A British wingsuit jumper is planning an assault on no less than four of the biggest world records in the sport. Jumping from a height over 40,000 feet, he aims to break the distance record of 19-odd miles, the top speed record of more than 250 mph and the duration record of 9 minutes.
Wingsuiting is probably the #1 sport for complete nutters these days, offering an excellent combination of adrenaline, 3-dimensional freedom, speed, and life-affirming danger. It's probably the closest you can get to fulfilling the age-old dream of human flight - with the exception of Yves Rossy's jet wings.
We've been trying to perfect it for hundreds, if not thousands of years, from the first feather-covered fools that leapt off medieval towers and plunged to their doom, to the ancient Chinese emperors that outsourced their flight testing to condemned prisoners and watched them plunge to their dooms.
Only since the turn of the millennium has it started to look more like recreation than gravity-assisted suicide, and a small industry has sprung up to service those crazy enough to try it. For what it's worth, you'll need at least 200 parachute jumps under your belt and a budget of more than US$15,000 all up to get yourself trained, equipped and qualified to give it a go.
As long as unpowered human flight has been a thing, people have been trying to set records. One early example would be Turkish aviator Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi, who, according to contemporary sources, leapt off the top of the Galata Tower in Karakoy sometime in the 1630s with a pair of "eagle wings" and made a safe landing in the town square of Uskudar, some 2.21 miles away. He was given a sack of gold coins, then promptly banished from the country for being a "scary man… Capable of doing anything he wishes" by the local sultan.
We've flown a long way since then. Nary a Red Bull or GoPro logo appears anywhere on the Internet without a wingsuit video close behind it.
The above video is a good example of the typical wingsuit stunt these days; flying deathly close to obstacles. But there's also objective world records to be beaten. The current distance record is 19 miles (30 km). The current top speed record an impressive 234 mph (377 km/h). The longest time flying in a wingsuit is 9 minutes, 6 seconds, and the highest altitude wingsuit jump is 37,265 feet. And there's a fellow planning to break all four of those records in two jumps.
Fraser Corsan is about as qualified as a wingsuit pilot gets. Back in 2001, he was one of just fifteen wingsuit pilots in the entire world, according to his own estimation. Since then, he's done some 1,300 flights, but the two he's planning for Project Cirrus, in order to raise a million UK pounds for SSAFA, the UK armed forces charity, will be well out of the ordinary.
If long-distance wingsuiting looks fairly easy to you, consider exactly what Corsan is going to have to do to break those records. First, he'll have to jump out of a plane well above the height that commercial airliners cruise at, into freezing cold air that will be -60 degrees Fahrenheit at the very warmest, and that will contain so little oxygen that a person doing "moderate activity" could expect to maintain "useful consciousness" for about 8 seconds. Thus, he's going to need breathing gear.
Then, he'll have to get control of his plummeting body and stabilize himself with his "wings" into an optimal position for longer than nine minutes, while being buffeted by winds north of 200 miles per hour. That's like holding some kind of bizarre plank position, for a seeming eternity, all while the temperature around you rises and a force that feels like an endless surging wave pushes against you.
Current height and distance record holder Andy Stumpf likened it to holding a five-pound plate out level with your shoulders - it's easy enough to start with, but the strain soon becomes unbearable. You can see the toll it took on Stumpf in his jump video - once he pulls his 'chute, he dangles from his straps like a dead man, and crumples to the Earth exhausted when he touches down:
Corsan has the benefit of experience over Stumpf, who had only been wingsuiting for about three months when he decided to make a tilt at the record. But it's going to require an incredible degree of physical conditioning and determination to get to his targets: 40,000 feet altitude, 10 minutes duration, 250 mph (402 km/h) top speed and a total distance over 20 miles (32 km).
We'll be watching with interest. If you want to support Corsan's attempt, donate directly to SSAFA at JustGiving - the jump is already fully funded, so all proceeds will go to support servicemen and women, veterans and their families.
More information: Project Cirrus
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