What is Wingsuit Flying?

Wingsuit flying, also known as wingsuiting or birdman flying, is an extreme sport that involves jumping from a high point (typically an airplane or a cliff) while wearing a specialized suit that adds surface area to the human body to enable significant glide. This sport allows participants to experience the closest sensation to flying that a human can achieve, gliding through the air at high speeds before deploying a parachute to land safely.

Historical Development

The concept of wingsuit flying dates back to the early 20th century. The first wingsuit was developed in the 1930s, but it was not until the late 1990s that modern wingsuit technology began to develop significantly. The invention of wingsuits that allowed for safer and more controlled flight revolutionized the sport, leading to its growing popularity among skydivers and BASE jumpers.

The Wingsuit

The wingsuit is a carefully engineered piece of equipment that resembles a flying squirrel’s body structure. It includes fabric between the legs and under the arms to create lift. Modern wingsuits are made of high-strength and lightweight materials, designed to maximize glide ratio – the distance traveled horizontally compared to vertically.

Skills and Training

Wingsuit flying is an advanced skill that requires significant experience in skydiving. Generally, a skydiver must have completed hundreds of regular skydives before transitioning to wingsuit flying. Training for wingsuit flying involves learning specific techniques for exiting the aircraft, controlling the suit in flight, navigating, and deploying the parachute.

Safety and Risks

Wingsuit flying is considered one of the most dangerous sports due to its high speeds and proximity to terrain, especially in BASE jumping scenarios. Safety is a paramount concern, and wingsuit flyers must have a deep understanding of their equipment, weather conditions, and flight planning. Despite advancements in wingsuit design and safety equipment, the inherent risks of the sport make comprehensive training and preparation essential.

Types of Wingsuit Flying

Wingsuit flying can be broadly classified into two categories:

  • Skydiving: This involves flying the wingsuit after jumping out of an airplane. It’s generally considered safer than BASE jumping as it provides more time and altitude for recovery in case of an emergency.
  • BASE Jumping: This involves jumping from fixed objects like cliffs, bridges, or buildings (BASE stands for Buildings, Antennas, Spans, and Earth). BASE jumping with a wingsuit is particularly challenging and risky due to the lower altitudes and more complex flight paths.

Competitions and Records

Wingsuit flying has its competitive scene, with events and competitions held globally. These competitions often involve tasks based on precision flying, time, and distance. Records in wingsuit flying are typically related to factors such as the longest flight in terms of time and distance.

Locations and Destinations

Certain locations around the world are renowned for wingsuit flying, particularly for BASE jumping. These include the fjords of Norway, the mountains of the Swiss Alps, and various national parks in the United States. These destinations are favored for their high cliffs and stunning scenery, providing ideal conditions for wingsuit flying.

Technological Advancements

The evolution of wingsuit technology continues to advance the sport. Improvements in suit design, materials, and aerodynamics are constantly being developed. Advances in safety equipment, such as more reliable parachute systems and wearable technology for monitoring flight, contribute to the progression of wingsuit flying.

Training Programs and Schools

There are specialized training programs and schools for those interested in learning wingsuit flying. These programs cover the fundamentals of wingsuit aerodynamics, safe flying practices, and emergency procedures. Training is often conducted by experienced instructors who guide new wingsuit flyers through a step-by-step progression.

The Future of Wingsuit Flying

The future of wingsuit flying looks towards greater safety and more advanced technologies. With the growing interest in human flight capabilities and extreme sports, wingsuit flying continues to attract thrill-seekers and adventurers. The community around wingsuit flying is also growing, fostering a culture of shared knowledge, experience, and a passion for this unique form of flight.

In conclusion, wingsuit flying represents the cutting edge of skydiving and human flight. It combines the thrill of free fall with the grace of gliding, offering an unparalleled experience for those who practice it. While the risks associated with the sport are significant, the advancements in technology and safety continue to attract a growing number of enthusiasts. As it evolves, wingsuit flying remains a testament to human innovation and the relentless pursuit of pushing the boundaries of adventure sports.