Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

The secret to human flight? This suit

By Matthew Ponsford, for CNN
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1449 GMT (2249 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Wingsuit pilots can glide through the air for minutes in their specially designed suits
  • But how do these suits create lift and allow them to maneuver?
  • Click on the points on the image above to find out more
  • Viewing this from a mobile device? Click here

Editor's note: Art of Movement is CNN's monthly show exploring the latest innovations in art, culture, science and technology. Viewing this from mobile? Click here

(CNN) -- Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Actually, it's a bit of both.

Wingsuits fly for the same reason jets take off and eagles soar.

The suits turn the human body into an "airfoil" -- a curved wing that produces lift by allowing air to flow faster over the wing than under it.

It is technology that has allowed people to sail to earth in parachutes and hang gliders for decades. But adapting it to fit around the human form was no easy feat.

It was not until 1997 that French skydiving pioneer Patrick de Gayardon debuted the "ram air" inflated wingsuit -- which filled up with air like a parachute to make a rigid wing.

Today's wingsuits are far more efficient than their predecessors. They allow a pilot to glide many meters forward for each meter fallen to earth.

Skydiving photographer Harry Parker caught these incredible images of wingsuiter Rip Cord in action over Sebastian, Florida. And we asked skydiving pioneer Tony Uragallo, founder of TonySuits, to tell us more about how today's wingsuits fly.

Wingsuit flying is an extremely hazardous sport. A 2007 study showed BASE jumping -- which includes both wingsuiting and parachuting from man made structures and cliffs -- to be five to eight times more dangerous than skydiving.

Click on the points on the image above to find out more.

[All photos: Courtesy Harry Parker Photography]

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Jason Hullinger, a computer security architect in Los Angeles, went to Joshua Tree National Park in December to catch the Geminid meteor shower.
For thousands of years, man has looked to the stars in search of answers. Who are we? Why are we here? Are we alone?
June 29, 2014 -- Updated 1551 GMT (2351 HKT)
NASA's new flying saucer-shaped spacecraft has made its maiden flight.
November 12, 2013 -- Updated 1033 GMT (1833 HKT)
Introducing GimBall -- a flying robot modeled on insects, which may change search and rescue missions forever.
November 20, 2013 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
Flying robot Skycall guides a student around MIT.
MIT has developed a flying robot to guide students around its campus.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1449 GMT (2249 HKT)
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Actually, it's a bit of both. Find out how wingsuits allow fearless fliers to glide through the skies.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
CNN's Becky Anderson looks at how practicing underwater is the perfect way to prepare for spacewalks.
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
This incredible mechanical boy can write poetry and draw pictures. Hear his remarkable story.
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Quick math question: What has 78 fingers, 22 arms, and no brain? Meet the futuristic robot band that plays fast and furious.
March 19, 2014 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
A robot has smashed the record for solving a Rubik's Cube. Check out some of the nerdiest man vs machine competitions of all time...
March 28, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Inventor Glenn Martin admits he appears crazy -- "But it's the crazy people who change the world."
ADVERTISEMENT