Every time The Falcon from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) glides across our screens, one cannot help but fantasize about taking to the skies in a wingsuit like his. Now, the German automobile giant, BMW, has managed to make the idea of wingsuit-powered flight a reality.
Born out of a collaboration between BMW, Designworks (a global creative consultancy), and professional skydiver and BASE jumper, Peter Salzmann, the electric wingsuit can zoom through the sky at speeds of up to 186 mph (300 kmph). Salzmann said that the inspiration for the invention came to him when he was pondering over ways in which he could increase improve his efficiency in air.
"In a relaxed atmosphere one evening after a day of testing, we threw out lots of ideas about how we could improve performance. One of them was a supporting motor – and it's an idea I just couldn't shake. I found the idea of being able to jump from my local mountain wearing the wingsuit and land in my garden fascinating," the 33-year-old Austrian athlete told in a statement.
Wings of Innovation
Beginning with the conception of the concept in 2017, it took three years of extensive research in order to arrive at the final design and specifications necessary to make the wingsuit both functional and efficient. Built around BMW i EV technology, the carmaker's cutting edge electric propulsion systems, the e-wingsuit is fueled by a chest-mounted rig that provides 15 kW of power that is divided between two 7.5 kW carbon impellers.
Spinning at a speed of 25,000 rpm, the impellers can generate sufficient thrust for around five minutes, thereby, improving performance and enabling longer coverage of distance. The first round of tests was conducted at the AEROLAB, BMW's horizontal wind tunnel and 30 more test jumps were carried out by Salzmann; the learning of which led to the final configuration of the innovative aeronautical invention.
"The electrified wingsuit flight was a project close to my heart and, through the literal elevation of our BMW i technology, an innovative communication statement," Stefan Ponikva, the person who promoted the project and currently the Vice-President of Brand Experience.
Date With the Moment of Truth
Last week, the high-performance e-wingsuit finally achieved the fruition of three year's worth of planning and hard work, after Salzmann successfully completed his maiden flight. Choosing the skies over the picturesque 'Drei Brüder' peaks in the Hohe Tauern mountain range in the Alps as the site of his jump, Salzmann leaped from a helicopter from a height of 10,000 feet (3,000 m).
Accompanying him on the jump were two more skydivers who were equipped with conventional wingsuits. The video released by BMW shows how effortlessly Salzmann was able to boost his speed and at the same time gain altitude, while his colleagues were on a descent. Going beyond the average horizontal speeds of around 62 mph that regular wingsuits facilitate, BMW stated that Salzmann achieved a peak speed of 186 mph. All three divers landed safely following their jump.
"Making the future tangible – from a crazy idea to its realization – there's no better reward than being able to realize your vision. I'm so proud that the team got the job done... and when I saw the first video of Peter gaining altitude while the other pilots descend, I was literally speechless!", expressed Holger Hampf, President of Designworks.
Aiming to Scale New Heights
So what's next for the daredevil of the skies? Salzmann wants to fly between high-rise buildings in South Korea soon. In fact, the Austrian had initially planned to carry out the maiden jump in Korea in the spring of 2020. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily ended the hopes of presenting the wingsuit to the world among the skyscrapers of South Korea
However, Salzmann has not abandoned his initial plan and hoped to leap across buildings, probably in Seoul, shortly. "I will have to train more. We will optimize the technique and look ahead boldly," the skydiver said about his next potential milestone.