Ever since man first stood upright, he has looked at birds and pondered if he could ever achieve such a feat. The dream of sustained flight is one that has occupied the minds of many great inventors, engineers, and dreamers throughout human history. It was until 1903 that the Wright brothers created and flew the first, heavier-than-air aircraft which would become the worlds first airplane. Today if you want to fly in the air, you’re best options are still either an airplane or maybe a helicopter. But what if you want to fly without an airplane or a helicopter? What are some of your modern options to achieve this goal? Well, why don’t we take a look?
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The German company known as MS Watersports creates a line of vehicles that are known as the Jetlev-Flyer. It’s more or less a water powered jetpack that allows the user to achieve flight above the water. Basically the user straps on the backpack that contains the controls and the jets. The backpack unit is then connected via a long hose to a device that looks similar to a jet ski. These small “boats” have a powerful engine that draws water in, transports the water through the hose, and then blasts the water out of the backpack. It does all of that while it follows you around, allowing you to travel anywhere there is water. The devices are powerful enough to achieve flight, and you can even do some tricks on them. While it’s not necessarily an efficient means of transportation or really “flying”, it is still extremely cool and a lot of fun. It’s a water jetpack, how can you not want that? The only downside is that they are fairly expensive. The base unit starts at $55,194 dollars and they go up from there. That means the Jetlev-Flyer costs more than a Porsche Boxster. But hey, you can’t fly in a Porsche. Check out this video to see it in action.
Photo from jetlev-flyer.com
Quadcopters and personal drones are all the rage these days, as many people are buying them for their own uses. Now I know what you’re thinking, “you can’t fly in one”. Yes, you are correct. These devices are too small and underpowered to carry a small cat, let alone a person. But hear me out. Quadcopters and drones allows us to fly in a different way, one that is virtual. Nearly all of these devices come equipped with video cameras on them that allow us to see what they see. These devices give us a new perspective of our surroundings, effectively allow us to see what birds see. For even more fun, you could theoretically purchase a set of virtual reality googles and then hook them up to your drone. This would effectively give you a birds-eye view, and you never even leave the ground. These drones are also extremely affordable too. You can get one right now on Amazon, with a camera, for just $42 dollars. The ones without a camera are even cheaper. Also who knows how these devices will advance in the future. Maybe down the line we can 3D print large quadcopters that we can ride in. So while these drones don’t physically take us into the air, they do allow us to experience what it would be like if we were a bird or could fly.
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Now if you really want to fly without an airplane, paragliding is probably your best bet. The sport has been around for awhile, but has come into its own in recent times. Basically the user straps on a harness/backpack that contains a parachute and the controls. You then essentially strap on a small propeller engine that provides power. Typically you launch from a high cliff or a hill, and then the parachute and engine takes care of the rest. They don’t travel very fast, however you can achieve altitudes of a few thousand feet and flights can last a couple of hours. Since you don’t really sit in anything, the experience is also very different and unique. It can also be a bit nerve wracking at times as well. Still it’s one of the best ways to fly without an airplane. The downside is that you can’t simply decide that you want to do this one day, and then go out an do it. You have to take a variety of different courses and become certified to pilot a paraglider. Then you have to purchase all of the equipment. I searched around the internet, and basic kits start anywhere between $2,000 and $6,000 dollars. So while its expensive, it’s not the absolute worst.
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Now if you really want to see what it is like to fly without a plane, then getting a wingsuit would be your best bet. Not for the faint of heart, these devices have been popularized by extreme sport athletes over the recent years, and I’m sure you’ve seen some video about them. But in case you haven’t, here’s a video to check out. They are essentially suits made of ultra-strong fabrics that increase the surface area of the human body. While you aren’t technically “flying” and are really gliding in them, they still offer an experience of what it’s like to fly. You more or less become a human flying squirrel. The suits allow the user to become extremely agile in the skies, and you can easily achieve speeds between 100 mph and 140 mph. You either skydive out of an airplane or BASE jump to achieve lift, and then the rest is up to you. At the end of your flight you will deploy a parachute to safely make it to the ground. While they are certainly cool and a popular method of flight among adrenaline junkies around the world, like paragliding, you simply don’t just buy a wingsuit and then jump out of a plane. The certificaiton process for wingsuits is extremely rigorous and difficult. You first need to become a legally qualified skydiver. The initial course for this is a few days long, and after that you will then need to complete around 18 skydives. This will take maybe three to six months depending on how often you can skydive. After that, you are then a certified skydiver. But just hold on because there is much more. You will then need to complete 200 solo skydiving jumps before you can even begin to consider wearing a wingsuit. Once you do that, you can then begin to learn how to use these suits. While this is annoying for the impatient, maneuvering a wingsuit in the air requires an unbelievable amount of technical prowess, as any slip up is fatal. So while it’s an extremely involved and lengthy process, flying in a wingsuit is the craziest way to fly without an airplane.
Photo from wingsuitfly.com