The Evolution of Wingsuiting

By Jess H Carlton


You'd be surprised how long wingsuiting has been around, considering it only became a phenomenon in recent times. Clem Sohn was probably the first person to develop a similar idea, and that was way back in the 1930s. As one of his stunts at airshows he would be dropped at a high altitude from a plane, and glide down on his homemade wingsuit, then land with a parachute. It was a massive hit, and he appeared at airshows all over the world. Sadly, as many other dare-devils had noticed, it wasn't safe. Clem didn't have any real backup if the wings went wrong, and ultimately this led to two accidents: one in London where he was badly hurt, and another in Paris in 1937, where he died.

Another pioneer of this idea was LeoValatin. His approach through the 1950s was to use rigid wings that you wear like a backpack - very similar to the recent rocket man stunt that made the news. Sadly there was a terrible accident at Liverpool's 1955 airshow when Loe's design collided with the plane that was meant to drop him. His emergency parachutes failed to open and he was killed.

Films were a way of reaching more people with the ideas of wingsuiting. They appeared in a movie starring Gene Hackman called The Gypsy Moths, which inspired a whole generation of people who wanted to imitate Todd Higly's stunts.

Todd Higley, the man credited with inventing winguit BASE jumping, did a lot to keep the idea alive with his work for the 1969 movie The Gypsy Moths. In the film a small group of skydivers come into conflict with a traditional US town with their boundary-breaking approach to new stunts. It wasn't a blockbusting film by any means, but it did attract a large following of would-be wingsuiters.

French skydiver Patrick de Gayardon further developed a safer wingsuit in 1997 with great success. But in 1998, before his dream of bringing the sport to a wider audience was realised, he died in a parachute accident, not caused by the suit. Modern suits were brought on from Garardon's work by Jari Kuosma and Robert Pecnik, founding the Birdman industry, which now supplies and trains wingsuiters all over the world.




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