28 August 2003
28 August 2003
The Skyray is a solid, triangular, carbon-fiber wing that lets skydivers shoot above the clouds at 186 mph for two exhilarating minutes. That's quadruple the air time of the usual free fall and almost twice the speed of the world's fastest bird, the spine-tailed swift.
Nearly ready for mass production, the 9-pound Skyray is the brainchild of Munich-based inventor Alban Geissler, who has designed earthbound objects from hot rods to hot-water pumps. His innovation: delta wings, like those on an F-102 fighter jet. Instead of sticking out perpendicular to the body, the Skyray's wings are angled back, eliminating the need for a stabilizing tail and making any kind of spin - the fatal flaw of many a wing suit - impossible. When the high-speed joyride is over, the jumper pulls a rip cord and parachutes in for landing - wings still attached.
Geissler had never skydived before he came up with his invention, and since then he's managed just 25 jumps. (His girlfriend gets jealous when he flirts with death.) So he turns to Christoph Aarns, part owner of Dädalus, one of Germany's four drop zones. Aarns has a wife and two kids and is obsessed with safety. For playing guinea pig, Aarns gets 10 percent of Geissler's company, Freesky, and, of course, he can take a Skyray out whenever he likes. (Geissler has recently added a second test flier, Patrick Barton.)
After Aarns' first flight in 1999, he had a few suggestions for Geissler. ""Velcro is not a good idea when you're flying at 200 miles per hour,"" he says dryly. The wings also had no handles, and Aarns had to eject from the suit after the turbulent ride. A few prototypes later, Aarns is now able to fly the Skyray ""instead of it flying me."" After squeezing diagonally out the door of a twin-prop plane at 13,500 feet, he dives straight down to pick up speed, then grabs onto the wings' handles and zooms across the horizon. ""The Skyray is like a bullet,"" he says. ""It's like an arrow."" Bull's-eye.