Friday, December 4, 2009

They're Birds! They're Planes! No, It's the SWAT Team!

"Look Out Below! Wingsuits Pushed for Airborne Assaults"
Danger Room, Wired, (December 3, 2009)

"Yves Rossy, aka 'Jet man' and 'Fusion Man,' has grabbed headlines with his jet-powered flights with an 8-foot wing strapped to his back. But he could be joined sometime soon by commandos on an airborne assault.

"Last year, Rossy successfully flew 22 miles across the English Channel. Last week’s attempt to cross from Africa to Europe by flying from Morocco to Spain was less successful. Strong winds were against him, and Rossy ended up in the sea three miles short of the coast. Undaunted, the Swiss former military pilot now plans to fly across the Grand Canyon.

"Rossy has reportedly refused requests from the military and stated that his powered wing, which cost more than $190,000 to develop, is only for aviation enthusiasts. However, he’s not the only one in the wingsuit business.

"The Special Parachute and Logistics Consortium, is a German venture between two companies with expertise in this area. SPELCO produces a variety of parachute systems, helmets, oxygen supplies and other gear and services. But their most eye-catching project is the Gryphon Next Generation Parachute System (PDF, pictured)...."

(from Special Parachute and Logistics Consortium, via Wired, used w/o permission)

I'll skip the culturally-normative hand-wringing over the horrors of war, and how nice it would be if everybody was nice and not nasty. You probably know it by heart, anyway. And yes, it would be nice.1

My hat's off to Mr. Rossy: it looks like he's kept the rights to his invention, and he can decide how to market it.

As for the German consortium, they've got a (what else?) more practical idea as to how their technology can be used:

"...'All equipment is hidden in a lifting body optimized for stealth, the radar-signature is extremely low,' says the Gryphon data sheet (PDF). 'Detection of incoming Gryphon soldiers by airborne or ground radar will be extremely difficult.'

"Gryphon has a guidance system and heads-up display navigation. Best of all, the company are looking at an option for bolting on small engines similar to those used in Yves Rossy’s setup. These will increase the range to more than 60 miles, but will also make it possible to cover long distances from low altitude so that the entire mission can be more stealthy...."

As I said, I think it would be nice if everybody would be nice. But, since I live in the real world, I'm not terribly anguished to know that NASA is developing drop ships and that a German consortium has something like a Flash Gordon flying suit in the R&D stage. With luck, the American armed forces will be able to buy enough units, if and when such things are needed.

Or maybe, for the first time in thousands of years of recorded history, everybody all over the world will start being nice. That would be groovy.

Meanwhile, the Wired article gives a pretty good look at the Gryphon project - with links to additional information from the consortium.

Think of the Possibilities!

Aside from military operations, Gryphon flying suits (or whatever we call them) have some exciting possibilities for search and rescue operations. It's possible that these things, or next-generation flying packs, could get a rescue team to places where something big and bulky like a helicopter could cause more problems than it solves - like on a snow-covered mountainside.

That sort of application, though, will have to wait for the (anticipated) controlled-landing capabilities that the Gryphon consortium is looking at, for later models.

Interesting times, these that we're living in.

Related posts:
1But, as I wrote in another post, "there's little in the five millennia or so of human history to suggest that the world's Caligulas and Pol Pots will be willing to go along with such a nice idea...." (October 23, 2009) Also, from that post, "I've posted an explanation of this blog's name. Briefly, the Lemming is "apathetic" in the sense that I don't care deeply, passionately, irrationally, about the 'right' things."

(Don't worry: The rest of today's posts will be on the light side.)

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