Jump. Fly. Land. Jeb Corliss says if the birds can do it, so can he.
By Carl Hoffman Air & Space Magazine, November 01, 2010
The dream has recurred since childhood: I jump, and I can fly. I’m amazed. There are no awkward flapping wings, no roaring engines, no hang glider over my head. Just me flying, pure and delightful. I’m up and whizzing over the landscape, and it’s as simple as that.
“Flying in a wing suit is that dream!” says Jeb Corliss. “It’s the closest you can come to real human flight.” At home in Venice, California, Corliss is barefoot and dressed in black pajama-like pants and a black T-shirt. His head is shaved, and he’s tall and lanky—a bit stork-like. He grabs an iPad and flicks it with his long fingers and there’s a video of men—in weird stretchy suits that make them look like giant flying squirrels—streaking through the air five feet over sawtooth ridge tops and banking along stony cliffs, and all I can think is: It’s my dream come to life.
The modern wing suit was born in the 1990s, and ever since, wing suit fliers and designers (they are for the most part one and the same) have been nurturing that dream, extending the glide ratio of the free-falling skydiver or BASE jumper (an acronym for Buildings, Antennas, Spans and Earth’s natural features, like cliffs). They’ve pushed it to a bit more than three miles forward for each mile in lost altitude, abetted by high-tech fabrics and “wings” that channel in-rushing air to create lift.
Alas, a chute must always be deployed. But what if you could jump from the sky and fly through the air and land, just like a bird? Corliss sees that as the purest form of human flight. He wants to be the first person to jump out of an airplane and land safely without a parachute, and make it repeatable. The plan has a lot of ifs, and the biggest is money. He needs about $3 million to erect, in the middle of the Las Vegas strip, a ramp hundreds of feet tall. It would look like a ski jump, but act as a landing slope. Since Corliss would bellyflop on it head forward, arms back, he’s found it difficult to persuade people with deep pockets to finance what, after all, could become a televised suicide.
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Article from Air & Space Magazine, Smithsonian