In 2016, Luke Aikins became the first person to complete a planned jump from an aeroplane without a parachute or a wingsuit. Jumping from 25,000 feet, he sped earthwards before eventually landing in a net just 30m square.
Such behaviour might seem like complete madness to most people. The nerve required to take that leap of faith is unimaginable. But the experienced skydiver had been preparing for this moment for 18 months, as had the team around him. He had practised the movements he would need to make to adjust his freefall to hit the target precisely, and he had worked with gymnasts to rehearse the flip he would need to perform to ensure he landed safely on his back (you can see him practising the “flip” move at about 1:30 into the video above).
Meanwhile, the net was precision engineered to cushion his impact. Civil Engineer John Cruikshank had worked out the maths and physics required to slow the plummeting man from 193km/h to zero safely. The net was suspended high in the air from four cranes, supported by air pistons which would compress on impact. It took eight months of testing to be sure that the mechanism would work safely.
I use Luke Aikins’ story when I am talking to students about preparing for their exams. Aikins has his team around him, supporting him, for the first part of his fall. These are teachers, friends, family. But there is a moment of truth – about 1:40 into the video for Luke Aikins -when you are on your own and you have to rely on all the preparation you have done to deliver the result you want. It’s just you and the task in hand. The better your preparation, the higher the chance of a good outcome. Of course, it’s never guaranteed: even with the best preparation in the world, things can sometimes go wrong. That’s why it’s never possible to take the stress out of such situations completely. But, if you know that you’ve practised, you know what you need to do, and you know how to do it, you will have the confidence to make the leap and land safely.
We all need to take a deep breath before we make our leap. But, if we know we’ve prepared as well as possible, it gives us the confidence to take that step and – as far as we can – to enjoy the ride.