Wingsuits, despite being around for quite some time now, are still considered an engineering marvel as they enable an individual to fly around at high speeds, maneuvering through tight passes and corners as they do.
This even caught the attention of Red Bull, which has a history of investing in adrenaline-filled sports as more and more videos of stuntmen and adrenaline junkies started hitting the internet. The invention became a sport as its popularity grew, and people began to hunt for Youtube views. However, due to the technical limitations of the suit, possibilities were also limited.
Not for the renowned stuntman Peter Salzmann, who teamed up with BMW to modify the suit that made the flight experience even more thrilling. They developed an electric impeller based propulsion system that was compatible with the suit.
The initial plan was to add the system to the back of the suit to produce more thrust. But to minimize the weight and make use of the more beneficial incoming airflow, it was decided to mount the propulsion system in front of the suit, which consisted of two 5 inch impellers operating at 25000 RPM.
The suit features consist of a power switch, air inlets, hand-operated throttle, and a break-off switch to accommodate emergencies. However, to safely fly the suit and maneuver it through the air, the stuntman must be physically strong and be practically one with the suit.
With everything going according to plan, the propulsion system can produce 20hp for five minutes, but it’s sure those five minutes are spectacular. For an unmodified wingsuit, the top speed is limited to 100km/h, and for every horizontal travel of three meters, the horizontal glide ratio of the suit drops by one meter. In the modified wingsuit, however, Salzmann was actually able to gain altitude and reach a top speed of over 300km/h.
After meticulous testing at BMW’s facilities, wind tunnels in Stockholm, and several practical jumps, it was time to conduct a jump publicly. The initial decision was to jump over three skyscrapers in Busan, Korea; however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the venue was shifted to the more picturesque Hohe Tauern mountain range in the Austrian Alps. Salzmann in the modified suit and a team of stuntmen in regular suits jumped out of a helicopter at 10000 feet.
The idea was to make other jumpers act as a reference for Salzmann as he rushed past them. Other stuntmen in regular suits would glide around the peak while the propulsion system in Salzmann’s suit would allow him to fly over it.
Electric wingsuit’s abilities are a far cry from Yves Rossy’s jet-powered, computer-assisted composite Jetwing, which produces far more power and takes off from standstill to speeds of over 400km/h, but it has its merits. It is more compact, less expensive, less noisy, more practical, and user-friendly, giving it a more refined look.
Do not expect to see one of these suits in the market any time soon. Still, thanks to their cost-effectiveness and generic design, one thing is for sure that the dream of flying through the sky and becoming a jet rather than flying will become reachable and ever closer to reality.
For now, because of the nature of the wingsuit and the risks associated with it, it is hard to say whether a company like BMW would want to associate itself with such a product commercially.
Making one-off prototypes and doing collaborations for promotion is easy but commercially manufacturing something is a different realm altogether. But this is certain that nothing can stop these crazy, adventure-loving sportsmen from getting their hands on one.