Wingsuit landing without a parachute: How the heck do you do that?
In recent years, a cadre of about half a dozen people have declared their ambitions to jump from planes and land without the aid of a parachute. So far, two have succeeded and lived. In 2016, a guy named Luke Aikins jumped from 25,000 feet and landed in a giant net. [Well done, Luke! Watch below video to get your heart rate up a little…]
The most popular method discussed, however, is the method the other successful “un-parachutist” undertook: Landing a wingsuit without a parachute.
A wingsuit, as you probably know, is a fabric airfoil built to fit the human body. It inflates to a level of rigidity that allows the human to achieve significantly more glide than s/he would without it. Performance varies massively, as it’s influenced by everything from the shape of the person flying, to the design of the wingsuit, to the density altitude it’s flying in – but one reference notes about 186 mpg horizontal speed with a ~19 mph descent.
In order to land, you have to slow the heck down. If the wingsuit pilot has built up enough downward speed, they have the option of converting that downward speed to forward speed – but that only lasts for one vulnerable moment. Soon, the loss of velocity causes them to achieve more downward momentum than they had pre-maneuver.
In 2012, Gary Connery, a 42-year-old British stuntman, became the first person to complete a successful wingsuit landing without using a parachute. He jumped out of a helicopter with a wingsuit from an altitude of 2,400 feet.
The key to Gary’s success was his destination: the same cardboard boxes that have been cushioning his professional falls since he got started in the stunt business. Under that helicopter, volunteers had chipped in to set up a “landing strip” of 18,500 of ‘em – a 350-foot paper runway.
To land it, Gary used that phenomenon of conversion we talked about a little earlier bit – an aerial maneuver, called at “flare” – which slowed him down to about 50 mph of horizontal speed and about 15 mpg of vertical speed. Of course, belly-flopping into the hard ground at 15 mph from a height is not really, like, a super-survivable thing – hence the boxes. (That’s kinda like jumping off a 30-foot roof and belly-flopping onto the street.) The boxes broke his fall just fine, however, and Gary’s still skydiving.
Gary’s DIY solution came out of left field to kneecap the dream of famous wingsuit athlete Jeb Corliss. He wanted to be the first person to land a wingsuit without a parachute – but he needed funding. After all, his idea had a pretty chunky price tag when compared to a bunch of cardboard.
Corliss had designed a $3 million, 2000-foot-long landing ramp made of fabric and cabling. It was meant to be temporarily attached to the side of a Las Vegas casino. The design had a 20 x 20 entry gate at the top for him to squeak into and land like an Olympic ski jumper, matching the angle of the slope as closely as possible. If he’d managed to get enough curious investors lined up, it would have been interesting to see if he bounced right off the thing or melted with the resulting friction. (This writer would have been chewing her fingernails off watching the live feed, mark my words.)
You may have seen the video of a man doing a wingsuit landing on water. [If not – well worth the few minutes.]
Alas – this wingsuit landing was skillful trickery of editing, not reality. In fact, it was a stunt put on by tiny male grooming company “World of Wingman” who later admitted in a LinkedIn post that the viral video was purely intended to put their company on the map.
Nobody other than Gary has landed a wingsuit successfully without a parachute… but it’s still a feat with which the airsports community is keen to experiment. Watch this space for news of the next brave innovator!
And in case you’re pumped now to learn how to wingsuit – we’ll be happy to teach you in our very own Wingsuit School!