When the Roman poet Ovid wrote his collection of mythical poems, "Metamorphoses," he included among it one of the most famous stories in history: The tale of Daedalus and his precocious son, Icarus.
In the story, Daedalus, a celebrated architect and inventor, is trying to escape the island of Crete with his son, where they've been imprisoned by King Minos for helping the hero Theseus slay the Minotaur, a half-bull, half-man creature locked up in a large labyrinth. Minos, unfortunately, controls the seas surrounding Crete, so Daedalus realizes the only way off the island is through the air. He fashions himself and Icarus a pair of feathered wings, which are glued on with wax. He also makes sure to warn Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, since the sun's heat would melt the wax, or too close to the sea, since the water below would dampen the wings and weigh him down.
Icarus, of course, gets too excited and proud of his flying, and does exactly what his father tells him not to do -- he flies too close to the sun, his wings melt and he plunges into the sea.
The age of the tale, along with the emphasis on human flight, illustrates how important the concept of flying is to us. The most exciting dreams we have are the ones in which we're flying, and our love of roller coasters and flying superheroes points toward our desire to move freely through the air. But we know it's just a simple daydream, right? Is it possible for winged flight, without the help of an airplane?
A Swiss citizen who calls himself FusionMan has become a modern-day Daedalus -- not an Icarus -- by becoming the world's first person to fly with fitted wings attached to his back, reaching speeds as high as 190 mph (306 kph) in the air. But how did he do it? He certainly didn't use wax, right? To learn how FusionMan flew, read the next page.
FusionMan and His Jet-powered Wings
First off, FusionMan isn't really FusionMan's real name. Although the name is catchy and appropriate, his given name is actually Yves Rossy. Born in Switzerland on Aug. 27, 1959, Rossy was a professional military pilot between the ages of 20 and 28 where he flew Hunter, Tiger F-5 and Mirage III planes and logged more than 1,000 hours on a Mach 2 fighter jet. After his stint in the military he worked as a copilot on DC-9 and Boeing 747 planes for Swissair [source: Rossy].
Rossy clearly loves to fly, and he's practiced aerobatics, hang gliding, paragliding and skydiving. He's also quite the daredevil: Rossy's Web site lists him as a polysportsman, excelling in activities on land, water and in the air. So it isn't too surprising that after he left his job as a commercial pilot, he started work on a homemade pair of wings that would allow him to fly through the air horizontally at accelerated speeds.
He soon adopted the name FusionMan, and with his sponsors, which include Swiss watch company Hublot and the German jet engine company Jet Cat, he spent more than $190,000 on developing his futuristic set of wings. The foldable wings are constructed from carbon fiber, which make the material simultaneously light and strong, and are fitted with four kerosene-fueled jet engines that provide the acceleration.
FusionMan can't take off from the ground by himself; instead, he's flown up 7,500 feet (2,286 meters) in an airplane, where he simply steps out wearing the wings. After a short freefall, the wings unfold and the jet engines kick in, allowing him to reach speeds of up to 186 mph (299 kph). He doesn't just fly horizontally, though; simply by using his body he can also dive, perform figure-eights and execute 360-degree barrel rolls.
The stuntman made his first successful flight over the Alps, soaring through the air for about five minutes, on May 15, 2008. Previous attempts hadn't fared so well: He nearly lost control of the wings during a jump in 2005 and couldn't access his parachute until he was only 1,500 feet (457 meters) above the ground, and damage to a previous set of wings in 2007 caused him to start over and build a newer prototype. FusionMan continues to look toward the future, however, and he plans to fly over the English Channel and the Grand Canyon.
For lots more information on daredevils and flying humans, soar with style over to the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- Demerjian, Dave. "Soaring over the Alps on homemade jet wings." Wired.com. May 16, 2008. (July 7, 2008). http://blog.wired.com/cars/2008/05/swiss-man-strap.html
- Rossy, Yves. FusionMan.com. (July 7, 2008). http://www.jet-man.com/prod/index_en.html