HOW DANGEROUS IS WINGSUIT FLYING? ONE OF THE MOST EXTREME SPORTS
The invention of wingsuit flying revolutionized skydiving and gave life to wingsuit flying, the most extreme aerial sport in the world.
From Icarus to Leonardo da Vinci’s machines, the idea of being able to fly like a bird has always captivated our most fanciful dreams. Today, that is possible thanks to the wingsuit, an aerial suit that defies the laws of nature and allows us to be masters of the skies.
But how did these suits come about, how are they used, and, especially, how do they work? Is it as dangerous as they say?
What is wingsuit flying?
Wingsuit flying, also known as wing fly, is the most extreme aerial sport there is truly a hair-raising one.
It’s said that it’s necessary to have done at least 500 jumps before putting on a wingsuit, so only the most experienced skydivers can do it.
In a nutshell, wingsuit flying is a form of skydiving that consists of flying using an aerial suit (or wingsuit).
And yes, any resemblance to flying squirrels is no coincidence.
The first wingsuit saw the light of day in 1930 and, since then, several dozen different designs have appeared. However, they all had one thing in common: they were very dangerous, and most of them claimed the life of their pilot.
However, the origins of wingsuit flying date back to the beginning of the 20th century, but it only became popular in 1999, with the creation of a relatively safe aerial suit.
The wingsuit created by Finnish Jari Kuosma and Croatian Robert Pečnik was the first wingsuit marketed to the public and marked the birth of the sport.
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The two of them were also responsible for creating an instructor program and starting a campaign aimed at reversing the image of wingsuit flying as a very dangerous sport.
Of course, as much as Kuosma and Pečnik would like to convince us otherwise, wingsuit jumping is a high-risk and lethal sport!
Anyway, it’s also true that many accidents occurred because the pilots didn’t have the necessary experience or because, having it, they were overconfident or overdone.
In particular, to increase the sensation of speed, many pilots make proximity flights and get too close to the ground or mountain slopes, reducing the possible margin of error.
How does an air suit work?
To practice wingsuit flying you need two fundamental elements: an air suit and a parachute.
The purpose of the wingsuit is to reduce vertical displacement and favor horizontal displacement, while the parachute is used to approach the ground at the end of the jump.
There are many air suit designs, but they all respect several principles.
The air suit is made of nylon (or some other strong fabric) and has three wings: two that connect the arms to the torso, and a third that connect the legs.
Ultimately, the suit works because it turns the pilot into a wing.
How does it work? Well, firstly, the air is fluid. In other words, it generates resistance that opposes the direction of motion.
Moreover, if the object being moved has an aerodynamic profile (the shape of an airplane wing or an air suit), the air resistance can propel it upward with a force called lift.
In the case of an air suit, unlike an airplane, the lift does not go so far as to lift it – or even decelerate it to a safe speed for landing. But it does make it possible to convert that drag into considerable upward thrust and to move horizontally at high speeds.
Anatomy of an air suit jump
Of course, the first step is to jump. Where to jump from?
There are two options:
- Aircraft: airplanes, hot air balloons, helicopters, or paragliders.
- Wingsuit BASE jumping: As its name indicates, it includes buildings (Building), antennas (Antenna), viaducts (Span), or geographical accidents (Earth).
Depending on the case, from the very moment of jumping, the pilot must deploy different techniques, which he must know and master to perfection.
The function of the suit is to increase the contact surface with the air to increase the resistance to the vertical fall and to allow a greater horizontal displacement.
This is regulated by placing the body in different positions. Wingsuit flying is an extreme aerial sport that requires precise coordination of the entire physiognomy: back, shoulders, hips, arms… everything.
Finally, it should be noted that someone experienced in wing suiting can move up to 3 meters horizontally for every meter that falls vertically.
Finally, after a big dose of adrenaline, it’s time for the landing.
As you can imagine, the air suit is not the right equipment for touching down. It doesn’t allow you to slow down enough. That’s why, toward the end of the jump, the pilot must deploy a parachute.
First, a pilot deploys a small parachute that is connected to the main parachute bag. Then that parachute is deployed and the pilot plans to land.
Records in aerial suit jump
Like all extreme sports, aerial or not, one of the main attractions is to take it to the extreme.
In this case, wingsuit flying has world records of all kinds. These are some of the highest achievements in this sport:
- Highest jump (in BASE jumping): 7,700 meters and was set on October 5, 2016, by Russian Valery Rozov on Cho Oyu Mountain, on the border between Nepal and Tibet.
- Longest flight: 9 minutes and 6 seconds was what Colombian Jhonathan Flórez flew before opening his parachute. It was on April 20, 2012, in La Guajira, Colombia.
- Top speed: Briton Fraser Corsan touched 400 km/h, the maximum speed reached by a human being without the assistance of a machine. More precisely, 396.88 km/h in a jump that didn’t comply with FAI rules.
- Longest distance: This record is held by Kyle Lobpries, from the United States. With an air suit, he flew a total of 32,094 meters.
Smallest target (in BASE jumping): As if it were an aiming contest, the American Pat Walker hit a piece of cloth measuring 2.88 meters.