December 15, 2007
From the "Why would you want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?" department

I just have one thing to say about this article: Any time a reporter can work in a Wile E. Coyote reference to what you're doing, that can't be a good thing.

Jeb Corliss wants to fly -- not the way the Wright brothers wanted to fly, but the way we do in our dreams. He wants to jump from a helicopter and land without using a parachute.

And his dream, strange as it sounds, is not unique. Around the globe, at least a half-dozen groups -- in France, South Africa, New Zealand, Russia and the United States -- are chasing this same flight of fancy. Although nobody is waving a flag, it is a quest that has evoked the spirit of nations' pursuits of Everest and the North and South poles.

"All of this is technically possible," said Jean Potvin, a physics professor at St. Louis University and skydiver who performs parachute research for the Army. But he acknowledged a problem: "The thing I'm not sure of is your margins in terms of safety, or likelihood to crash."

Loic Jean-Albert of France, better known as Flying Dude in a popular YouTube video, put it more bluntly: "You might do it well one time and try another time and crash and die."

The landing, as one might expect, poses the biggest hurdle, and each group has a different approach. Most will speak in only the vaguest terms out of fear that someone will steal their plans.

Corliss will wear nothing more than a wing suit, an invention that, aeronautically speaking, is more flying squirrel than bird or plane.


Wing suits are not new; they have captured the imagination of storytellers since man dreamed of flying. From Icarus to Wile E. Coyote, who crashed into a mesa on his attempt, the results have usually been disastrous.

But the suits' practical use began to take hold in the early 1990s, when a modern version created by Patrick de Gayardon proved safer and led to rapid innovation.

Modern suit design features tightly woven nylon sewn between the legs and between the arms and torso, creating wings that fill with air and create lift, allowing for forward motion and aerial maneuvers while slowing descent.

As the suits have become more sophisticated, so have the pilots. The best fliers, and there are not many, can trace the horizontal contours of cliffs, ridges and mountainsides.

I'm thinking the beta testing of these things was a challenge. At least you won't have to worry that you've accidentally grabbed someone's backpack instead of your parachute, I suppose.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 15, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

"Wile E. Coyote, who crashed into a mesa on his attempt"

It was MAKE BELIEVE! It didn't REALLY happen! *sigh* I can't believe they published that.

Posted by: Christine on December 15, 2007 1:53 PM

I read that article then spent about 30 minutes on youtube watching clips of people with flying suits. This one and this one are particularly awesome.

Note - I would never be able to do something like this, but it is fun to watch.

Posted by: joe on December 16, 2007 11:34 PM