The X Wing Project

  • Jan 6, 2014 1:41pm GMT

It all started with Clement Joseph Sohn from Fowler, Michigan. He designed and flew a wingsuit in the 1930s.

Then in 1956, a French man called L’eo Valentin also had the dream of flying like a bird. Valentin however, took it one step further. He was not satisfied experimenting with fabric. He had a different approach. He designed wings that were rigid. Valentin thought that the rigid wing approach would provide a more efficient airfoil and thus better glide performance, he was right. Some witnesses say he could fly over three miles.

In recent history, an Austrian named Felix Baumgartner inspired me when he became the first person to glide across the English Channel using an non-powered carbon fiber wing strapped to his back. He was successful, crossing the channel in 14 minutes covering a staggering 21 miles. Shortly after Flex’s success I became aware of Yves Rossy (Jetman). I remember reading an article about him flying over the Swiss Alps on a rigid wing. A design he had worked on for over 8 years at the time. A carbon fiber jet powered wing capable of sustained flight.

As a wingsuit pilot and airshow performer I knew instantly that is what I wanted to do. It seemed impossible, how do you go about designing a wing that will fly when you strap in to your back?

After approaching some very large aviation composite companies, I knew it was not feasible for me to pay the excessive sums of money for research and development or design and manufacture of a wing. So with an EAA spirit I started talking to my friends about the project. In my head I was asking, ‘could we build a wing ourselves?’

When I mentioned it to my good friend Jason Johanson, a general building contractor and flight instructor from Turlock, CA, he loved the idea and told me he knew a farmer that dabbled in airfoil design. Twenty minutes later, we jumped on a couple of small dirt bikes and rode 2 miles through the long rows of almond orchards to arrive at Bob’s house. I will never forget the first time I met Bob, a humble farmer. His workshop was a little messy, dusty and dark. An old CNC machine was in the middle of the room and a series of drill presses, lathes and other interesting machinery used for farming were scattered around. In the middle of the shop was a dusty PC computer. Little did I know at the time but that PC, the old CNC (that Bob built himself) and this humble farmer would shape the future of our project.

Bob took an interest in what we were doing and agreed to design the delta wing, reflex airfoil we needed for safe tailless flight. Two hundred hours later Bob finally said he was ready to turn on the CNC machine and cut an airfoil profile. As the CNC spooled up and started cutting the shape, it sent shivers down my spine. The perfect airfoil curve emerged from a blank piece of wood. For me it was the first time the project felt very real. We were doing it!

During the time Bob was designing the airfoil, Jason was researching fiberglass and composite construction. Using some of Burt Rutan’s methods we hot-wired foam core and our wing came to life. Both working hard at full time jobs, for the next 15 months Jason and I had many late nights, fueled by Red Bull and passion. We slowly built the wing, working things out as we progressed. Adding the harness hard-points, winglets and control surfaces, carbon fiber panels and glassing everything over. Everyone we spoke with about the project offered help and time. It’s amazing what sharing a passion with people can do! Jason’s next-door neighbor Sean, came around to check out what we were doing up so late. Sean works as a window tinting during the week and custom car engineer during the weekend. Sean looked at the wing and quickly offered to give it sex appeal! For hours he body worked our messy composite work and painted it a beautiful blue.