Wingsuit flying certainly captured folks’ attention when it first hit the mainstream around the turn of the millennium, sparking a wave of GoPro and Red Bull videos. Human flight had never been so personal or so physical as these intrepid maniacs half-fell, half glided through rocky gaps and mountain passes like turbocharged flying squirrels.
The name of the game quickly became to see how close you could fly to things without hitting them, in search of the ultimate rush and the biggest view counts. But these devices were limited in that your only source of acceleration was gravity itself, and your flight profile could only ever take you downward.
No longer. Stuntman Peter Salzmann had been thinking for years about how to add some sustainable propulsion and climbing ability to the wingsuit experience, and he hooked up with creative consultants at BMW’s Designworks studio to create a chest-mounted set of electric impellers and a wingsuit that would work with them.
At first, he wanted to mount the props in a backpack arrangement, in longer tubes capable of generating more thrust. But the most advantageous airflow would be in front of him, and he found the initial design too heavy. So a chest mounted system it was, with two 5-inch (13-cm), 25,000 rpm impellers in a relatively compact but still pretty chunky unit that has a bit of a submarine kind of look to it.
The wingsuit was designed to incorporate air inlets for the propulsion system. There’s an on/off switch, a two-finger throttle and a kind of steering facility, as well as a cutoff switch for emergencies. Otherwise, she’s even more of a physical thing to fly than a regular wingsuit; you need plenty of core and limb strength to fight the wind and control your motion in the air.