The History of Wingsuiting: A Skydive Subdiscipline

wingsuiting stw history
What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you think about flying? Most likely, your answer is “wings,” which means it should be no surprise that wingsuiting has a fairly long history despite its recent popularization.  The first known wingsuit skydive was made by Franz Reichelt, also known as “the Flying Tailor,” in 1912 […]

What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you think about flying? Most likely, your answer is “wings,” which means it should be no surprise that wingsuiting has a fairly long history despite its recent popularization. 

The first known wingsuit skydive was made by Franz Reichelt, also known as “the Flying Tailor,” in 1912 when he leapt off the Eiffel Tower in a parachute-wing combination suit design, much like modern-day wingsuits.

Franz Reichelt, the first-known wingsuit jumper.

Rex G. Finney, a 19-year-old from Los Angeles, CA is credited with the first successful wingsuit skydive in 1930. In an attempt to increase horizontal movement and maneuverability for skydivers during a parachute jump, Finney constructed the wingsuit out of materials such as canvas, wood, silk, steel, and whalebone. The design was often referred to as being like a “bat-wing,” and while it was successful and several jumpers like Clem Sohn and Leo Valentin, claimed to have glided for miles, it was ultimately not very reliable.

After much advancement and technological evolution in the sport of skydiving, Patrick deGayardon of France unveiled the modern-day wingsuit design in 1994. The design, which is now the standard for wingsuits, was an adaptation from a model used by Vietnam War veteran and parachutist, John Carta.

In 1999, the first commercial wingsuit was released by skydivers Robert Pečnik of Croatia and Jari Kuosma of Finland under the brand name Bird-man International. The “Bird-man Classic” was the first wingsuit released to the public, and the company Bird-man International has continued to develop and advance wingsuit designs ever since. 

Bird-man International was also the first manufacturer to advocate the safe use of wingsuits by creating an instructor program which guides beginner wingsuit skydivers through a minimum of 200 jumps. Created by Bird-man co-founder Jari Kuosma, combined with the help of Bird-man instructors Scott Campos, Chuck Blue, and Kim Griffin, a standardized program of instruction was developed to prepare wingsuit instructors. 

Today, other wingsuit manufacturers like Squirrel Wingsuits, TonySuits Wingsuits, Phoenix-Fly, Fly Your Body, and Nitro Rigging have developed wingsuits similar to the Bird-man International design and have also instituted similar coach training programs.

Most modern wingsuits have the same basic features: flexible, durable fabric such as extra-sturdy nylon, air inlets and outlets, tougher leading edges, and various features for comfort and safety, such as cut-away arms and reinforced booties. Today’s wingsuits have an upper wing where the arms are and lower wing where the legs are. A recent study by MIT done in 2010 used a mannequin in a wind tunnel to measure the performance of a wingsuit with a third, forward wing. The extra wing was added above the arms and behind the head to increase the aspect ratio, or the ratio of the wingspan squared to the wing area. They found that the additional wing generated both higher lift and drag, meaning that the redesigned wingsuit would have a longer flight time, but shorter flight range. It’s possible we could see this type of implementation in future wingsuit designs. 

Wingsuit skydiving continues to advance, both in design and the sport itself. There are now several different types of wingsuit skydiving categories at both National and World level events, and both wingsuit skydiving and wingsuit base jumping have become popular competitive sports. 

wingsuiting stw history
Skydive the Wasatch wingsuit skydiver.

Are you looking to get into wingsuiting? Our “How to Start your Squirrelsuiting A.K.A. Wingsuit Skydiving Journey” blog is a great resource on how to get started in this amazing sub-discipline of skydiving! 

Additionally, Skydive the Wasatch offers a Wingsuit First Jump Course for those who have completed 200 jumps and are looking to get into wingsuiting next! 

Want more resources? Skydive the Wasatch is happy to help with any of your skydiving needs- whether it’s in regards to wingsuiting, another sub-discipline of skydiving, or anything skydiving or dropzone related at all! Give us a call at (385) 321-0284 or send us an email at info@skydivethewasatch.com for more info!

Addict II Athlete Skydive the Wasatch group photo

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