The Evolution of Wingsuit Flying

Posted by Michael on 13th Nov 2014

Skydivers have been dropping from the sky since the 12thcentury. As time has passed, these adrenaline junkies have pioneered new and exciting ways to bring themselves down to earth. Today, these same thrill seekers have designed parachute suits or, “wingsuits,” that mimic the art of flight while providing a gradual descent. The wingsuit might seem new to the skydiving community, but it has a storied history in and of itself.

Franz Reichelt was a French tailor who, on the 4thof February 1912, attempted the first wingsuit descent by jumping off the Eiffel Tower. His suit was a combination of parachutes and wings much like modern-day wingsuits. Unfortunately for Reichelt, at the age of 33, he fell to his death. Wingsuits would make another grand appearance in Los Angeles during the 1930s when 19 year old American, Rex Finney, in an attempt to increase horizontal maneuverability for sky divers, constructed a wingsuit made of canvas, wood, silk, steel and whale bone.

In 1999, skydivers Robert Pečnik of Croatia, and Jari Kuosma of Finland, designed a suit that was manageable for skydivers and maximized safety. That same year, Kuosma established Bird-Man International Ltd., while Penik designed the “Classic,” the first wingsuit distributed to the general sky diving public.

Wingsuits have now made their way into the base jumping community. Since 2003, base jumpers have been pushing the envelope and pioneering a sport quickly becoming the most dangerous of the extreme sports out there: WiBASE. On the 8thof June, 2006, a pair of Australian WiBASE jumpers, Heather Swan and Glenn Singleman, set the world record for highest jump at 21,780ft from Meru Peak in India. Russian WiBase jumper, Valery Rosov, recently broke that record in May of 2013, by jumping from a 23,690ft launch point on Mount Everest’s North Col.

Japanese wingsuit pilot, Shin Ito, recently captured the world record flight speed by traveling 226mph. The world record for longest WiBase flight was completed by American jumper, Dean Potter. His flight lasted 3 minutes and 20 seconds as he descended 9,200ft down Eiger Mountain for a distance of 4.7 miles.