Terminal Velocity, Myth of Icarus and the Human Face

Angelique just wrote a cool post on Wingsuits.  I wrote about this back in 2007 when a guy named Jeb Corliss publicized that he was going to try and land in his wingsuit without a parachute.  The feat still hasn’t been accomplished, but he’s still trying.


Originally posted in Dec 2007

Skydiving has always been at, or near the top, of extreme adventure sports. In 1797, when Andre-Jacques Garnerin jumped out of a hot air balloon with a parachute, adventure seekers from all over the world have sought ways the feel the invigoration of “flying,” even though all it is, is a controlled crash to earth.

The sport must of hit a wall for some folks who didn’t think that merely strapping some canvass to one’s back was hard core enough. In 1998, Jari Kuosma and Robert Pecnik found a unique and intricate design (the person who originally attempted this feat with a similar design died) called a “wingsuit,” and jumped off a 3,000 cliff. They learned from this experience that, although you couldn’t technically fly, the rate of descent dropped from 120 mph to 35 mph. It was a daring and successful attempt, which officially raised the bar on one of the world’s most dangerous sports. Exhibit A:

The wingsuit has officially elevated skydiving and BASE jumping into the stratosphere, but, if you thought buzzing mountain ridges with a thin layer of synthetic material between your arms and legs would be enough to keep adrenaline junkies happy for a while, you’d have to think again. Review the above clip again: the problem for some people is that, after the aforementioned thrill-ride through the mountains, at the end you have to pull out a parachute to land. Although your rate of vertical descent decreases from 120 mph to 35 mph with the wingsuit, your horizontal speed is 75 – 80 mph. Without the parachute, you’d hit the ground so hard that the the last thought going through your head would be your helmet.

Enter Jeb Corliss.

Jeb is trying to be the first human being to jump out of a plane with a winged suit and land, on the earth, without the aid of a parachute. There are others who are attempting this feat as well, but NOT ONE has been as articulate or even close to being as cool as Jeb Corliss. The NY Times recently did a video story on him where, without hesitation, or so much as a stutter in his voice, he explains exactly why he is attempting to do this insane stunt (since the the NY Times is still in the stone age of the Interwebs, I can’t embed it here, so click the link to see the whole video):

People ask me, ‘What’s the point? Why would you do something like that?’ You know, to be honest with you, for me, the wingsuit landing is something people have never done before. And it’s hard, in this day and age, to do something that has never been done before. This will be the first time, that a human being, has reached terminal velocity, and landed–on their face–at over a hundred and ten miles-an-hour, and gotten back up and did it again. That’s a very special thing and, as far as I’m concerned, this is something people have wanted to do since the time of Icarus.

Count me in as one that will be avidly rooting for Jeb to, “reach terminal velocity and land–on his face–at over a hundred and ten miles-an-hour, and get back up to do it again.”


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