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Flying Humans 330

Posted by kdawson
from the that-trick-never-works dept.
mlimber sends us to the NYTimes for a story about flying people who jump from planes or other high locations wearing a wing suit akin to a flying squirrel's. Their efforts have potential military and Xtreme sports applications. The story profiles, with video, one guy who wants to be the first to jump from a plane and land without a parachute (and live). Here's a YouTube video of another of these fliers skimming six feet above skiers in the Swiss Alps. Quoting: "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, which cost about $1,000, 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."
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Flying Humans

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  • 64 years late! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Eric Smith (4379) * <eric@broDEBIANuhaha.com minus distro> on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @10:57PM (#21666443) Homepage Journal

    one guy who wants to be the first to jump from a plane and land without a parachute (and live)
    He's at least 64 years too late. Alan Magee [wikipedia.org] and Nick Alkemade [wikipedia.org] already survived jumps from aircraft without parachutes in 1943 and 1944.
    • Re:64 years late! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Architect_sasyr (938685) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:00PM (#21666465)
      That and this sort of thing has been around for years. Outside of of the cinema and within, take the angels in "Reign of Fire", I'm pretty sure I've even seen it in a bond flick. The Guinness Book of Records has something of it. Slow news day at /. HQ?
    • Re:64 years late! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Repton (60818) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:36PM (#21666787) Homepage

      That's not quite the same thing -- they didn't plan to jump without a parachute. If you throw enough people out of aeroplanes (as WWII did), it's not quite so amazing if a couple survive. This guy wants to be one from one -- much more difficult.

      • Re:64 years late! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ottothecow (600101) <ottothecow@NosPam.gmail.com> on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:55PM (#21666935) Homepage
        When you think about it, it doesn't really matter how far they fall as long as it is past a certain threshold.

        With a the wind resistance of a skydiver on earth, you would reach your terminal velocity of around 125MPH in about 1500ft or about the height of the sears tower.

        Of course this still is pretty high and has a very high risk of death, it would result in only the same risk of death as a fall from 15,000 ft.

        • by jamesh (87723)
          i wonder if being in the relaxed state of unconsciousness would make any difference to the injuries sustained when you hit the ground... as you probably would be in a fall from a high enough altitude
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Eric Smith (4379) *
        In the cases I cited, the people apparently did plan to jump without a parachute. They were faced with two alternatives, of which both were likely fatal, and chose to jump.

        I disagree with your assessment that "it's not quite so amazing if a couple survive." Someone falling from tens of thousands of feet with no protection and surviving is amazing by any reasonable standard.

        This guy wants to be one from one -- much more difficult.

        I disagree with that also. If you plan it for months or years, develop

        • by djw (3187)

          If you plan it for months or years, develop suitable technology, model and simulate it, do various tests before the real attempt, etc., it should be much less difficult to survive it than if you're forced to do it by circumstances.
          Isn't that like saying it's much less difficult to become President after you've won the election?
        • Re:64 years late! (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Megane (129182) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:01AM (#21670625) Homepage
          Okay, fine. Then this guy can become the first to survive two jumps without a parachute.
    • Vesna Vulovic (Score:3, Informative)

      by XSforMe (446716)
      Vesna Vulovic [wikipedia.org], a stewardess for JAT airlines holds the world record for surviving a free fall without a parachute.
      • Sorry to quibble, but she wasn't in free fall. She survived by being in part of a damaged plane. There are lots of people who have survived crash landings of airplanes that came down in multiple pieces.

        She may hold the record for the longest fall among those people.
      • by goatpunch (668594)
        She didn't have a parachute, but she did however have half a DC-9 around her. This could have both lowered the terminal velocity, and cushioned the impact through providing a crumple zone. There could have been seat cushioning and, rather unpleasently, other bodies around her too.

        I think it's more accurate to say that she survived a plane crash in half a plane than freefall without a parachute.

        Either way it's an impressive and extremely fortunate piece of accident survival.
    • I'm sure many, many people have jumped from aircraft without parachutes and survived. It's just that the aircraft were parked on the runway, or in the hangar at the time. :-)

      Of course, navy frogmen jump out of helicopters into the sea all the time, and I'm sure that there were many soldiers being dropped off in combat (ie Vietnam) who jumped out of helicopters while they were still flying. Heck, it wouldn't even surprise me if someone dug up a reference of pre-WWI barnstormers having people jump out of
      • reference of pre-WWI barnstormers having people jump out of the planes into haystacks.

        Extremely unlikely, since barnstorming was a POST WW1 phenomenom. A side effect of a whole bunch of ex-fighter pilots and ex-fighters. Neither of which existed pre-WW1

      • by Eric Smith (4379) *
        Did you even look at the links I posted before replying? I wasn't talking about people jumping off aircraft parked on runways. I cited examples of people who jumped without parachutes from altitudes more than 15000 feet above ground level.
    • by goatpunch (668594)
      Unfortunately some of these anecdotal stories are quite hard to believe. Often the onlookers have confused a partially open parachute with no parachute at all, or the already impressive survival story gets exaggerated up from a partially opened parachute, to no parachute at all. The most plausible ones involve decellaration over a decent distance, like hitting a dense tree + falling into deep snow underneath, etc.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @10:58PM (#21666453)
    The best fliers, and there are not many,
    That is because the bad one die.

    Darwinism in action
  • by davidwr (791652) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @10:59PM (#21666455) Homepage Journal
    In Soviet Russia, Boris and Natasha get Moose and Flying Human.
    • by hazem (472289) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @12:02AM (#21667029) Journal
      You joke about Soviet Russia, but when I was a paratrooper - many years ago - there were stories of how the Russians would drop airborne troops by flying very low and dropping them into to snow drifts.

      Maybe they just told us that so we wouldn't bitch about how fast we hit the ground WITH parachutes... One thing the army taught me is that someone ALWAYS has it worse.
      • by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @12:49AM (#21667351) Homepage Journal
        Yeah, the Russian commanders probably told them that they didn't have it so bad - the guys who were drafted in the summer had to do it without snow.
        • Maybe it's because I was expecting some "well actually, according to reports from , Russians really blah blah blah" type response, but I got a good laugh out of that post.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by AJWM (19027)
        Which reminds me of the story of a group of draftees (this goes back a ways) who were selected to begin jump training. They were told how they'd begin jumping the next day. There was some muttering and in response to "Any questions?", one soldier asks "how high will we be jumping from, sir?"
        "About 2,500 feet."
        More muttering, and the guy hesitantly raises his hand to ask another question: "Uh, couldn't we start a little lower, maybe 200 feet?"
        "200 feet!? Good
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by AndersOSU (873247)
        How long does it take to train a paratrooper?






        Three weeks.
        The first week they separate the men from the boys.
        The second week they separate the men from the fools.
        The third week they throw the fools out of a plane.
  • by Marko DeBeeste (761376) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @10:59PM (#21666457)
    ...from Acme products. Tragically the roadrunner continues to elude me.
  • Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Meshach (578918) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @10:59PM (#21666459)
    I love the quote from the article:

    Which leads to an obvious and inevitable question: Why?
    "Because everybody thinks that it's not possible," Mr. Corliss said. "The point is to show people anything can be done. If you want to do amazing things, then you have to take amazing risks."
    That sums up so much. Why does any one do anything? Who does anyone jump out from the sky? Why does anyone contribute to open source?

    Because it is there
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FooAtWFU (699187) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:19PM (#21666639) Homepage
      Bah. I am skeptical. I think there's another answer, for when the reality of it being possible sets in: because flying is danged fun.

      I mean, why do people go on roller coasters? Not because it's impossible, that's for sure...

      • Stress -> Adrenalin & Norepinephrine -> Physical and mental euphoria

        Hardly works for an open source, though some uber-optimization can give a brain spasm to those trying to fix a bug in it :)
      • by SL Baur (19540)

        when the reality of it being possible sets in: because flying is danged fun.
        Yeah, even something as tame as para-sailing. Did that for the first time last month.

        Of course, any kind of flying where you don't have to strip half naked, pass through metal detectors and get searched by goons would be fun too. Only problem with those suits is that I'll bet lighting cigarettes is pretty tough.
    • by Aneurysm (680045)
      I like your point, but i'm not entirely sure that contributing to open source software is the same death-defying act of derring-do as jumping out of a plane with a few thin pieces of lycra stretched between my arms whilst skirting the edges of vertical rock faces.

      • by Meshach (578918)
        Okay Aneurysm, I'll give you that one.

        I was not necessarily saying that open source is just as exciting as jumping out of a plane. I am just saying that it is something that people often do because they enjoy the challenge, not for any particular intrinsic benefit.
        • Re:Why? (Score:5, Funny)

          by Aneurysm (680045) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:53PM (#21666917)
          Sorry, I didn't mean to jibe. I know what you're saying and I agree, althought I think the quote is more about making huge risks for huge gains (but also potential losses). Sometimes it just feels like Godwins Law somtimes on slashdot though, except like this: As a Slashdot thread grows longer, the probability of a comparison to the benefits of open source approaches one. In fact I name it Aneurysm's law :)
          • by Meshach (578918)

            Sorry, I didn't mean to jibe...
            No jibe occurred. I agree with you sentiments entirely. I was just hoping to extract something out of this mess. However I have have scummed to the law of averages....
        • Hey! (Score:5, Funny)

          by markov_chain (202465) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @12:14AM (#21667115) Homepage

          I was not necessarily saying that open source is just as exciting as jumping out of a plane.
          Speak for yourself there, buddy! :)
        • by elronxenu (117773)
          But there is an intrinsic benefit to contributing to Open Source.

    • by jcr (53032)
      Hey, has anyone survived driving an ice pick through the base of their skull and swishing it around a few times?

      The guy's a Darwin Award applicant.

      -jcr

  • by wildsurf (535389) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:00PM (#21666471) Homepage
    The best fliers, and there are not many

    Darwin in action.
    • Re:Darwin Awards (Score:4, Insightful)

      by cowscows (103644) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:08PM (#21666527) Journal
      Actually, doesn't the term "the best" by definition sort of mean there can't be that many? The best means superior to all others, and unless you're talking about something that has an absolute and measurable limit to "perfection", then "the best" is a pretty exclusive club.
      • Actually, doesn't the term "the best" by definition sort of mean there can't be that many? The best means superior to all others, and unless you're talking about something that has an absolute and measurable limit to "perfection", then "the best" is a pretty exclusive club.

        Seriously!

        The Best is a *very* exclusive club.

        THE Best means implicitly that (as made famous in The Highlander)

        There Can Be Only One

        People who write such phrases as

        The best fliers, and there are not many

        write such crap/drivel/rubbish because they don't have anything useful to contribute, but they get paid "by the word" so the more syllables they sprout the more money they make. If they're just spouting off in a public forum (eg like slashdot) they obviously think that taking 20 minutes to contribute 5 seconds of information is proof that they're intellige

  • An understatement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iamacat (583406) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:01PM (#21666479)
    The landing, as one might expect, poses the biggest challenge,

    I would say it's the only challenge actually. Gliding around in any winged suit is fun and safe as long as you still open the chute at the end.
    • by blastwave (757518) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:13PM (#21666579)
      The principal difficulty seems to be in throwing oneself at the ground and missing.
    • by grcumb (781340)

      The landing, as one might expect, poses the biggest challenge,

      I would say it's the only challenge actually. Gliding around in any winged suit is fun and safe as long as you still open the chute at the end.

      Pilots have a saying that sums things up quite nicely: "Take-off is optional. Landing is compulsory."

    • by Riktov (632)
      As described in the article and accompanying video, in this case that challenge is very circumscribed: he will "land" in a $2 million "landing trap" that has a 20' x 20' entrance which funnels into a gradually decreasing slope, like a ski jump landing. He's not going to be "hitting the ground" in any meaningful way.
    • I would say it's the only challenge actually
      Absolutely! Gravity does all the work for you. If you don't do anything, you will still continue to fall.
  • I ponder (Score:5, Interesting)

    by downix (84795) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:03PM (#21666487) Homepage
    would it be possible to use an engine to turn these gliders into true flying suits? Similar to the Bell suit, but with real lift to allow it to fly for longer?
  • by inflamed (1156277) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:03PM (#21666491) Homepage
    Kinda like Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story
  • Bad news... (Score:2, Informative)

    "one guy who wants to be the first to jump from a plane and land without a parachute (and live"

    I have some bad news for this idiot. Plenty of people have survived jumping out of planes without parachutes.

    Nick Alkemade was an RAF tail gunner in World War II who jumped out of his flaming plane and fell 18,000 feet. He only suffered a sprained leg after he hit a tree and landed in snow.

    Vesna Vulovic was a flight attendant who fell out of a plane after an explosion, fell in snow, and survived.
  • Are their any true airfoils involved? This seems like nothing more than a creative way to fall.
    • Re:Flying? (Score:5, Funny)

      by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:20PM (#21666653) Homepage

      Are their any true airfoils involved? This seems like nothing more than a creative way to fall.

      "That's not flying, it's falling with style"

      Woody, Toy Story
    • by KC1P (907742)
      I wouldn't know about this in particular, but single-surface hang gliders effectively create an airfoil by defining the top and letting a pool of dead air (uh, or something, I'm sure not an AeroE) define the rest. So I imagine that's what they mean about this thing.

      Obviously, when they say "lift" they just mean it contributes an upward component to the whole system. They're still plummeting. The clips I've seen look they're doing a little better than 1:1 (which is actually pretty impressive, considering)
      • by SL Baur (19540)

        Obviously, when they say "lift" they just mean it contributes an upward component to the whole system.

        Well, um, yes. When you have a wing that's in the right shape, and you move air fast enough past it on top of it, it's pulled up. How that is done safely is the $!0,000,000 question and there are only two companies left still in the business. You can see the effect just by blowing across a sheet of paper held in your hand.

        You wouldn't need as heavy of an engine if you were starting out dropped from a plane, you also wouldn't need an over-sophisticated wing design because you are starting out with enough

  • by greenbird (859670) * on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:07PM (#21666519)

    These things have been around for 10 years. Google Birdman Suit [bird-man.com] or go to any skydiving boogie. Anyone with a D license can demo one.

    • Yep... I'll bet there's even a record for longest sustained flight using such a suit. If I recall correctly, the method for landing is something to the effect of making the landing entry as close to horizontal as possible and sliding in along the stomach.

      Not something I'd ever want to try, but interesting anyway.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Leebert (1694)
      Yeah, Here's a picture of a friend of mine jumping from a skyvan with one on:

      http://leebert.org/skydive/jump2.jpg [leebert.org]

      Sad that the flash didn't fire as I expected. Would have been a great shot.

      (I took up skydiving two summers ago... I finally actually finished AFF last summer. Hopefully will get my "A" license this spring, when it warms back up again.)
  • Apparently my title isn't enough to qualify as a post. I will regale you with this snippet from my email of today...

    This is to inform you that the situation earlier today regarding a potential problem with a student did not occur and the library has been reopened.
  • This is neither news nor for nerds !
  • Patrick De Gayardon (Score:4, Informative)

    by goatpunch (668594) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:19PM (#21666633)
    Patrick was working on developing these winged suits before he died when a rigging error caused his parachute to malfunction. He was planning a way of skiing with one of these suits, so that he could take off and land on the way down. http://www.bpa.org.uk/skydive/pages/people/gayardon.htm [bpa.org.uk]

    Blue Skies Patrick
  • that YouTube video is Awesome.
  • by pigiron (104729) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:25PM (#21666687) Homepage
    In 1960 William Rankin ejected from his F8U Crusader jet at 48,000 feet and his parachute was ripped away in the jet stream. He traveled 150 miles and didn't come down for an hour. There are more stories like it here: http://www.greenharbor.com/fffolder/ffreading.html [greenharbor.com]
  • Safe Practice (Score:3, Informative)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:47PM (#21666871) Homepage Journal
    The tricky part of these wingsuits is how to practice enough to get good, without smashing to goo because you're not good enough.

    Now there's a solution, that's probably fun enough in itself that many "skydivers" won't ever have to take a risk at all: SkyVenture [skyventure.com] has wind tunnels set up around the world expressly for simulating skydiving, but without jumping out of a plane. Jumps that last 2-3 minutes, with 45-60 minute setup and plane rides each jump, can now spend hours just "diving" in the chamber.

    Maybe once the skills of maneuvering are learned in the tunnel, a suit wearer can tackle the real sport: facing the fear of jumping out of a plane with nothing but a simulator history to save them from smashing to bits.
    • by ashitaka (27544)
      Given the usual cost of these things it's 45 minutes of setup and video training followed by 3 or 4 "jumps" of 2-3 minutes max.

      All for $75+.

  • Better video (Score:5, Informative)

    by blhack (921171) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:54PM (#21666931)
    There is a much better video of what you can do with one of these suits Here [snotr.com]
  • by PPH (736903) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @12:04AM (#21667047)
    It would be interesting to see if any legit aerodynamics analysis and/or testing has been done on these suits?

    It appears that the suits are just trading vertical speed for horizontal speed. That might keep the flyer from making a crater in a field somewhere, but the human body won't tolerate a 100 MPH slide along the ground very well either. It might be possible to 'land' on a ski slope or a lake. But if the goal is to set down on flat ground, that speed will have to be reduced.

    The aero folks get concerned with things like wing loading, drag and stall speed when figuring aircraft landing characteristics. The same would appear to apply here. Unfortunately, we already know what one suitable (no pun intended) glider configuration looks like that is safe for humans. It's a paraglider configuration. I don't think you can hang that much airfoil between your arms and legs.

    • I don't think you can hang that much airfoil between your arms and legs.

      Buddy, let me tell you, I've got plenty of airfoil where it counts.
    • by B3ryllium (571199)
      I don't think you can hang that much airfoil between your arms and legs.

      Not with today's fabrics. But perhaps ... with some sort of nanotech-inspired hyperlifting fabric design from the future? :)
    • by Riktov (632)
      As the article states, the goal is *not* to set down on flat ground -- that's pretty much out of the question. He will be landing on a ski slope-like device.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Jarik C-Bol (894741)
      there was an article in popular science some time ago about these suits, that went into some detail about the physics of it all. The trouble turns out to be, that if you built a suit with enough wing material to give you enough drag to go slow enough to land without a normal 'chute, you'd rip your arms and legs off when you jumped out of the plane. the wings we have at this point are just shy of the maximum size the human body can stand to open mid flight without loosing an appendage. Thus, as it stands now
      • I once saw an illustration of how a man would look like if he had the sternum and pecs that would be needed to support wings like those of a bird. The diameter of the breast (front to back) was about triple that of a normal human. Which makes me wonder if people like these [tripod.com] could pull it off - maybe after losing some of the weight in places where it's not really necessary (and pulling those socks out of the undies to improve aerodynamics ;).
  • by jpellino (202698) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @12:06AM (#21667065)
    "Say what's a mountain goat doing way up here in a cloud bank?"

  • I often have dreams where I'm flying like these guys. Oddly, in these dreams I never question that it should be impossible; it feels like the most normal thing, even though no one else in my dreams can fly.

    Maybe I'll try one out someday...

  • Pass... (Score:3, Funny)

    by thatskinnyguy (1129515) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @12:19AM (#21667149)
    Just look at the suit! It would sharply direct 140mph air at my man parts!
  • I want to see a flying suit where the guy makes it up off the ground, into the air, tools around and then comes back down in one piece. The rub, of course, is that the engines so far aren't up to the task of a vertical take-off and a horizontal take-off brings to mind someone on jet roller skates or a belly toboggan with wheels.

    Come to think of it, landing in one of these jet suits would also be tricky. Parafoil guys can manage a running landing because the wing has great lift at low speeds. The batsuit guy
    • by joto (134244)

      I want to see a flying suit where the guy makes it up off the ground, into the air, tools around and then comes back down in one piece. The rub, of course, is that the engines so far aren't up to the task of a vertical take-off and a horizontal take-off brings to mind someone on jet roller skates or a belly toboggan with wheels.

      Or you could just jump off a high cliff (or bridge, or whatever). If it works from a plane, it works from a tall structure as well. The difficult part is still the landing.

      The bat

  • A suit? (Score:5, Funny)

    by omnipresentbob (858376) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @12:59AM (#21667449) Homepage
    And here I thought it was Python [xckd.com]...
  • "The Gypsy Moths" a 1969 movie starring BurtLancaster and Gene Hackman had a 'fly suit' like that. I remeber Burt Lancaster's charater "jumping the Cape' and flying it into the ground.
  • "The best fliers, and there are not many, can trace the horizontal contours of cliffs, ridges and mountainsides."

    I'm confused. The worst fliers, people who are merely falling... do they trace the horizontal or vertical contours?

  • Source [greenharbor.com]

    Admit it: You want to be the sole survivor of an airline disaster. You aren't looking for a disaster to happen, but if it does, you see yourself coming through it. I'm here to tell you that you're not out of touch with reality--you can do it. Sure, you'll take a few hits, and I'm not saying there won't be some sweaty flashbacks later on, but you'll make it. You'll sit up in your hospital bed and meet the press. Refreshingly, you will keep God out of your public comments, knowing that it's unfair to

    • by ColaMan (37550) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @04:44AM (#21668633) Homepage Journal
      Look around for a proportionate personal vehicle--some large, flat, aerodynamically suitable piece of wreckage.

      Unfortunately at this point, all those bits are still wayyyy above you, flapping about as they tumble gently to earth. You, however, having been in the "dead spider" position for a few minutes, are wayyyy below them. Bummer.

      But still, keep your hopes up and your mind clear, and you'll be able to take some nice shots with your cameraphone, smiling and waving cheekily as you plumment to earth. Try and get into one of those legs-crossed hindu levitation positions for the last ones - they'll look a treat.
  • Video on NYTimes page shows Perris, California, USA. Look at time point 3:05, Lake Perris is visible in upper left portion of screen. Here is google maps link: http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=33.803685,-117.193909&spn=0.169743,0.216637&z=12&om=1 [google.com]
  • It's not that cheap to do this sort of stuff right? Equipment, practice, fees, travel and accomodation expenses etc.

  • by Aqualung812 (959532) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @09:46AM (#21669985)

    The best fliers, and there are not many, can trace the horizontal contours of cliffs, ridges and mountainsides.

    Would there not be many because few have tried, or because when you try you have two outcomes: Live or die? Those that live become the best I assume? What about the average ones?

    It reminds me of a saying: "There are stupid exterme skiers and there are old extreme skiers, but there are no old, stupid extreme skiers..."

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