The Anatomy of a Wingsuit

Photograph by Travis Rathbone

Created by a team of pilots who run the Seattle-based wingsuit company Squirrel, the Aura 2 is a four-pound, $1,890 nylon suit designed for flying fast over mountain ridges with total control. Wingsuits work like parachutes, providing forward motion while slowing descent. The challenge is to improve glide with the suit in order to delay altitude drop and fly far, while not slowing so much that you lose the ability to pull away from danger. A suit like the Aura 2 helps the pilot quickly reach speeds of up to 150 miles per hour (critical when BASE jumping) and fly up to three miles, and it can endure several hundred jumps. “We’re all birds these days,” says Scotty Bob Morgan, a Squirrel test pilot.

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Leading Edge
The most important aspect of any flight is the ability to quickly pull the parachute. The Aura 2 comes with a stretchy Glideskin along the forearm and wrist, improving range of motion so the pilot can easily reach back for his chute handle. “Flexibility is critical,” says Gerdes.

Hybrid Harness
“You can’t be a good BASE jumper if you’re not a good skydiver,” says Matt Gerdes, a Squirrel co-owner and test pilot. So the Aura 2 is designed for both. Pilots can skydive by exposing the suit’s harness and handles or BASE jump by zipping them back inside the suit’s chest cavity — improving glide by reducing drag.

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Arm Wings
During descent, up to 80 percent of lift is generated by the arm wings, two tightly woven layers of nylon between the arms and the torso. When inflated, these wings have an airfoil shape that is flat on the bottom and curved on top (like an airplane wing). To improve speed without increasing drag, internal ribs on the leading edges limit billowing and help to maintain shape. “Stick your hand out of a moving car,” says Morgan. “When thin, it slices right through the air. It’s the same idea.”

Leg Wing
The leg wing provides additional lift and stability. This wing is slim and efficient for increased control, while its tail edge is reinforced with ribs to improve airflow and reduce turbulence.

During free fall, air rams into the inlets, inflating the suit, giving the wings their shape, and making flight possible. These inlets have been tweaked to reduce drag and strengthened with Mylar to prevent deformities; rib support prevents them from collapsing.