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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]

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