Miracles really do fly


We’ve all had the human flying dream, you know, a species favorite involving the surreal sensation of taking flight, soaring over our towns and surrendering to the wind as it whips the fibers of your facial hair.

Waking up is always unwelcome, and the act seems so chimerical…until now.

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re coming closer than ever to capturing that dream.

Although a sort of “clothing device” is required to survive this extreme sport, it is surprisingly sleek and the feeling incredibly close to being natural, let me introduce to you, the “wingsuit,” or more popularly known as a “birdman suit” or “squirrel suit.”

The art of the contraption has to do with how the fabric is sewn between the legs and arms creating an airfoil shape. But back to how I found out about this craziness. TED.com is a Web site developed by those in the academic organization TED, an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and is owned by the Sapling Foundation.

TED hosts lectures at their annual invitation-only conferences that were held in Monterey, Calif. but moved to Long Beach, Calif. for 2009 due to their increased success and popularity. Upwards of 400 videos are free to view online at TED.com. I heard about it through the grapevine and have been frequenting it ever since. TED’s catch phrase is “ideas worth spreading,” and boy, I couldn’t agree more.

The specific lecture that introduces this base-jumping technology features Ueli Gegenschatz, a 30-something-year-old Switzerland native from a city called Apenzellerland, so of course he was bound to be charismatic.

The TEDTalks opens with Gegenschatz giving the audience a briefing on his personal history as an aerialist. Having first taken a plunge from the sky in 1989, he has since taken home many awards, performed ridiculous base-jumping stunts and most importantly, mastered the potential of the wingsuit.

The idea of a wingsuit has been in the works since the 1930s, although it wasn’t until 1998 that Jari Kuosma and Robert Pecnik joined forces to build a wingsuit that was both safe and attainable, according to Birdman Inc.’s website.

There, it explicates the non-technical mechanics of the contraption. Basically, a wingsuit flier jumps off of something, whether it be a hot air balloon, the Matterhorn, the Petronis Twin Towers or an airplane.

The fliers wear a wingsuit as well as parachute equipment for landing alive. Developers are attempting to be able to land a wingsuit parachute-free, but at this point, it is simply too risky and still in the research stages.

The aerialist then experiences an intense vertical drop, and the wingsuit uses the forces of gravity in order to generate the airspeed that the suit then converts into an incredible amount of lift. From there comes the phenomenal part, the wingsuit flier can then manipulate the form of his or her body to create the due amount of lift and drag – resulting in an epic spectacle of balls-to-the-wall horizontal bird action. Literal flying! To get technical, the lift-to-drag ration is typically 2.5:1.

On an entirely higher level than commonplace parachuting, this extreme sport seeks to defy the laws of nature. I urge each and every one of you to take a look at the TEDTalks session on TED.com, type in wingsuit in the search bar and click on the first video that pops up. The music the video director paired the jump to couldn’t be more perfect.

Goosebumps are guaranteed to follow.