Wingsuits allow humans to fly like birds, at least for a finite period of time. As such, the combination of speed and using your body for control is clearly highly addictive, and as you can see in the video below, totally exhilarating. The truth is that there are also clear military applications for the technology as well.
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Currently, wingsuits allow for a glide ratio of about two and a half to one, meaning for every foot you lose in altitude you move two and a half feet horizontally. Theoretically, this capability allows for soldiers jumping from aircraft operating at higher altitudes along enemy borders to cross those borders during descent.
If a 20k foot free-fall were prescribed for a high altitude, low opening (HALO) jump profile, this would equate roughly to a 9.5 mile maximum horizontal glide distance if the soldiers were equipped with wingsuits. When you take air pressure, weight, weather and human error into account that number is degraded, but it's still relevant.
In the last decade, rigid and semi-rigid wingsuit type apparatuses aimed to drastically increase glide range. Instead of a glide ratio of two and a half to one, these new wingsuit concepts were envisioned as achieving between a five to one and a ten to one glide ratio. This equates to dozens of miles of glide distance during HALO operations, allowing, at least in theory, for the jump platform (aircraft) to stay farther away from enemy borders and air defenses.
These new Batman looking contraptions can be made out of radar transparent composite materials and coated with radar absorbing paint, making them very hard to detect. When it comes to guidance, a modular helmet system with a display that guides soldiers to their landing spot and maximizes the wing's glide range was seen as a possible way to get the most out of such a high performance skydiving and special force insertion capability. The most high-profile of these rigid wingsuit development initiatives was from ESG/Speclo and named the Gryphon Next Generation Parachute System.
In 2008, Yves "Jetman" Rossi largely changed the whole idea of wingsuits and what a flying soldier could be. With further technological evolution, "jetsuits" like Yves Rossi's could allow for flight range increases approaching one hundred miles, which would open up a much wider range of infiltration possibilities for airborne special forces compared to existing wingsuits or even rigid wing apparatuses.
Since Jetman's first flight, designs have emerged that could potentially allow for takeoff and landing without the need of a drop aircraft or even a parachute at all. Although such a system seems optimistic to say the least, although it is fun to think about the tactical impacts that such an exotic capability could offer, landing without a chute is an area that the wingsuit community seems especially interested in and may very well become feasible one day.
With the great success of "Jetman Rossi" and his amazing jet-wing, as well as Rex Pemberton who has flown an unpowered rigid wing design, you would think the military would be excited about evolving similar technologies for special operations uses. The reality is that the DoD has been very quiet when it comes to such interesting private sector technological revolutions. Even unpowered rigid wing designs that were high-profile projects around the turn of the decade have largely gone silent, which is peculiar to say the least.
It could be that the technology was seen as not worth pursuing, but considering the special operations community seems fairly aggressive when it comes to gaining every edge it can get, and unpowered rigid wingsuits are not exactly high-cost development projects, the total lack of development when it comes to anything like these concepts within the US military complex is puzzling.
Then again, considering who would be using such a capability and what they would be using it for, maybe the Pentagon's silence on the topic says quite a bit. Like stealth helicopter transports, such a capability would be way more useful if nobody knew it existed.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com