MOE_flyboy

Look! Up in the sky! ls it a bird? A plane? No, it’s Visa Parviainen. Last October, Parviainen, sporting a birdman suit and custom jet boots, dove face first out of a hot air balloon high above Lahti, Finland, and took off into the wild blue yonder. Parviainen is one of a growing number of sky divers who wear wingsuits during their dives. The fabric spanning the legs and arms enables the free-fallers to glide a bit before popping their parachutes Boosted by his rocket boots, though Parviainen was able to zip along at 2,000 meters for several minutes. To build his jet-powered flight suit. Parviainen and his cohorts at BirdMan. Inc. attached a pair of off-the-shelf microturbines to a pair of old hockey skates. Fueled by kerosene, each engine spits out about 16kg of thrust Tests at a nearby university’s wind tunnel convinced them that the aerodynamics should work out. The trick was figuring out a fuel tank system that was lightweight and durable enough for a twisting, turning, windswept human body. “The solution was to use hot water bottles as fuel tanks: Parviainen says. “Since they’re flexible, it’s also easier to squeeze every last drop of fuel out of them when you’re flying.”

Next, the team built a special launch platform to suspend from the side of the balloon canopy. The platform had two purposes one, it kept exhaust from the boots away from the balloon and passengers as Parviainen revved the engines before takeoff. Two, it was a “nice lounge” for the ride up Parviainen knows his way around a machine shop, souping up cars and motorcycles for racing and hacking mounts for helmet cams and other skydiving gear. He’s spent the winter working on a new rev of the flight apparatus, substituting a different set of microturbines and tweaking the engines for more reliable operation at chilly temperatures. On his next flight, he also plans to wear a black box recorder of sorts “Someday, I want to take off from the ground and land too” Parviainen says, “It’s far in the future, but I do think it’s possible. Right now though, this is all just good fun.”

BirdMan: bird-man.com

From the column Made on EarthMAKE 6, page 22 – David Pescovitz.