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Is it possible to land with a wingsuit on solid ground or water?

What does not count:

  • Jumping from low height that does not allow to reach terminal velocity
  • Landing in trees or other objects that might soften the impact (softest surface allowed: low grass)
  • Landing in specifically prepared water, like next to a waterfall
  • Landing on terrain that is not flat like hills or waves
  • Using a parachute or similar device
  • Using anything that extends considerably further than the convex shape of the body.
  • Wearing or carrying any other object beyond regular clothing and wingsuit (padding, wheels, springs, etc.)
  • Timing irregular environmental conditions like storms

What does count:

  • Specific body techniques while in the air like flaring
  • Specific body techniques on impact like rolling
  • Specific training and body shape
  • Timing specific but regular and natural environmental conditions like temperature, air pressure, rainfall, moderate wind, elevation, chemical water composition

How should this be done to maximise the chance of survival without serious injuries?

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    $\begingroup$ While not the most obvious "aviation category", right out of bat I cannot see why this would not be a fitting question here. I most certainly would like to see answers to this one. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Oct 17, 2023 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ Is it allowed to make the landing into a gigantic pile of empty cardboard boxes? Because that is what has in fact been done. Landing into boxes: youtube.com/watch?v=DEP8juRSBRo . Landing into a net: youtube.com/watch?v=7hG44arJ00s $\endgroup$ Oct 17, 2023 at 13:41
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    $\begingroup$ A storm regularly comes with unpredictably gusty winds, which would mean you have to get lucky to catch the right gust. I cannot draw a specific line, but something like conditions that naturally happen about once a month should count. $\endgroup$
    – catalyst
    Oct 18, 2023 at 6:00
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    $\begingroup$ I'm surprised ice isn't mentioned in any answer yet. $\endgroup$ Oct 18, 2023 at 6:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Koterpillar - Probably because intuitively we think of landing on soft dirt as being safer. However there will likely be a lot of violent tumbling, whereas the "rollout" on ice may actually work out better in many cases. It would be interesting to analyze or at least think about the advantages and disadvantages of landing on ice. $\endgroup$ Oct 20, 2023 at 12:56

4 Answers 4

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The forward speed of a wingsuit flyer in steady state descent ranges from 100 mph to as much as 130 mph, depending on the specifications of the suit (membrane area and flier weight are the most critical). Given approximately a 4:1 glide ratio, that means a minimum descent rate of between 25 and 35 mph (= ~2200 to over 3000 ft/min).

Even neglecting forward speed, impact with a solid surface at that speed will be above 90% fatal; either chest trauma or head trauma can do the job.

A good flare can reduce this descent rate by more than half, perhaps even to near zero if excess forward speed is carried, but then the "landing" becomes a slide at speeds normally only seen when a motorcyle road racer comes off his bike. Those racers often survive with only minor injuries, however; I'd have do say, on that basis, that it's probably possible for an experienced wingsuit flier to land, if not safely, at least survivably on smooth asphalt or concrete (water is less desirable as this would then be equivalent to a speed water skier falling at above 100 mph).

The big issue here is that it's impossible to practice this kind of maneuver -- your first landing is the first time you'd try to land, and unlike when learning to fly an aircraft (or even a glider) you don't have an instructor aboard to coach you and take the controls if necessary, nor the ability to "go around" if the landing doesn't look right. By the time you're close enough to tell if it's good or not, you're fully committed.

It's worth adding here that wearing a full face helmet and hard body armor on chest, abdomen, groin, thighs, knees and shins, plus reinforced boots with steel/composite safety toes and ankle support would greatly reduce the possibility of broken bones and life-threatening levels of abrasion and laceration from high speed ground contact. This would be effectively the front half of what a motorcycle road racer wears (if you do this right, your back won't ever touch the ground).

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    $\begingroup$ dang it zeiss, you beat me to this... $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Oct 17, 2023 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ all of those reinforced armors also do increase form drag and wing loading $\endgroup$
    – user21228
    Oct 17, 2023 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ Wing loading, for certain, @jkztd; form drag depends on how the armor is shaped and applied. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Oct 17, 2023 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ One possible thought I could have here would be to equip a wing suit flyer with a Landing gear – I’m thinking something like a pair of skids, similar to a child’s, snow sled - which would be fitted to the front of the wing suit rider’s body. This would facilitate ease of contact and slide out. Landing would be made on a dry lake, bed, or similar flat surface. That’s not to deny the Highwire nature of this endeavor. Get it wrong and it’s almost assuredly fatal. $\endgroup$ Oct 17, 2023 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ @catalyst A parkour drop, however, usually lands on the feet/legs, not flat on the chest and belly (and face). Horizontal stall speed of a wingsuit is typically still above 70 mph. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Oct 18, 2023 at 11:03
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Surviving a landing on solid ground or water in a wingsuit is not very likely.

The speed of a skydiver using a wingsuit will be in the vicinity on 100 kts. While it is possible to steer a wingsuit upwards (see video here) bleeding airspeed while doing so, making a safe flare to land will be difficult as the "pilot" will have a lot of energy left at the moment of touchdown.

As the skydiver approaches ground, margin of error becomes very small, and the (small) ground effect will make controlling the touchdown tricky. Wingsuits aren't especially a "precision instrument" to begin with when it comes to maneuvering .

Question specifies "Specific body techniques on impact like rolling": the chances of survival would be highest if the "pilot" manages a controlled flat touchdown at reasonable vertical speed.

As for the conditions, the ground should be extremely flat, a little soft and preferably slippery to avoid tumbling which would certainly if not instantly kill, then seriously injure the daredevil. My preferred choice of terrain would be a flat wet grass field. A steady headwind might at first sound like a good condition, but when we take into account the fact that wind speed diminishes quickly at low altitudes as the ground approaches, I think headwind would actually make landing harder, as the airspeed would quickly bleed out before touchdown.

As an example, motorcycle racers try to avoid rolling if they are thrown off the bike, and instead glide on the ground to bleed off speed. You should note that mc racing gear is like a full body armour, which would of course protect the wingsuit lander, but then again the mc racing gear is very stiff, and would make already hard steering of the wingsuit even more difficult.

I thinks it's safe to assume landing on water would be lethal, as touchdown would most likely lead to a sudden dive/stop. The body form of a skydiver is not able to support aquaplaning , and even if it was, dropping out of planing would lead to a sudden stop and most likely a loss of consciousness.

As a side note, it is possible to survive a non-parachute landing in a wingsuit as demonstrated by Gary Connery, but you need a lot of cardboard boxes for it:

His technique was to bleed off airspeed as much as possible and then slam into the "cardboard runway" in a more or less controlled manner.

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    $\begingroup$ Great video! Evel Knievel apparently wanted to try something similar, although that was skydiving without a parachute or wingsuit, landing in a huge pile of cardboard boxes. It turned out to be too hazardous even for him! $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Oct 17, 2023 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ this video actually shows the ability to flare and even gain altitude, where the cardboard landing doesn't. this shrinks down whatever happens next to your good motorcycle fall analogy $\endgroup$
    – user21228
    Oct 17, 2023 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ Yep, @jkztd the first link in my answer shows similar maneuvering. One has to distinguish between gaining altitude with room to spare and flaring to land. Very, very different. When you pull up in flight, you think in tens of feet. When flaring to land in a wingsuit you think in inches 😃 $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Oct 17, 2023 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ Gary connery's landing could best be described by the aviation term "positive landing". Actually perhaps super positive. I mean it's not a real crash if you walk away from it. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Oct 17, 2023 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ Motorcycle safety gear also nowadays includes airbags. $\endgroup$ Oct 18, 2023 at 21:26
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I realize that there is an answer that has been accepted, but I'm going to offer a competing answer that differs -

Yes, it would be possible to survive a landing on water. And it would be at least as feasible to attempt as the cardboard box landing seen in the other answer.

As seen in this video, (thanks @jkztd) the wingsuit flyer levels off approximately 10-20 feet above the water, then climbs enough to crest a dam at the end.

With this kind of precision and control a skilled flyer could fly low enough and almost parallel to the surface to begin dragging their toes, eventually settling and slowing enough to arch their back and skim the water on their belly. Effectively they could "body surf" at high speed until the drag slowed them enough to settle fully into the water.

For comparison, consider that even if you fall hard towards the water from standing level on a water ski at 25-30mph it will result in skipping and sliding for some distance before settling down.

There's no reason why you couldn't do the same thing on the vast expanse of a frozen lake either.

However, I don't agree it would be possible to survive without significant injury on solid ground, (grass, dry lake bed, etc.) since the increased friction could result in violent tumbling. (although I have seen videos of rather violent tumbling and sliding at high speeds by motorcycle racers and they have walked away...)

I'm not saying that it would be easy, or that I would try, but it seems quite feasible to attempt...

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  • $\begingroup$ For the very reason of tumbling avoidance, I suggested the "best case scenario" of wet grass. You have made a good point about water skiers skipping on water after falling though. My concern is that the speed of the wingsuit wacko would be twice that of the water skier. Certainly that might make for more spectacular skipping, but also for more violent tumbling. +1 anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Oct 20, 2023 at 11:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Jpe61, the risk of tumbling on water could be mitigated by incorporating some longitudinal striations or shallow fins in the bottom of the wingsuit for directional stability upon touchdown. $\endgroup$ Oct 20, 2023 at 19:33
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Even if the wingsuiter can indeed flare to reach zero vertical velocity very close to the ground, or water, contact point will still be feet and knees first, pivoting around that point to slam the wingsuiter's head against the surface.

Having some landing gear, monowheel or nautical ski might help

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ Nifty video! But, with forward velocity and lift you can avoid what it demonstrates. $\endgroup$ Oct 20, 2023 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ I e. A nose wheel airplane doesn't pivot around the main gear and "slam" the nose down, except in a hard landing. It is possible to hold the nose off the ground until you run out of elevator authority. $\endgroup$ Oct 20, 2023 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall agreed a tricycle airplane (C172 like) can hold the nose off because main gear is conveniently placed relative to center of gravity. The monowheel wingsuit contraption otoh works like a taildragger arrangement (Piper Cub like), center of gravity being aft from wheel contact point. $\endgroup$
    – user21228
    Oct 20, 2023 at 21:30
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    $\begingroup$ the existing aircraft that best mimics an unmodified wingsuit landing is the X-15, not because it goes fast but because its main landing gear is set far back from its center of gravity, like the wingsuiter's feet. even if it lands smoothly, it ends up slamming its nosewheel. $\endgroup$
    – user21228
    Oct 20, 2023 at 21:48
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    $\begingroup$ If you can survive a water ski wipeout at 143 mph: youtube.com/watch?v=UVe4cOeD_ag $\endgroup$ Oct 20, 2023 at 22:41

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