zurich-minds

A solemn warning to Wingsuit flyers

Geoffrey Robson was a qualified mechanical engineer and mathematician who happened to love to wingsuit fly.

The fantastic video below (fmalan1) taken in early April, shows Robson opening a new route from the Groot Drakenstein mountains above Boschendal, near Stellenbosch, South Africa.

It was recorded on his helmet-mounted video camera and shows graphically why this is such a seriously extreme sport:

Geoffrey Robson: Wingsuit proximity flying near Stellenbosch

Robson completed his Master’s degree at the University of Stellenbosch, and was a PhD student at the ETH in Switzerland, where he conducted research on wingsuit flying. He considered himself lucky enough to be able to combine his interests in one study: aerodynamics and wingsuit flying and aimed to combine maths and science to improve wingsuit flying.

He had been studying wingsuit flight to unprecedented accuracy by using a highly sensitive instrument which measured 3D location by GPS and inertial measurement, flyer attitude and heading, altitude, and air pressure during many wingsuit Base jumps.

Robson was said to be the only person in the world who combined the scientific capacity for this kind of research with the ability to test it himself in the air.

Geo Robson ZURICH.MINDS

Thank you to zurichminds for this fascinating video.

Today Geoffrey Robson is dead.

Early in the morning of Monday, 12th April, he tried the same route, but this time he wanted to cross the ridge between Devil’s Tooth (the peak to the front, right) and the mountain. His calculations were wrong, and he failed to clear the ridge, resulting in his death at the age of 31.

“If he were two metres higher, he would have survived” said his jumping companions, and that is the name of the game with wingsuit flying. It is an inherently dangerous sport, but a sport participated in by people with huge skydiving experience and a deep love of adventure, of setting themselves new challenges and of taking on the ultimate challenge – wingsuit flying or ‘proximity flying’ as it is also known.

All extreme sports are dangerous, some more than others, and wingsuit flying and BASEjumping probably the most dangerous of all.  We found this little list of statistics on fatalities in extreme sports over the past 5 years per 1,000 participants. Anyone with an ambition to climb K2 might take note of these figures too!

Skydiving:                                  3.3
Base Jumping:                          44
Hang Gliding/Paragliding:  3.8
Summiting K2:                         104
ATV Riding:                              0.5
Scuba Diving:                            .06
Snowboarding:                         .05

Although wingsuit flying is not on the list (there is probably not enough data to work with yet) it is probably somewhere between skydiving and BASEjumping. It is an interesting aside, though, that fatality rates were very high during the developmental period for this extreme sport. Between 1930 and 1961, 71 out of 75 people died trying to perfect a wingsuit.

But it is immensely popular with a small handful of hardcore adventurists. ‘To fly like a bird’ has always been man’s ambition, and with wingsuit flying you are nearly there…

“Wingsuit flying was his life” said his friend and jump companion Leander Lacey. Robson’s father, Bill, described his eldest son as a “brilliant mathematician” who was most comfortable in the outdoors. “He came here for a Base-jumping holiday. There is an element of danger, but this is just so tragic,” he said.

Our commiserations go to Geoffrey Robson’s family and friends.

31 Responses to “A solemn warning to Wingsuit flyers”

  1. 007 wingman You Tube
    2011 | 5 March at 17:00 #

    Excellent, a glide ratio of 15 to 1 still brings you in at 60 mph for a landing. The only new development in aerodynamic lift is in the field of favorable interference between two flying surfaces. The new flying suit uses multiple laminar flow oval diskettes and improves the 2 to 1 ratio to a new 7.5 to 1 ratio. This suite is being produced in San Antonio Texas and will be used in a gliding flight over the English Channel at a start altitude of 25,000 feet. The suit is named after the inventor (Hamilton/Nobias) and relies on high lift laminar flow diskettes that maintain favorable interference with the low pressure side of the bat wing of the flying suite. 007 wingman.

    • honestann
      2011 | 6 June at 08:48 #

      Wow, 7.5 to 1 is very impressive. Can you provide some references where I can learn the current state of this development? I’ll appreciate that.

      I might also point out that a human being can withstand an impact at 60mph without injury —IF— he wears a large “airbag” that covers the top half of his body. You’ll find the same general type of airbag in most cars today. Of course the airbag needs to trigger about 1+ meter before impact so deceleration happens BEFORE the human body impacts the unyielding [rock, ground, pavement] surface.

    • John MacCallum
      2012 | 8 February at 22:56 #

      I think this guy is talking out of his ass… i didnt find anything on 7.5:1 glide ratio or “laminar flow oval diskettes” on google.

      • lowFlyer
        2013 | 8 February at 22:57 #

        7.5 : 1 ? no way. The highest ratio i know of is 4:1, but the standard glide ratio is 2.5:1 … a glide ratio of 4:1 in flare position will get you 60mph

        • lolajones
          2013 | 12 February at 17:22 #

          Hmmm, thank you for that. I’ll have to check my sources!

      • Ian
        2013 | 27 September at 18:26 #

        I know it’s been a while since this topic was active, but it still floats to the top of Google. Search for
        “Hamilton H.N2 laminar flow diskette wing”
        and you can read the details of the patent. I can’t imagine
        that you’d be able to apply it to anything other than a
        fixed wing.

  2. reslash
    2011 | 6 April at 07:30 #

    wow pretty amazing hope the improvments keep coming 60mph is much better than the 90mph of the current wingsuits out there

  3. J.C. Richardson III
    2013 | 13 February at 07:32 #

    I think if god wanted you to fly he would have put wings on man. I guess it’s the challenge of doing something like flying. If man only flew like a bird he would be trying to walk or swim like a fish.
    Wing suit flyers are cutting it close when hugging a mountain. It only takes one spot of dead air and it’s all over. Like when they fly by the people on the highway. They are cutting it close at that spot.
    Do they check the altitude on the route they will be flying before jumping? Are do they just fly by sight in front of them?
    Happy flying guys. Put a horse shoe in your pocket when jumping.

    • lolajones
      2013 | 14 February at 12:56 #

      Haha – seems we never learnt our lesson from Icarus and Daedalus!
      They do study their route very very carefully and do as much planning as possible, but sometimes the smallest thing can cause their best made plans to go wrong – or nearly wrong… simple things like the growth of a tree since the last time they studied the route! It is very much a “do the best you can at the planning stage and then rely on linghtning quick reflexes” – or so it seems to me.
      The horse shoe would be a good idea although put it somewhere central not in a pocket otherwise you’ll be weighted on one side and that could throw out all your calculations!

      • Morgan knight
        2013 | 27 August at 10:02 #

        Yo anyone know best way to get involved with doing this i understand ud have to start from the bottom skydiving etc but im in new zealand i dont give a shit i want to get up to this .. I need to

        • lolajones
          2013 | 30 August at 13:25 #

          No-one will teach you unless you have the requisite number of skydiving jumps. I suggest you contact your nearest skydiving club – and in New Zealand there are bound to be several. Good luck and no matter how badly you want to wingsuit fly – make sure you do all the lessons first!

        • Joel
          2013 | 16 October at 05:23 #

          I’d start here:

          http://www.dropzone.com/dropzone/Pacific/New_Zealand/index.html

          I’m in the US, but a NZ trip is one of my goals for the (hopefully) not too distant future. There appear to be quite a few scenic DZs in the country. I did note a comment on one of the pages that many of them cater to students and/or tandems and aren’t all that welcoming to fun jumpers, which may be an issue once you’re no longer a student. We have a couple like that in Florida, and the good thing about them is that you can usually just pass them on by. Most of the people I talk to here, and most of the DZs I’ve checked out recommend 2-3 hundred skydives before getting into making wing-suit jumps, which makes sense.

    • jmmacb03
      2013 | 27 December at 04:06 #

      I guess you are not a big believer in planes. 40x more people die trying to climb K2. (More are injured in canoes.)

      Google maps can give them slope of terrain and then it is like every pilot. “Knowing” the updrafts, air temp (therefore density etc…) They check everything. These are meticulous guys/gals that progress slowly (yrs). (Not like practising RW now in a tunnel.)

      Used to jump and always was a dream to fly without having to pay for fuel! (Ah, if I was not 56 with fake knees…)

    • cdanon76
      2014 | 25 April at 17:09 #

      God must have wanted us to fly. He gave us the brains to figure out how on our own (and maybe even the thumbs to let us do what we figure out)!

  4. acMan
    2013 | 7 March at 04:06 #

    I have a number of questions. I’m in high school at the moment so I’m guessing I’m a bit too young to attemp wingsuit flying yet, but in the meantime I suppose it would be extremely helpfully to know exactly what I’m getting myself into. Questions:
    •where do air pockets/dead air come from?
    •how can one avoid dead air?
    •if someone encounters a patch of dead air what should they do?
    •where is dead air located? (may have answered this in first question lol)
    •Can you fly in dead air? (pretty sure you can’t)
    •etc…
    Thank you if you answered any of these questions and happy flying :)

    • lolajones
      2013 | 7 March at 12:15 #

      You know, I think the best thing for you to do would be to contact the nearest wingsuit flying club to you and ask these questions. You will have to do the 200 skydives first so you’d better start making some contacts. How old are you?!

    • jmmacb03
      2013 | 27 December at 04:18 #

      No such thing as “dead air”. (I’m and Aero Eng. Tech) Lots of info on internet now about skydiving and it will take years to get into proximity flying. Contact your local club or even wind tunnel. Have fun watching all the videos on YouTube. Many different skydiving disciplines, so maybe just check out the World’s at Dubai. (Start saving your money now!!) Blue Skies.

  5. Rob
    2013 | 7 March at 11:59 #

    To the folks who talk smack about the people who do this, I ask you. Is it better to live hard and fast, doing what you love and have passion for knowing that it carries high risks and great personal rewards? Or is a mundane, “safe” life, that offers little risk and modest rewards at best that fits into so many people’s molds of how life “should” be what you would really condemn these folks to? J.C… it’s nice that you’ve done nothing like this in your life, may you live to 150 years old. But to state “put a horseshoe in your pocket when jumping..” shows you to be the lowest of the mundane. You are so scared of taking extreme risks in the name of personal satisfaction, that you would wish harm on people who do. I think that I would prefer to die a young death full of life, than be stuck here on the planet with masses of you..

    • lolajones
      2013 | 7 March at 12:10 #

      Each to their own hey Rob. There will be many people out there who wouldn’t dream of wingsuit flying, some more who wouldn’t dare do anything remotely extreme and a lot of others who prefer the safe alternative. But hell, wouldn’t life be dull if we were all the same! Me? I prefer extreme…

    • Pulse
      2013 | 28 April at 06:44 #

      “But to state “put a horseshoe in your pocket when jumping..” shows you to be the lowest of the mundane. You are so scared of taking extreme risks in the name of personal satisfaction, that you would wish harm on people who do.”

      Dude… They aren’t wishing harm on wingsuit fliers. A horseshoe is like a rabbit’s foot, it’s for good luck.

    • joe
      2013 | 24 August at 05:08 #

      i think he meant for good luck……

    • Pete
      2014 | 11 May at 04:16 #

      What makes you think that a “safe” life is a mundane one? That just exposes your faulty thinking. Not to mention that what is safe for one is not safe for another. In my young adulthood I was into extreme living (mountaineering in the Andes, Arctic circle exploration,kayaking Norweigian waterfalls, and more). But that chapter ended for me, and now I’m a successful entrepreneur who faces insane challenges every day in the whirlwind international business community. Want to know the truth? I look back at my “extreme” days and think how immature and naive I was to think I was so “above” the rest of the normal people living boring lives. I was self-absorbed and couldn’t see that the simplicity of my physical extremes were nothing compared to the complexity of the interpersonal, social, business world and what extreme intensity of purpose it takes to succeed. I am much more fulfilled now, and am glad that I’ve moved beyond that stage in my life.

  6. James Woo
    2013 | 31 March at 02:01 #

    Sad that a such a smart person died doing the sport but yes, extreme is extreme. Thanks for posting the statistics too. I did one bungee jump and one paraglider flight once. Now, I’m a bit too old and become more afraid as I get older.

    I guess if they jumpsuit flyers don’t hug the terrain, it would not be as dangerous nor as exhilarating .

    • lolajones
      2013 | 2 April at 13:36 #

      Good for you James and you’re right, it’s the proximity flying that has made wingsuit flying as dangerous as it is. It would always have had a higher degree of extremeness but proximity flying? That’s dicing with death! but very very exhilarating.

    • Malcolm Hayward
      2014 | 6 March at 13:55 #

      This guy was a mathematician.
      Check out the life span of mathematicians!

  7. Jame Kading
    2013 | 26 July at 10:00 #

    Keep up the good work i will return often.

  8. Frederik Svensson
    2014 | 17 March at 16:20 #

    oh, I would love to try this sport. Hope I will have chance one day.

  9. HR Diagnositcs
    2014 | 25 March at 22:07 #

    I drop a leave a response when I appreciate a post on
    a website or I have something to contribute to the discussion.

    It is triggered by the sincerness displayed in the article I browsed.

    And after this post A solemn waring to Wingsuit flyers | Xtremesport.
    I was moved enough to post a thought :-P I actually do hve a couple of questions for you if it’s okay.
    Could it be simply me or does it look like like a few of thhe remarks appear like
    left by brain dad folks? :-P And, if you are writing at other social sites, I would like
    to follow you. Could youu make a list the complete urls of your community pages
    like yyour twitter feed, Facebook page orr linkedin profile?

  10. BBBert
    2014 | 16 July at 22:04 #

    According to the end of this video:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnvvsjstveM

    25 people died in 2013 in Wingsuit.

    How many people performed Wingsuit flying in 2013? If it was 250, then it is as safe as summiting K2.

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