in proper rest/work cycles. When we actually got out there to practice the drills, it was four or five times each – first with nothing on, then with all of our equipment on.

Larry was the glue that kept us together. And I don’t say that lightly. At the end of the project, he was presented with a plaque by the dean of the military institute. I don’t know the exact wording, but the takeaway was: “Larry, you got four guys here in Alpha 5 that have been to war. There are a lot of civilians they would not want to take to war with them, but you are one of the rare instances who they would trust enough to go into combat with.”

Clash: What will Operator Solutions do with the balloon now that the project is essentially over?

Daugherty: We’re working on a strategy to continue to work with it for charity. Larry doesn’t want any profits from its future commercial operations to go to his Connor Group, though. He wants anything earned to continue to go to SOWF. Right now, the balloon cannot be flown with persons who are not certified, as was our Alpha 5 group. The balloon currently falls into what’s known as the “experimental” category. So everybody who flies in it has to be licensed.

We’re working to get the balloon certified, so it’s no longer experimental. Then we can have regular folks buy seats with donations. As part of that, we also plan to give free seats to some of the SOWF persons, let them experience a ride firsthand.

Special Operations Warrior FoundationAlpha 5 – Special Operations Warrior Foundation
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