The Army Surgeon Who Jumped Out of a Plane at 40,000 Feet—For Science!

Sometimes progress requires huge risks. Just ask William Randolph “Randy” Lovelace II, who wanted to prove that an oxygen mask could protect pilots from blacking out at high altitudes when they bailed out of their planes. See his story for yourself, in this Fusion video which we’re premiering exclusively at io9.


There’s a reason why Lovelace has his own Respiratory Institute—and part of it has to do with his decision to jump out of an airplane at an unthinkable height, to prove a theory. As the Institute’s website explains:

A personal feat demonstrated Randy’s zest for adventure and faith in scientific principles and consolidated his recognition as a leader in aviation medicine. Lives were being lost in attempts to parachute from wounded aircraft at high altitudes without the benefit of oxygen that was available on board to the crews. Randy proposed that high altitude evacuations might be accomplished using small personal oxygen bottles, but the military brass considered the approach too radical and unlikely to succeed. Denied official permission, Randy schemed to test the method himself. Locating willing accomplices, he jumped from a bomber at 40,200 feet with a small oxygen bottle taped to his leg (incredibly, his first parachute jump!). Despite being knocked unconscious when exiting the plane, he survived the surreptitious experiment and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross when the government finally acknowledged the feat and adopted the strategy.

The above video does a great job of illustrating just how insane Lovelace’s stunt really was—and how lucky he was to survive, especially after his hand got frostbitten. The video, which we’re premiering exclusively at io9, is part of an ongoing series called Sacrificed:

Sacrificed is a Fusion original web series in which we share the stories of scientists so passionate about their research, they use themselves as human guinea pigs, subjecting their bodies to dangerous conditions and diseases in a valiant (though sometimes misguided) search for the truth.

See another Sacrificed video (about a man who injected gonorrhea pus into his penis!) here.

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Who were these “friends”. Seriously. His first jump? Couldn’t he have taken the time to learn to jump first?

This is not to say that I am not humbled by this guys dedication to proving his point, I am. Just... Wow. Reckless takes on a whole new meaning.