As kids many of us dreamed of flying like a bird, soaring among the clouds. I think it’s a dream everybody has had at least once. For some that dream is real, whether we choose to be supported by wings, rotor blades, or simply fabric between our arms and legs. Humans have taken to the sky in many different forms and continue pioneer new, unique and creative ways to fly.
For me the essence of true flight does not come from big heavy engines, large wings and a fuselage that encapsulates you. I think true flight is flying with your body, by simply spreading your wings and legs like a bird. As Leonardo Da Vinci said, “Once you have tasted flight you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward”. That quote is so true.
I remember my first taste of flight. It was July 2, 2005 in Sydney Australia when the door of a Beaver aircraft opened. Between the ground and I was 14,000ft of empty space, a bone chilling wind violently blasted my face. I will never forget it. I turned to my instructor with a very wimpy look of hesitation. He had seen that look before and beckoned me to climb out. My body said no, but my mind said yes. I took a solid grip the handle outside the Beaver, my heart pounding as the cold air blasted my face, then I thought to myself ‘you’re standing on the outside of an perfectly good airplane and you’re going to jump’. A smile cracked over my cheeks, the fear started to disappear. I was overcome, not with anxiety but with a sense of peace, a sense of belonging. “Out, in GO”. I watched the plane get smaller as I fell away into the 14,000ft void. I was free, flying like a bird. However realistically I was dropping like a rock!
In the 2005 skydiving was progressing quickly and I soon became fascinated with an emerging trend of flying wingsuits. Wingsuits are a fabric suit that turns the body into an aerofoil. Simply stated wingsuiting is the sport of flying the human body like a bird. It is commonly referred to as squirrel suiting or bat suiting.
You may be wondering why some people think it’s a good idea to zip into a fabric suit and jump from a perfectly good airplane or off a cliff! It’s for the same reason you enjoy lifting off in your J3 Cub, Cessna, Bonanza, R44 or jet. It’s to experience flight.
Wingsuit flight has a long and rich history. The first wingsuit was flown in the 1930s...
The suits was designed and made by a man called Clement Joseph Sohn from Fowler, Michigan. He patented his wingsuit idea under United States Patent number 2067423 (photo below). The patent was awarded on Jan 12 1937. Like me he was an air show performer, traveling the world demonstrating the potential of human flight. I feel honored to be following in his footsteps flying my wingsuit at air shows all over the world once again demonstrating human flight. As with most things in aviation we have come along way since the 1930s.
Shon would jump from an aircraft at the height of 15,000ft and glide all the way down to about 800ft before deploying his round parachute for a safe landing. It is exactly the same way we do it today however most wingsuit jumps are made from a height of about 13,000ft gliding to about 2,500ft before deploying our square (ram air) parachutes. Opening our parachutes above 2,500ft gives us enough altitude to work a reserve chute if needed.