Experimenting with Aerodynamics

Posted by Tim Emmett
Monday 2nd March 2009

When I started wingsuit flying, one of the objectives was to fly into a well-known British event for a publicity stunt. It had never been done before and still to this day, is up for grabs.

Like many of the best stunts, they are usually illegal and this was no exception so the plan was to be dropped off (from a flying vessel of some form) 5KM away from intended landing area. This meant that if, or when the pilot of the aircraft got spotted they would actually be outside of the 5KM buffer area and hence not breaching aviation air space for the event.

 So, while I was training with my wingsuit I needed to find out how far I could fly. There were lots of other parameters to consider like wind speed and direction, flight performance and so on, so I got my hands on a Suunto T9 watch. It has a GPS and altimeter so the idea was to do a number of test flights to find out my distance covered, average speed, angle of descent, maximum speed. With these results I could find out the height that I needed to exit the aircraft to make it to the landing area, simple!

To cut a long story short, the stunt was cancelled due to bad weather. However while training I reached a maximum speed of 339 KPH (about 209MPH ground speed) and covered 6.2KM from 13,500ft!

So there I was at the top of the "red run" on the Grande Monte in Chamonix, looking at my watch and the quiet open piste. Hmmmm, it had to be done, so I reset the GPS at went for it.

 I've been a member of the straight-line crew ever since day 3 on skis when I spent the day with Leo Houlding (also on his third day). Leo coined the phrase "High speed, low control" and each of us wiped out on every run. Fortunately it was extremely quiet and we only terrorized a handful of other skiers. At one point Leo, at full speed didn't quite make it round a sharp corner and got ejected off the piste headfirst on his back accompanied by a dozen marker poles and rope that cordoned off the large drop.  Some how we survived.

Back to the story! When BASE jumping or sky diving the reason why you reach terminal velocity and then stop accelerating is purely down to friction with the air particles so aerodynamic's and body mass play an integral. If two people weigh the same, one is 6ft and falls at 120mph the other one whose 5'2 will probably fall at 150-160mph. If you reduce the surface area of your body you speed up.

That’s why the fastest skiers are always in tucked position.

So I thought Id give it a try. With freshly waxed skis the alarms bells started ringing but there was no one on the piste and my confidence was building. Knowing there was a sharp drop off near the end I knew all it had to do was be in balance on take off and then I had every chance of landing it.

 As soon as my skis left the snow I realised I had made a big mistake.

Both skis departed on impact, it’s wasn't pretty. I sheepishly made my way back to the hire shop nurturing the parts the hurt the most. The shopkeeper looked surprised that I was bringing the skis back so early in the day, so it thought I should show him the speed on my watch.

 It read - 86.4 mph

Before that day one of my life ticks was to do 100mph on skis. Maybe not!

 T :-)

Read more blog entries by Tim Emmett

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