eli5 When people jump with wingsuits what happens?

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They seem to have a lot of velocity forward, almost like they are flying. I cant understand how they seem to gain so much momentum forward without anything to propel them while they are falling/flying.

In my head they should just fall straight down but slower than they would without the wingsuits. Bc even if you jump forward off a cliff no way you gain that much momentum. And they don’t fall so slowly that even a little bit of forward velocity is enough to get as far as they do.

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6 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

They’re gliding. A large surface moving fast will produce a lot of force when air hits it. You correctly assume that this generally just slows you down, but if you angle yourself in a way that all the air gets redirected in a certain direction, you’ll start to accelerate in the opposite direction (to the expelled air) instead.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The wingsuits impart the ability to glide, albeit it’s a steep downward glide. With enough speed gained from gliding steeper downward, the pilot can pull up and briefly fly nearly level before resuming the steep downward glide.

Think of a fighter jet with short wings. It needs to fly at a high speed for the wings to generate enough lift to fly at all. If a fighter jet were to glide, it would be a steep downward glide pulling up at the end for a landing.

This is how the space shuttle flew also. It basically fell out of the sky, and near the end of the flight its nose was pointed nearly straight down in a supersonic dive, and then as it reached the landing zone it would pull up to allow its high velocity to let it fly level long enough to land.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The reason is in the name of the outfit. Literally a WING suit.

As such, it acts using the same principles of “lift” as any other wing. So, while gravity is pulling them “down”, the air moving over the top of the suit has a lower pressure than the air moving under the suit, creating “lift”. This lift has the effect of moving them forward, and the end result is what you see on videos . . . not so much an uncontrolled plummeting to Earth, but instead an angled descent, just as you see from a glider (though far steeper).

Anonymous 0 Comments

Taken from the air it looks like they are moving forwards quite fast but the ground they are flying over is steeper than it looks. Watch some of the videos taken from the ground as wingsuit flyers pass by. They are still falling extremely fast.

Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCS2VeeQzo8

Anonymous 0 Comments

they do diagonally, both down and forward.

for an illustration, make a paper airplane, go to some high spot (parking garage), angle the plane somewhat downward, and release (without pushing it). You will see that it will go forward as well as down.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Prior wingsuit flyer here. Much light a parachute, the wingsuit has a glide scope of about 3 to 1; every 3 feet forward one foot down. It’s true we are flying vertically down fast. But a lot slower than a free fall. Also failed to mention is wingsuit flyers have the ability to shape the shape and stability of the wing. Allowing us to manipulate the air to achieve a slower glide or sharper one. By using the legs to stiffen up the rear wing, pointing the toes to expand the wings, and coupled with the ability to stiffen or loosen our wings between the arms and torso, we actually have quite a bit of control. Changing the shape of the wings and our body position allows us to “steer” both directionally and forward and vertical speed.

Also to add. Parachutes work by ramming air between two layers of rip stop nylon, creating a rigid wing. Wingsuits work on the same principle. There are actually two layers on the wings, divided into cells, that have vents to allow air in; or ramming air in. This stiffens up our wings, but by changing the distance between your legs or arms, you can collapse the wings easily, or expand them, altering your flight path. Also think about this as an example: loosening your arms gives you drag at the torso and stiffening your legs and toes gives you a much more rigid wing in the back that slices through the air. This can put you on a fast horizontal glide path.