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Extreme athletes have been using wingsuits — unique jumpsuits with fabric stitched between the arms and body and between the legs — to fly untethered for many years. However, while the "birdman" or "squirrel" suits allow daredevils to soar in the skies, the pull of gravity makes it impossible to accelerate or fly higher. To push past the limitations, Austrian stuntman Peter Salzmann teamed up with German car manufacturer BMW. The result is an electrified wingsuit, which allows flyers to zoom to higher altitudes at speeds of up to 186 miles per hour!
The 33-year-old professional wingsuit pilot first thought of creating the revolutionary design in 2017. “At the time, I was developing suits for skydiving and base jumping with a friend and base jumping mentor,” he explains. “In a relaxed atmosphere one evening after a day of testing, we threw out lots of ideas about how we could improve performance. One of them was a supporting motor – and it’s an idea I just couldn’t shake. I found the idea of being able to jump from my local mountain wearing the wingsuit and land in my garden fascinating.”
To help with the process, Salzmann reached out to the experts at BMW’s Designworks Studio. It took the team three years, numerous prototypes, and multiple tests jumps to perfect the design. The result is a modified wingsuit with two chest-mounted 5-inch (13-cm), 25,000 rpm carbon propellers. Powered by a 50-volt lithium battery, the propellers can be controlled using an on/off switch and even stopped mid-flight using the emergency button, if the flyer encounters an airplane or a flock of birds.
Salzmann had initially planned to showcase the radical suit by flying over three skyscrapers — two of the same height and the third slightly taller — in Busan, South Korea, in spring 2020. However, after the coronavirus pandemic caused the public demonstration to be canceled, Salzmann opted for a more picturesque location — the Hohe Tauern mountain range in Austria.
On November 6, 2020, Salzmann, donned in his hi-tech suit, leaped from a helicopter from an altitude of 10,000 feet to soar around the mountain peaks. After flying in perfect formation with two experienced flyers in conventional wingsuits, for a few seconds, the expert pilot fired up the electric motors and rocketed forward, before effortlessly gliding above the third and final peak, which was higher than the previous two. Without the extra power to propel them, his teammates were forced to fly around the mountain top. The task accomplished, the trio opened their parachutes and gently descended back to Earth.
It is unclear if Salzmann and BMW plan to make the electrified wingsuits available to the general public. For now, however, the flight video, released on November 6, 2020, appears to be a PR stunt to demonstrate the technology in BMW's latest electric car offering. But, one can always hope!
Resources: Newatlas.com, Syfy.com, BMW.com