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TED2009

Ueli Gegenschatz: Extreme wingsuit flying

February 6, 2009

Wingsuit jumping is the leading edge of extreme sports -- an exhilarating feat of almost unbelievable daring, where skydivers soar through canyons at over 100MPH. Ueli Gegenschatz talks about how (and why) he does it, and shows jawdropping film.

Ueli Gegenschatz - Aerialist
Ueli Gegenschatz took flight just about every way a human can: paragliding, skydiving, BASE jumping (from the Eiffel Tower), and most breathtakingly: by donning a wingsuit and soaring. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I started with paragliding.
00:18
Paragliding is taking off from mountains
00:22
with a paraglider, with the possibility to
00:24
fly cross-country, distance,
00:27
just with the use of thermals to soar.
00:29
Also different aerobatic maneuvers are possible
00:33
with a paraglider.
00:36
From there I started with skydiving.
00:38
In this picture you can see
00:40
there is a four-way skydive,
00:42
four people flying together,
00:44
and on the left hand side it's the camera flier
00:46
with the camera mounted to his helmet
00:49
so he can film the whole jump,
00:51
for the film itself and also for the judging.
00:54
From regular, relative skydiving
00:58
I went on to freeflying.
01:01
Freeflying is more the three-dimensional skydiving.
01:04
You can see the skydiver with the red suit,
01:08
he's in a stand-up position.
01:10
The one with the yellow-green suit,
01:13
he's flying head-down.
01:15
And that's me in the background, carving around the whole formation
01:17
in freefall also, with the helmet cam
01:20
to film this jump.
01:23
From freeflying I went on to skysurfing.
01:26
Skysurfing is skydiving with a board on the feet.
01:29
You can imagine with this big surface
01:33
of a skysurfing board,
01:36
there is a lot of force, a lot of power.
01:38
Of course I can use this power
01:41
for example for nice spinning -- we call it "helicopter moves."
01:43
From there I went on to wingsuit flying.
01:49
Wingsuit flying is a suit,
01:53
that I can make fly, just only with my body.
01:55
If I put some tension on my body, tension on my suit,
01:58
I can make it fly. And as you see
02:02
the fall rate is much much slower
02:04
because of the bigger surface.
02:07
With a proper body position I'm able to really move forward
02:10
to gain quite some distance.
02:15
This is a jump I did in Rio de Janeiro.
02:17
You can see the Copacabana on the left-hand side.
02:21
From there with all the skills and knowledge
02:25
from paragliding and all the different disciplines
02:27
in skydiving, I went on to BASE jumping.
02:30
BASE jumping is skydiving from fixed objects,
02:33
like buildings, antennae, bridges and earth --
02:36
meaning mountains, cliffs.
02:42
It's for sure -- for me -- it's the ultimate feeling
02:45
of being in free fall,
02:48
with all the visual references.
02:52
So my goal soon was to discover new places
02:55
that nobody had jumped before.
02:58
So in summer 2000 I was the first to BASE jump
03:01
the Eiger North Face in Switzerland.
03:03
Two years after this, I was the first to BASE jump from Matterhorn,
03:05
a very famous mountain that probably
03:09
everybody knows in here.
03:13
2005 I did a BASE jump from the Eiger, from the Monk and from the Jungfrau,
03:15
three very famous mountains in Switzerland.
03:21
The special thing on these three jumps were,
03:24
I hiked them all and climbed them all in only one day.
03:27
In 2008 I jumped the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
03:32
(Laughter)
03:38
So with all this knowledge, I also
03:41
wanted to get into stunts.
03:45
So with some friends we started to do different tricks,
03:49
like for example this jump here,
03:52
I jumped from a paraglider.
03:54
Or here -- everybody was freezing, pretty much, except me,
03:56
because it was very cold in Austria
04:02
where we did this filming.
04:04
Everybody sitting in a basket,
04:06
and I was on top of the balloon,
04:08
ready to slide down with my skysurf board.
04:10
Or this jump, from a moving truck on the highway.
04:17
(Laughter)
04:21
Extreme sports on top level like this
04:27
is only possible if you practice step by step,
04:30
if you really work hard on your skills
04:34
and on your knowledge.
04:37
Of course you need to be in physical, very good, condition,
04:39
so I'm training a lot.
04:44
You need to have the best possible equipment.
04:46
And probably the most important is
04:50
you have to work on your mental skills, mental preparation.
04:54
And all this to come as close as possible
04:57
to the human dream of being able to fly.
05:01
So for 2009,
05:05
I'm training hard for my two new projects.
05:07
The first one, I want to set a world record
05:11
in flying from a cliff with my wingsuit.
05:15
And I want to set a new record,
05:19
with the longest distance ever flown.
05:21
For my second project,
05:24
I have a sensational idea
05:26
of a jump that never has been done before.
05:29
So now, on the following movie you will see
05:33
that I'm much better in flying a wingsuit
05:38
than speaking in English.
05:40
Enjoy, and thank you very much.
05:43
(Applause)
05:46
(Applause)
09:42
June Cohen: I have some questions.
09:51
I think we all might have some questions.
09:54
Question one: so does that actually feel
09:56
the way the flying dream does?
09:58
Because it looks like it might.
10:00
Ueli Gegenschatz: Pretty much. I believe this is probably the closest
10:02
possibility to come to the dream of being able to fly.
10:05
JC: I know the answer to this, but how do you land?
10:09
UE: Parachute. We have to open a parachute
10:12
just seconds before, I would say, impact.
10:15
(Laughter)
10:20
It's not possible to land a wingsuit yet.
10:22
JC: Yet. But people are trying. Are you among those --
10:25
you're not going to commit -- are you among those trying to do it?
10:27
UE: It's a dream. It's a dream. Yeah.
10:30
We're still working on it and we're
10:32
developing the wingsuits to get better performance,
10:34
to get more knowledge.
10:37
And I believe soon.
10:39
JC: All right. Well we will watch this space. But I have two more questions.
10:41
What is the -- there was exhaust coming
10:43
out of the back of the wingsuit. Was that a propelled wingsuit that you were wearing?
10:45
UE: Nope. It's just smoke.
10:48
JC: Coming off of you?
10:50
(Laughter)
10:51
UE: Hopefully not.
10:52
(Laughter)
10:54
JC: That seems dangerous.
10:55
UE: No, smoke is for two reasons,
10:56
you can see the speed, you can see the way
10:58
where I was flying.
11:02
That's reason number one. And reason number two:
11:04
it's much easier for the camera guy to film
11:06
If I'm using smoke.
11:09
JC: Ah, I see. So the wingsuit is set up to deliberately release smoke
11:11
so that you can be tracked. One more question.
11:13
What do you do to to cover your face?
11:15
Because I just keep thinking of going that fast
11:17
and having your whole face smushed backwards.
11:19
Are you in a helmet? Are you in goggles?
11:21
UE: The purest and the best feeling would be with only goggles.
11:25
JC: And is that how you usually fly?
11:28
UE: Usually I'm wearing a helmet. In the mountains I'm always wearing a helmet
11:31
because of landings -- usually it's difficult --
11:34
it's not like regular skydiving where you have like the big landings.
11:36
So you have to be prepared.
11:40
JC: Right. Now is there anything you don't do?
11:42
Do people come to you with projects and say, "We want you to do this!"
11:44
and do you ever say, "No, no I'm not going to."
11:47
UE: Oh of course, of course. Some people have crazy ideas and --
11:49
(Laughter)
11:51
JC: ...a round of applause...
11:55
(Applause)
11:58
UE: Thank you very much.
12:00
(Applause)
12:02

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Ueli Gegenschatz - Aerialist
Ueli Gegenschatz took flight just about every way a human can: paragliding, skydiving, BASE jumping (from the Eiffel Tower), and most breathtakingly: by donning a wingsuit and soaring.

Why you should listen

Ueli Gegenschatz was known for his expert paragliding, skydiving and BASE jumping -- and his utterly jawdropping flight in a wingsuit, a high-tech flying-squirrel-inspired getup that let him soar as close as humanly possible to our shared dream of flight. His "addiction to speed" continues to inspire.

A member of the Swiss national paragliding team for four years, Gegenschatz co-founded the Red Bull acro team in 1995. His BASE jumping stunts are the stuff of YouTube legend: the Eiffel Tower; Petronas Towers in KL; the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks all in one day.

The original video is available on TED.com
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