Thursday, January 7, 2010

Humans Who Fly

A daring few are making the legend of Icarus a reality.

Known as wingsuiting, its history goes back to the 1930s but really took off in the 1990s. Wingsuiting exploits the webbing of flying squirrel's to glide across the sky. The average skydiver falls at ~120 mph (terminal velocity) and can soar horizontally up to 60 mph vs. wingsuiters who reach 60 mph and glide at speeds up to 90 mph. Wingsuiters go 3 ft forward for every 1 ft down. Wingsuiters either jump from a plane, like skydivers, or off a high-standing structure (e.g. mountain), much like base jumpers do.

To understand wingsuit physics, understand that air behaves like a fluid. The force resisting your hand when stuck out the car window behaves similar to water which tries to resist your hand's forward motion. During flight: 1) gravity pulls the flying object down, 2) Downward momentum of the object meets the resistance of the air creates lift, 3) A flat surface gives preference to lift over the pull of gravity, creating a net upward lift. Wingsuiters still need a parachute because the lift is not enough to offset the pull of gravity.

Check out this unbelievable video.

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