By David Hambling:
Yves Rossy, aka “Jet man” and “Fusion Man,” has grabbed headlines with his jet-powered flights with an 8-foot wing strapped to his back. But he could be joined sometime soon by commandos on an airborne assault.
Last year, Rossy successfully flew 22 miles across the English Channel. Last week’s attempt to cross from Africa to Europe by flying from Morocco to Spain was less successful. Strong winds were against him, and Rossy ended up in the sea three miles short of the coast. Undaunted, the Swiss former military pilot now plans to fly across the Grand Canyon.
Rossy has reportedly refused requests from the military and stated that his powered wing, which cost more than $190,000 to develop, is only for aviation enthusiasts. However, he’s not the only one in the wingsuit business.
The Special Parachute and Logistics Consortium, is a German venture between two companies with expertise in this area. SPELCO produces a variety of parachute systems, helmets, oxygen supplies and other gear and services. But their most eye-catching project is the Gryphon Next Generation Parachute System (pictured above).
This is described as a modular upgrade for parachute systems for use in “high-altitude, high-opening” jump missions, typically carried out by Special Forces. This 6-foot wing gives a glide ratio of 5:1, which means that a drop from 30,000 feet will allow you to glide about 30 miles. The makers estimate that this would take around 15 minutes, giving an average speed of about 60 miles an hour.
“All equipment is hidden in a lifting body optimized for stealth, the radar-signature is extremely low,” says the Gryphon data sheet (PDF). “Detection of incoming Gryphon soldiers by airborne or ground radar will be extremely difficult.”
Gryphon has a guidance system and heads-up display navigation. Best of all, the company are looking at an option for bolting on small engines similar to those used in Yves Rossy’s setup. These will increase the range to more than 60 miles, but will also make it possible to cover long distances from low altitude so that the entire mission can be more stealthy.
The company does not seem to have had any public offers for Gryphon yet — although, given the nature of likely customers, those offers might be kept relatively quiet.
Wingsuits are an addition to normal parachutes that allow better gliding. A parachute has to be deployed in order to land. However, wingsuit skydivers want to overcome this and are developing techniques to land safely without a parachute. This sounds like a practically suicidal manuever, but it seems likely that in the next few years technology and the careful application of technique will make it possible to land with a wingsuit alone. It’s certainly possible from a theoretical aerodynamic point of view, but whether it’s practical may be another matter.
This might just be the future for ultrastealthy airborne assault. Aided by extremely precise instruments and a flight computer, the wingman comes in at low level and high speed, before pulling up and dropping gently to the ground at exactly the right spot. It might sound wild, but it would certainly surprise the bad guys.