April 2, 2012
The first parachute jump from an airplane was in 1912 followed by the test jumpers in the 1930’s that tried a number of different wing arrangements to provide better tracking. While these early “birdmen” used different materials for performance, this strategy proved to interfere with both the exiting of the airplane and the activation of their parachutes, resulting in many casualties. Of the 75 original pioneers, 72 birdmen were killed testing new designs and techniques between 1930 and 1961. In response to this high fatality rate, the United States Parachute Association (UAPA) banned the use of wings in skydiving.
Fast forward to the modern day pioneer in this sport French skydiver Patrick De Gayardon who took this concept further in the mid 1990s, spreading wing surfaces between his legs and under each arm. De Gayardon died while testing this concept, but his three-wing design went on to become the basis for modern wingsuit designs.
Even to this day man’s desire to fly like a bird is not fading away any time soon. I have watched from a far and have admired this sport grow into a superhuman level and have realize that the thrill of the kill outweighs the penalty that is associated with every jump.
Thanks to our friends at Go Pro for the footage and a hat tip to this special breed of athletes.
Swiss Ueli “Sputnik” Gegenschatz currently holds the world record for the longest recorded wingsuit flight. On June 1, 2008, Gegenschatz exited an aircraft at an altitude of 15,000 feet (4,500 meters) and flew 11 miles (17.6 kilometers) over waters off the coast of Ireland at an average speed of 155 mph (250 kph).