Ueli Gegenschatz: Extreme Wingsuit Flying

Ueli Gegenschatz takes everything we know about aerodynamics and puts it all into a series of brilliant extreme sports experiences in the pursuit of his dream of human flight. You can view this video and think about lift, drag, thrust, and weight, but chances are you’ll be too busy wishing you were there with him!

Says Gegenschatz: “I believe this is probably the closest possibility to come to the dream of being able to fly.”

An Ocean of Air

In 1644, Evangelista Toricelli wrote, “We live submerged at the bottom of an ocean of air.” We don’t feel the force of the pressure of this fluid any more than aquatic creatures feel the force of the water on all sides. Why? Because there is a uniformity of pressure in both cases; gravity exerts pressure on all sides.

Imagine for a moment that everything on the Earth and above its surface could exist under the water, or vice versa, without any change in appearance or properties. If we visualize  horizontal bands atop one another, it would break the habitable area into observable layers. Grass, trees, plants, insects, ground-dwelling animals would all be in the same layer as the plants, crabs, bottom-feeders, and sand dwelling creatures beneath the surface of the ocean. There would be fish swimming in the layer above our heads with the birds. Airplanes would soar further above, in a layer with the whales. Dolphins would escape the surface of the ocean, accompanied by rockets, at the topmost layer above Earth. It would be a jumbled and magnificent scene.  Wait! There’s more!

Four Forces of Flight in Action

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Mariotte and Huygens

Edme Mariotte (1620-1684) and Christian Huygens (1629-1695) are the theorists who brought the velocity-squared law to fluid dynamics. The remarkable thing is that they did not work together on this law, but arrived at the same conclusion.

The velocity-squared law explains why it’s difficult to go a bit faster when you’re already moving very fast. It states that resistance is not linear. Because of this, the rate at which fluid resistance increases, increases more quickly than the speed at which you’re moving. This concept is especially important when designing large vessels.
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Aristotle (384-311 BC) was one of the greatest philosophers and scientists of all time. He didn’t focus his attention on the specific study of fluids in motion, but many of his observations of fluids and objects in nature play a role in our current understanding of fluids in motion. For instance, Aristotle correctly surmised that a fluid in a container completely fills the space it occupies, with an observable surface at the top if the container is not completely filled. He also understood that “something” was at work to bring a moving object to a stop. Today we refer to the former concept as continuum and the latter as resistance. Both are important in understanding fluids in motion. Continuum explains why a fluid can be tested at any point in the fluid. Resistance is fundamental to an appreciation of viscosity, the internal friction of a liquid.

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