Wingsuit flying

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Wingsuits in flight

Wingsuit flying is the art of flying the human body through the air using a special jumpsuit, called a wingsuit, that shapes the human body into an airfoil which can create lift. The wingsuit creates the airfoil shape with fabric sewn between the legs and under the arms. It is usually incorrectly referenced by the public as a birdman suit or squirrel suit.

A wingsuit can be flown from any point that provides sufficient altitude to glide through the air, such as skydiving aircraft or BASE jumping exit points.

The wingsuit flier wears parachute equipment designed for skydiving or BASE jumping. The flier will deploy the parachute at a planned altitude and unzip the arm wings, if necessary, so they can reach up to the control toggles and fly to a normal parachute landing.


[edit] History

Wings were first used in the 1930s as an attempt to increase horizontal movement. These early wingsuits were made of materials such as canvas, wood, silk, steel, and even whale bone. They were not very reliable. According to wingsuit lore, between 1930 and 1961, 72 of the 75 original birdmen died testing their wingsuits. Some of these so-called "birdmen," most notably Clem Sohn and Leo Valentin, claimed to have glided for miles and inspired dozens of imitators.

In the mid-1990s, French skydiver Patrick de Gayardon developed a wingsuit that had unparalleled safety and performance. Unfortunately, de Gayardon died on April 13, 1998 while testing a new modification to his parachute container in Hawaii; his death is attributed to a rigging error which was part of the new modification rather than a flaw in the suit's design. Despite his tragic end, de Gayardon planted the seeds for a new generation of birdmen.

In 1998, Jari Kuosma of Finland and Robert Pecnik of Croatia teamed up to create a wingsuit that was safe and accessible for all skydivers when they established BirdMan, Inc. BirdMan's Classic, designed by Robert Pecnik, was the first wingsuit offered to the general public. BirdMan was also the first manufacturer to advocate the safe use of wingsuits by creating an Instructor program. Created by Jari Kuosma, the instructor program's aim was to remove the stigma that wingsuits were dangerous and to provide wingsuit beginners (Generally, skydivers with a minimum of 200 logged jumps) with a way to safely enjoy what was once considered the most dangerous feat in the skydiving world. With the help of Birdman Chief Instructors Scott Campos, Chuck Blue and Kim Griffin, a standardized program of instruction was developed that preprared instructors.[1] Phoenix-Fly, Fly Your Body, and Nitro Rigging have also instituted an instructor training program.

[edit] Non-technical Mechanics

The wingsuit flier enters freefall wearing both a wingsuit and parachute equipment. Exiting an aircraft in a wingsuit requires learned techniques that differ depending on the location and size of the aircraft door. These techniques include the orientation relative to the aircraft and the airflow while exiting, and the way in which the flier will spread his legs and arms at the proper time so as not to hit the aircraft or become unstable in the relative wind. The wingsuit will immediately start to fly upon exiting the aircraft in the relative wind generated by the forward speed of the aircraft. Exiting from a BASE jumping site, such as a cliff, or exiting from a helicopter or hot air balloon, is fundamentally different from exiting a moving aircraft as the initial wind speed upon exit is absent. In these situations a vertical drop using the forces of gravity to accelerate is required to generate the airspeed that the wingsuit can then convert to lift.

At a planned altitude above the ground in which a skydiver or BASE jumper would typically deploy his parachute, a wingsuit flier will deploy his parachute. The parachute will be flown to a controlled landing at the desired landing spot using typical skydiving or BASE jumping techniques.

At least one organization is investigating the possibility of a safe landing without a parachute.[2]

A wingsuit flier manipulates the shape of his body to create the desired amount of lift and drag although most wingsuits have a 2 to 1 ratio. This means that for every foot they drop, they go 2 feet forward. With body shape manipulation and by choosing the design characteristics of the wingsuit, a flier can alter both his forward speed and fall rate. A pilot can choose to manipulate his fall rate towards Earth with the goal of achieving the slowest vertical speed in order to prolong time in freefall, or the pilot can try to maximize the horizontal glide distance across the Earth. The pilot manipulates these flight characteristics by changing the shape of his torso, arching or bending at the shoulders, hips, and knees, and by changing the angle of attack in which the wingsuit flies in the relative wind, and by the amount of tension applied to the fabric wings of the suit.

Wingsuit fliers can measure their performance relative to their goals with the use of freefall computers that will indicate the amount of time they were in flight, the altitude they deployed their parachute, and the altitude they entered freefall. The fall rate speed can be calculated from this data and compared to previous flights. GPS receivers can also be used to plot and record the flight path of the suit, and when analyzed can indicate the amount of distance flown during the flight. BASE jumpers can use landmarks on exit points, along with recorded video of their flight by ground crews, to determine their performance relative to previous flights and the flights of other BASE jumpers at the same site.

A typical skydiver's terminal velocity in belly to earth orientation ranges from 110 to 140 mph (180 to 225 km/h). A wingsuit can reduce these speeds dramatically. An instantaneous velocity of 25 mph or 40 km/h has been recorded, but 60 mph (95 km/h) is more typical.

The suit also enables the wearer to travel longer distances horizontally; glide ratios of 2.5:1 are commonplace.

While still very experimental, powered wingsuits, often using small jet engines strapped to the feet or a rigid wing set-up, allow for even greater horizontal travel and even ascent.

Though not technically using a wingsuit, Yves Rossy became the first person to obtain the maneuverability of an aircraft while steering solely with body movement; his experimental "flying wing," however, is not currently commercially viable because the fuel the wing uses, and the materials required in construction are prohibitive in cost. Nonetheless, his eight-minute flight over the Swiss Alps made headlines around the world, and so far, his "jet-wing" remains the only wingsuit capable of sustained flight.

Currently, there are two basic wingsuit types. The tri-wing Wingsuit has three individual ram-air wings attached under the arms and between the legs. The mono-wing wing suit design incorporates the whole suit into one large wing.

[edit] Training

The United States Parachute Association (USPA) recommends in the Skydivers Information Manual that any jumper flying a wingsuit for the first time have at least 200 jumps and be accompanied by an instructor, or 500 jumps experience to go without an instructor.[1] Wingsuit manufacturers offer training courses and certify instructors.

[edit] Records

On July 24, 2008, Australian doctor Glenn Singleman jumped from 37,000 feet over central Australia setting a world record for highest wingsuit jump.[3][4]

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] References

  1. ^ "Bird-Man Worldwide Instructors list" (HTML). Retrieved on 2008-01-28. 
  2. ^ Test Flights For World Record Landing Attempt: Wingsuit: Minus Parachute!
  3. ^ Central Australia Jump, Sixty Minutes
  4. ^ Furthest Flight Website
  • Michael Abrams (2006). Birdmen, Batmen, and Skyflyers: Wingsuits and the Pioneers Who Flew in Them, Fell in Them, and Perfected Them. ISBN 1-4000-5491-5. 
  • Scott Campos (2005). Skyflying Wingsuits in Motion. 
  • Justin Shorb/Douglas Spotted Eagle/Taya Weiss (Flock University) (2008). Wingsuits on the Drop Zone. 
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