Wingsuit flying

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Wingsuits in flight
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 also called 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 so they can reach up to the control toggles and fly to a normal parachute landing.


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 (nicknamed “DeG”) 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. However, he planted the seed that grew a new generation of birdmen.

In 1998, Jari Kuosma of Finland and Robert Pecnik of Croatia teamed up to fulfill their dream of creating 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 beginners with a way to safely enjoy what was once considered dangerous 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.Bird-Man Worldwide Instructors list. Retrieved on 2008-01-28. Phoenix-Fly, Fly Your Body, and EG Wingsuits have also instituted an instructor training program.

On July 31, 2003, Austrian stuntman and skydiver, Felix Baumgartner, flew across the English Channel with a small carbon fiber wing strapped to his back, a hurtling 20 mile long freefall descent that reached top speeds of 220 mph.


Numerous suppliers have made many innovations over the last decade:

  • Loïc Jean-Albert developed a one-wing design which was manufactured and marketed by Parasport Italia as the Crossbow in 2000 Loic has since set up the wingsuit company Fly Your Body. In 2004 Robert Pecnik launched his own wingsuit company, Phoenix-Fly, contracting with Atair Aerodynamics to manufacture the suits. With a new level of safety and performance, the wingsuit pilots are back and rapidly growing.
  • Christian Stadler of Gladbeck designed three wingsuits between 2001 and 2006. The development included a narrow arm wing down to the ankle, a longer narrow leg wing and semi rigid wings from carbon fibre and high density foam. Later he did modifications to wingsuits like the “wing gloves”. He organized the first international wingsuit competition with prize money “SkyJester´s Wings over Marl” in 2005. Followed by S´WoM 2006 and S´WoM 2007. His VegaV3 system uses an electronic adjustable hydrogen peroxide rocket. This rocket provided 100 kgf of thrust, it produces no flames or poisonous fumes. His first powered jump was in 2007.
  • On October 25th of 2005 in Lahti Finland, the BirdMan Rocket Team successfully experimented with small jet engines attached to the feet of BirdMan Visa Parviainen. The jets provided approximately 16 kgf of thrust each and ran on kerosene (JetA-1) fuel. Visa was able to achieve approximately 30 seconds of horizontal flight with no noticeable loss of altitude. Once the fuel ran out, Visa continued to fly in normal Birdman flight until deployment altitude. Deployment and landing were uneventful. The flight was considered a success as it proved that level human flight was not only possible but sustainable with the use of jet engines and a Birdman suit. Similarly successful experiments have also been undertaken with the SkyRay wing system. Visa Parviainen made a second flight in February of 2006, with similar results.
  • In 2006 Tony Uragallo of Tony Suits in Zephyrhills developed a new generation of wingsuits that feature easy donning (very much like camera suits) and “webbies” (integrated webbed gloves).
  • In 2007 Edgardo Guerrero of EG Suits and Nick Rugai of Nitro Rigging developed and introduced a new gamma of high performance wingsuits that incorporate new design features and the use of different materials.


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 while exiting, and the way in which the flier will spread their legs and arms at the proper time so as not to hit the aircraft or become unstable in the 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 their parachute, a wingsuit flier will deploy their 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. However, most Wingsuit flyers believe the “runway” requirements of a parachute-less landing today make the attempt premature and the results will not likely yield anything more than a sensational video and spending of other peoples money. The quest of landing a Wingsuit is not sought by the majority of Wingsuit flyers.

A wingsuit flier manipulates the shape of their body to create the desired amount of lift and drag. With body shape manipulation and by choosing the design characteristics of the wingsuit, a flier can alter both their forward speed and their fall rate towards the Earth. A pilot can choose to manipulate their fall rate towards Earth with the goal of achieving the slowest vertical speed, 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 their 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 measure their performance relative to their goals with the use of freefall computers that will indicate the amount of time they were in flight, at what altitude they deployed their parachute, and the altitude in which 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 or from 180 to 225 km/h. A wingsuit can reduce these speeds dramatically, a momentary speed of 25 mph or 40 km/h has been recorded, however 60 mph or 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, allow for even greater horizontal travel. Currently, there are two basic wingsuit types. The tri-wing Wingsuit which 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.


Bigway wingsuit formation

In many ways, wingsuits allow humans to imitate birds, allowing the human arms and legs to become wings. Flying a wingsuit with a group of wingsuit pilots allows the group to imitate a flock of birds, and hence is called “flocking.” BASE jumpers who fly their wingsuits in close proximity to cliff walls will experience many of the same visual sensations that a hawk would experience flying the same path.

Wingsuit flying appeals to skydivers and BASE jumpers because flying a wingsuit can easily increase freefall time from the average 60 second skydive up to 3 minutes of freefall time. Wingsuit pilots are constantly trying to lower their vertical speeds via different flying techniques, giving more time to experience the freedom and sensations of human flight.

Wingsuit flying is one of the few skydiving disciplines that allows skydivers to hear each other talk in freefall. Because of the slow fall rate, there is less noise from the passing air and wingsuit pilots can actually talk to other wingsuit pilots when flying next to each other.

Wingsuit flying even comes with its own sub-disciplines such as speed, lift, distance, aerobatics, flocking, formations, horizontal freeflying, canopy and wingsuit relative work, and more. Wingsuit flying is still a relatively young discipline, and the full potential is still unexplored, yet many ways to enjoy flying wingsuits have already been discovered.


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 without instruction.

Wingsuit manufacturers offer training courses and certify instructors.

See also


Bird-Man Worldwide Instructors list (HTML). Retrieved on 2008-01-28.

Phoenix fly Instructors list (HTML). Retrieved on 2008-01-28.


  1. Birdman Flies Atair Parachutes Across English Channel
  2. RocketBird Arctic Test
  3. Test Flights For World Record Landing Attempt: Wingsuit: Minus Parachute!

External links

  • 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. ISBN 1-0000-0000-0.