History of skyflying

The Dream and it's history

All about Skyflying is about a dream, the dream of the human flight. From the very beginning, the humankind has dreamed of soaring the skies with only his own wings. Now this dream has come true. As skydivers around the world can now feel the pure flight, let us not forget those who made this dream come true.

a long time ago...

The first more or less credible tale of man aping bird takes place shortly after the first millennium. Al-Djawhari, a brilliant lexicographer and scholar from Turkistan, announced from the top of a mosque that he was about to make history. He did. Wearing two giant wooden wings, he leapt into the air and fell immediately to his death. Sometime in the 12th century, a Turk decided to jump from the top of a tower wearing a voluminous pleated white garment. The story became widely known in the western world thanks to Richard Knolles, a 17th-century historian. "In steed of mounting aloft," he wrote, "this foolish Icarus came tumbling downe headlong with such violence, that he brake his necke, his armes and legs, with almost all the bones of his bodie." These words set off a spate of European endeavors at human flight that would last for centuries. When an Austrian tailor named Franz Reichelt stepped off the Eiffel Tower in 1912--wearing something like an overcoat made for a rhinoceros--the era of canopy-free drops from stationary heights came to an end. It was in that same year that a U.S. Army captain named Albert Berry made the first jump from an airplane with a parachute. (Berry lived, Reichelt did not.)

1930's - The first real Birdmen

In the history of skydiving, there has always been those brave men and women pushing the envelope and experimenting for goals the majority has doomed unachievable. In the beginning of freefall skydiving, nobody knew how to control ones body in freefall. The original idea of wings was to control and stabilize the skydiver during his plunge towards earth. The pioneers of wingflying built their wings of wood, metal and canvas, they were the first Birdmen. To give the show to their audience, they usually opened very low, which in many cases killed them. The most famous of the first generation of birdmen were Clem Sohn, Rudolph Bõlen and Harry Ward. Clem Sohn was the most famous of the many American show jumpers. He built his bat-wings of canvas and used metal rods for supporting them. He also built a canvas wing between his legs. Clem Sohn died on a show jump in Villacoubly in France on 25 April 1937 as his canopy malfunctioned to form a "roman candle". He deployed his reseve, but it entangled with the malfunctioning main. Also many other American show jumpers used wingsuits to boost their shows, amongst them Manos Morgan and Tommy Boyd. Harry Ward, "The Yorkshire Birdman", was the leading British parachutist of the 30's. When he first tried his wingsuit, he already was an experienced showjumper and a RAF rigger. He did his first wingjump in 1936 and after practising, was able to fall stable and to perform some turns and horizontal movement in freefall with his semi-rigid wings made of wood and linen. His wings were in designed in a manner that enabled him to release them before pulling the ripcord. He did nine jumps with his wings. As an exception, Harry Ward was one of the few men to survive the birdman game, and died on July 2000 at a respectable 97 years of age.

1950's - Leo Valentin's time

In the early 50's jumpers partly abandoned metallic and wooden wings and built their wings of canvas or silk. This made jumping with wings a bit safer. Famous birdmen of the era were Leo Valentin, Pierre Mas, Santo Rinaldi, the Masselin brothers and Jean Durand. Leo Valentin was maybe the most famous birdman of all. As well as a birdman, he can be concidered as the developer of skydiving as a sport. He made his first jump in 1938 in Armeé de l'Air in Baraki, Algeria and and made hundreds of jumps after that. He was the first man to resolve and learn the basics of free fall aerodynamics. That made him able to fall in stable position (Valentins position is an arched delta position) both on his belly and also on his back, complete turns and barrel rolls. Valentin made his first wing jump at Villacoublay airfied with wings that were made of canvas, but he was not satisfied with them as he could not achieve any forward speed. He then built a series of rigid wings and tested them in a wind tunnel. It's claimed that with these wings he managed to cover some distance in air. Léo Valentin died 1956 as he hit a part of his wings with the plane on exit, which resulted in a spin he could not stop, and resulted in a malfunction in his parachute. In Finland, Viktor Androsov (Andro) of the Lentosirkus Pilvien Huimapäät (the Flying Air Sircus Daredevils of the Clouds) was one of the birdmen. He died on his first wingsuit jump in Jämi, Finland. The reason for the accident was that because of the large canvas wings, he could not locate the ripcord to open his parachute. Before the jump his friends supposed him to cut a hole to the wing and assemble the ripcord through the wing, but he strictly refused to do so. Unfortunately, between 1930 and 1961, 72 of the 75 original Birdmen died while trying to break the barriers of the human flight.


A Frenchman Gilles Delamarre experimented with various types of ailerons in arms and legs.


Christoph Aarns from Germany experimented with wingsuits and other designs in late 80's to improve tracking performance. His wingsuit looked a bit like a flying squirrel, and although using it gave him more freefall time, it did not lead to increased forward speed. He also experimented with a board attached in front of his legs to improve tracking speed.

1990's Patrick de Gayardon - inventor of the modern wingsuit

In the mid 90's the legendary skydiver Patrick De Gayardon of France experimented with his self-made wingsuit and was able to fly like no one had flown before. Patrick's innovation was to attach wings between his arms and his body, and between his legs - hence the "tri-wingsuit". The wings that carried him were filled with air and formed a simple wing profile as he flew like a bird above Hawaii and other exotic places. Sadly Patric died on April 13th, 1998 while practising with his wing suit. The reason for the accident was a rigging error that caused a malfunction in his main canopy. However, the dream of the human flight did not die.

Late 90's and the new century - Patricks followers

In 1998, Finnish skydiver Jari Kuosma joined forces with a Croat Robert Pecnik with a dream of building a safe, well performing and commercially available wingsuit, that any considerably experienced skydiver could fly and enjoy. The first product was the "BirdMan-suit", named after those original birdmen and based on Patrick's design. Today that suit has evolved much and there are suits specific for the beginner and the experienced. In France, following de Gayardon's footsteps, another frenchman Loïc Jean Albert developed the monowing wingsuit with Pierre Desmet and Stephane Zunino. The suit is one big wing with the skydiver "installed" inside. In the beginning Loïc's suit was called the CrossBow. The suit has evolved much and is now the S-fly Expert.

As skyflying is a very young thing in skydiving in it's today's form, new things are learned every day. Today the average falling rate can be lower than 50 km/h and the forward speed more than 150 km/h, giving a glide ratio better than 3:1. Minimum vertical speeds as low as 8 m/s have been measured. This makes it possible for you to soar the sky between the clouds with your friends up to three minutes before opening your chutes.

A new level in human flight has now been achieved!