Post from Jeffrey Winters:
We’ve covered the art and engineering of flying without a motor—or an aircraft—before in the magazine, most notably in 2004 when frequent contributor Michael Abrams wrote about a wingsuit maker in Germany. (See “The Sky’s No Limit,” Input/Output January 2004.) Michael wrote a book about the history of wingsuits. The chilling aspect of it was that while gliding seemed relatively easy, surviving the flight was a chancy proposition. Between death spirals and tangled parachute lines, the career of a birdman generally did not end in pleasant retirement. Or as designer Alban Geissler put it in Abram’s article, “[T]hose early birdmen missed something—that they should have been thinking first about their security, not about flying. Flying is not so difficult. Security is difficult.”
The holy grail of winged flight has always been touching down without a parachute. And while there have been clever attempts at this in the past—gliding with skis and then landing on a snowy mountain slope, for one—no one had been able to jump, fly, land without a chute, and walk away until British stuntman Gary Connery accomplished the feat on May 23.
The key was the landing. Without a parachute to cut back on the velocity, a birdman traveling at about 75 miles per hour doesn’t have many options to reduce his speed. Instead, Connery and a team of about 100 volunteers set up a landing strip made up of 18,500 cardboard boxes. As Connery plowed headfirst into the 12-foot-high cushion of boxes, after jumping from a helicopter 2,400 feet in the air, the collapse of each box absorbed a bit of his momentum, slowing him down. Connery emerged from the mass of boxes unscathed.