Technological advances haven't just led to more comfortable homes and more productive workplaces, they've also provided thrillseekers with new and inventive ways to get the adrenalin pumping, with Wakeboarding (now possible without a boat), skydiving and wingsuit flying just some examples of extreme sports enabled by modern technology. Now Aaron Wypyszynski, founder of Alabama-based Wyp Aviation, is looking to combine elements of these three sports in WingBoarding, which would see a rider towed behind a plane atop a winged board – yes, seriously.
Wypyszynski was inspired by growing up watching the Disney animated series TaleSpin, in which a 12-year-old brown bear cub called Kit Cloudkicker "cloud surfed" behind a plane on a crescent-shaped metal device known as an airfoil. In an attempt to turn childhood fantasy into reality, Wypyszynski has designed the WingBoard, the name of which really says it all. It is a winged board that the rider stands atop as it is towed behind a tow plane.
A single tow rope connected to the plane divides about 10 ft (3 m) in front of the rider, with the lower line branching down to the WingBoard itself and the upper line going to the tow bar that the rider holds onto. To reduce the load placed on the rider, the tow bar is then connected to the rider in a similar way to how a kite is connected to a kite surfer. The rider is also connected to the board via foot bindings similar to those found on snowboards, which provide a flexible connection.
Wypyszynski says this tow line configuration splits the forces between the rider and the board, so that at a speed of 100 mph (161 km/h), the rider would be subjected to a force of 80 lb (36 kg). It also reduces the effort needed to balance the board, so that the rider is able to ride it, rather than balance on it. Additionally, with the tow line and rider forming a triangle with three fixed sides, Wypyszynski says the stability of the board is increased by limiting the pitch angle of the board, thereby preventing it slipping into an unstable configuration.
The shape of the board is designed to provide lift, with the rider able to control the board in two ways. The first is by altering their position on the board. Leaning forward or back alters the board's angle of attack to vary the amount of lift the board generates and therefore the vertical position of the board behind the plane. Meanwhile, leaning and rotating the board would allow the rider to steer the board left and right. The second control method would allow the rider to initiate rolls via force sensors built into the foot bindings and on the tow bar.
But before this, the rider must first get into the air. Rather than the rider deploying from an aircraft once it is already airborne, which was Wypyszynski's first thought that he ruled out due to stability issues, the WingBoard and rider get aloft in the same way as a glider – with a rolling takeoff as the board, complete with landing gear, is towed behind a tow plane.
Assuming you've managed to take off safely, enjoyed a bit of time "carving through the sky" and now need to get back on terra firma, what are the options? Turns out there are two. The first involves the rider disconnecting themself from the tow line and foot bindings and deploying their parachute to glide back to Earth. The WingBoard also has its own parachute, which is for use in case of emergencies when the WindBoard needs to be jettisoned.
Alternatively, the rider can land they same way they took off: by being towed behind the tow plane. For such rolling landings, it would obviously be imperative that the tow plane pilot remain aware of the WingBoarder's distance from the runway to ensure they aren't caught short.
If you think the whole WingBoarding thing sounds too extreme for even the biggest adrenalin junkie, you're not alone. But Wypyszynski claims safety has been a major focus throughout the design process of the WingBoard, with the goal to make it safe enough that "an average person would someday be able to ride it" and ensure it's no riskier than skydiving.
Proposed safety features include the aforementioned parachutes for both rider and board, and an automated tow release that will trigger in the event of excessive force being placed on the line to prevent the rider becoming tangled in the tow lines. There's also a binding release that will free the rider from the board. This can be triggered manually by the rider or remotely by an observer such as the tow pilot, or automatically in response to excessive force or the detection of a high rate of rotation of the board indicating a loss of control after detaching from the tow line.
At the moment, WingBoarding is still some way from taking off. Wypyszynski has currently only constructed a 1/6th scale model and towed it behind a remote controlled plane to prove the aerodynamic stability and control of his WingBoard design. He has now taken to Kickstarter to raise US$32,000 for the second phase, which will involve building a 40 percent scale model to prove the board's safety features and measure the aerodynamic forces faced by the rider. The third and final phase will involve building a full scale prototype.
If everything goes to plan, Wypyszynski hopes to be doing some flight testing of the WingBoard prototype in the second half of 2016, with production slated to commence in the first half of 2017. There are obviously a lot of things that need to go right for WingBoarding to get off the ground, but we'll be interested to see whether the concept will fly and join the ever-growing list of extreme sports.
Wypyszynski details his vision and demonstrates the 1/6th scale model in the pitch video below.
Source: Wyp Aviation