We all live with danger. Some seek it out. Others fight it. No one can avoid it. Mike Dixon takes a look at the perils of modern life: extreme sports, dangerous jobs, natural disasters, human disasters, fraud, violence and reckless living.
The book is illustrated with over fifty photographs.
Imagine falling off a cliff. You might get the nasty feeling that your speed will go on increasing and you will break through the sound barrier before being dashed to pieces on the rocks below. Be assured you are wrong. As your speed increases, wind resistance increases and a happy state is reached when it matches your weight. When that happens, you will have attained terminal velocity … if the cliff is high enough.
The terminal velocity of a skydiver, lying face down, is about 320 km/h (200 mph). About 50% of this is attained in the first 3 seconds. It takes a further 5 seconds to reach 90%.
Peregrine falcons (photo) streamline their bodies when swooping on prey and get close to terminal velocity much faster.
Competition speed skydivers adopt the same technique and have achieved speeds of over 500 km/h when jumping from aircraft. Far higher speeds have been reached in jumps from balloons.
The current speed record is held by Felix Baumgartner who gained the distinction of being the first person to break the sound barrier in freefall. Baumgartner jumped from a height of 39km in a specially designed suit and reached a speed of 1342 km/h (834 mph).
This sport is the exact opposite of the one described in the last chapter. The aim of speed skydivers is to descend as fast as possible. Wingsuit divers aim to descend as slowly as possible.
Wingsuits transform wearers into something that looks a bit like a flying possum. Maybe that’s how the early pioneers of the sport got the idea. At any rate, wingsuit diving has been around for a long time.
An early attempt was made, in 1912, by Franz Reichelt who jumped from the Eiffel Tower. Franz tricked the security guards into thinking he was going to test a model flying machine then climbed into it when they weren’t looking. His parachute failed to operate when he reached the end of his glide and he made a sizeable hole in the frozen ground. This first recorded wingsuit fatality was captured on film.
Franz’s failure did not deter others. Attempts were made to increase horizontal glide but with mixed success. Early wingsuits were constructed from materials such as canvas, silk, wood and whalebone. They were not as effective as those available today. Nevertheless, some early “birdmen” claimed to have glided for miles.
The modern wingsuit was developed in the 1990s. Prototypes were tested in “vertical wind tunnels” and big improvements were made. Descent speeds as low as 30km/h were achieved while gliding horizontally at speeds of over 300km/h.
More recently, jet-powered wingsuits have appeared. One of the earlier models was pioneered by Visa Parviainen who jumped from a hot air balloon in Lahti, Finland, in October 2005. Visa had two small turbojet engines strapped to his feet and achieved horizontal flight with no loss of altitude. Big advances have been made since then including powered flights over the English Channel and Swiss Alps.