The Electrified Wingsuit: imagine that you have had an excellent idea and built a partnership with BMWi. Imagine your dream is becoming a reality. Just imagine how you would feel. That’s Peter Salzmann’s story. He is revolutionizing the transport industry by creating the first wingsuit that flies with a motor. Actually, a fully electric engine. Three years ago, Peter had this idea while brainstorming about wingsuits with a friend. He wanted to increase performance and came up with something he called “Supportive Drive.”
An icy alpine wind blows in his face, but Peter Salzmann smiles anyway. The moment the Austrian wingsuit pilot has been looking forward to for so long is here! The helicopter rises with him to an altitude of 3000 meters. The mountain ranges of the Three Brothers can already be made out through the cloud cover. In a few seconds, Salzmann will fulfill a long-awaited dream – that of jumping in a wingsuit, which should enable him to fly over the Three Brothers thanks to an electric drive.
During the approach, Salzmann goes through all the processes one last time in his mind, almost meditatively. He closes his eyes and flies the distance in front of the inner eye with the head’s light movements, upper body, and hands. Three years of work, research, and testing for that one moment. He breathes on the open helicopter door briefly – and rushes out.
Peter Salzmann’s story
The Austrian, since a boy always wanted to fly. Peter became a stuntman, skydiver, base jumper, flight instructor, and a wingsuit pilot, making flying his real profession. His determination and focus allowed him to enter this journey, and only doing things close to his heart made other people believe in him.
“To fly is freedom. It is the ultimate expression for striving for the unknown and discovering new horizons, ”says Salzmann.
If you need more information regarding Peter Salzmann background please visit his website at https://petersalzmann.at/.
Back in the garage
For weeks, Salzmann worked in his garage at home on ways to implement the idea of a wingsuit – The Electrified Wingsuit -with assistive drive technology. He was unstoppable to further develop his sport and to enter new, unknown territory. The Austrian wants to improve his flexitime; he wants to take off from greater heights, fly further than before, and land safely in a suitable place. “I quickly came up with the idea of an impeller, that is, a propeller enclosed by a ring or tube-shaped housing.
However, a fuel-powered or conventional drive was out of the question,” explains Salzmann. “I attach great importance to sustainability and try to live up to it in everyday life. I enjoy nature from the air and on the ground – that’s why I want to consistently implement this mobility path. With the fully-electric BMW iX3, I can now do that when preparing for the next jumps. The advances in electrification have made my dream possible thanks to the support of BMW i”.
Peter Salzmann wants to get ahead, but he also knows that he needs expert help for this – and he will find it at BMWi in 2017. With a view to the simultaneous development of the fully-electric BMW iX3, the solution was obvious: they would jointly develop a wingsuit with an electric motor: an electric drive for lofty heights – powered by renewable energy, compact enough to work with a normal wingsuit, and with limited heat generation – a further development of the well-known wingsuit, which would enable an immediate start and a genuinely agile flight experience.
“I like to face such challenges. Developing new suits, testing new equipment and promoting the wingsuit sport in different ways – that’s what drives me, ”says Salzmann. “And in BMW I have found the perfect creative partner to realize the project with the highest security standard and with all necessary development steps”.
At the same time, BMWi made close contact with Designworks, the BMW Group’s design innovation studio. The studio provided Salzmann experts to develop, together with the wingsuit pilot, the flight suit, and the electric impeller adapted to the new drive technology. The Electrified Wingsuit was becoming a reality.
The first prototype
Ideas became sketches, sketches turned into digital models, and digital models turned into first prototypes. “The very first one was made of cardboard. I built it so that I could get a feel for the dimensions of the Flyunit, i.e., the impeller unit, including the batteries and everything that goes with it,” explains Salzmann. Two models were produced, a large and a smaller unit. The next step was a prototype made of aluminum, but it did not contain any impellers or electronics. It was used to simulate the weight and dimensions, and Salzmann had already carried him with a harness and chest holder.
“The development process was a constant up and down; we were always faced with new challenges,” says Salzmann. “At the beginning, we would have placed the drive unit on our back. But after the first drawings and discussions with aerodynamicists, we decided to move the Flyunit forward.” Salzmann and the team also had to quickly discard the plan to use the larger version of the impeller and thus gain 40 percent more power.
“When I tried the electrified wingsuit on for the first time, it was clear to me that the whole thing would then be too heavy and that I would only be able to move to a limited extent. When jumping, however, comfort and the feeling of security are the most important things, and I also need freedom of movement so that I can open the parachute later.
Let’s test it
“During the first few runs, we tested the entire ensemble with a doll, but with the original impellers and wingsuits, and measured all forces and moments,” explained Peter. Then it went on to Sweden. “”The first test in the wingsuit wind tunnel in Stockholm was a milestone for me. I couldn’t stop grinning. Because until that moment, I had no idea whether I could fly in a controlled manner with the impeller. This wind tunnel is the only one in the world in which wingsuit pilots can fly indoors.
Here I was able to simulate the flight and also test whether I could open my parachute without any problems.
Salzmann completed more than 30 test jumps with the Flyunit. “After evaluating the first jumps, we came to the conclusion that the impellers are still getting too little airflow. So additional air inlets were integrated into the wingsuit.” The drive system was designed in close cooperation with BMW i and Designworks and optimized down to the smallest detail.
Another finding was that the weight was too high and needed to be reduced. “And it was important to find a disconnection solution for the Flyunit in an emergency, to develop a control option and to position an on / off switch so that I could easily operate it at any time. This throttle is now on the left sleeve and can be controlled with the middle and ring fingers”.
The Electrified Wingsuit
The countdown is on. In half an hour, Peter Salzmann will start the decisive jump. The electric drive’s wingsuit or The Electrified Wingsuit, has been checked down to the last detail, every screw, every seam on the equipment checked. Calmly but visibly energized, he explains to his team members with great gestures how he wants to make the flight.
Was he nervous? No. “There is always tension, of course, and that’s good. You always have to be aware of the consequences of mistakes. At this speed and the physical strain, everything has to be right. -Peter Salzmann
The Big Day
3, 2, 1, go! Salzmann receives the long-awaited signal over the radio. When viewed from the ground, the pilot is initially only a small point in the sky but quickly approaches. While the helicopter is turning, Salzmann quickly picks up speed in his wingsuit. It rushes past the rock faces towards the valley at a distance of only one or two meters. In-flight, Salzmann always focuses on specific points along the mountain to maintain the course and to be able to react in good time if necessary. But the Austrian is in his element.
For three years, he gave everything for this moment. In the past two years, he has jumped more often than ever before – a few times over his own shadow. Then the time has come: he pulls the slide control towards him with his middle and ring finger – and is pushed back up from the descent by the connected electric drive as if by invisible forces.
Salzmann’s efforts and efforts are rewarded as he imagined it: with a quiet moment of euphoria at over 1000 meters above sea level. Just before he opens the parachute, he electrifies the last few meters of the thrust, exhales, and releases the parachute. To redefine the limits of his sport, he went to his limits himself.
Keep coming back
The revolution that our generation is seeing in this and many other projects where single people can fly free is a gift. I wish you the best of luck to Pete Salzmann. I’m very proud of your determination and success. I’m sure The Electrified Wingsuit will fly much faster, higher and further.
Also, want to thanks Markus Löblein. He wrote most of this article. You can see the full article on the BMW Web site – Wingsuit-Flug mit E-Motor: das Making-of.
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