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BMW unveils electric flying suit | FOS Future Lab

12th November 2020
Henry Biggs

Is it really true? Have we finally got the flying cars Back to the Future promised us? Well, no. Unfortunately not. What BMW has given us however is a wingsuit, used by extreme parachutists to extend their jumps, only this one has two electric impellers to increase flight time.

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The helper motor was the idea of established wingsuit flyer Peter Salzmann who wanted to be able fly further and faster on his wingsuit jumps. A regular wingsuit uses fabric stretched between the wearer’s arms and legs to provide an aerofoil profile and create lift so that for every metre they descend, they also get up to three metres of horizontal travel. Very fast gliding effectively. Or slow falling, depending on your point of view.

With the help of BMW i, Salzmann created an electric propulsion unit which allows him to extend his flight and at times actually climb rather than simply glide. Nearly three years in the making the power unit is constructed from carbon-fibre and aluminium, and encases two propellers inside impeller units that makes them more efficient. The propellers are driven by a 50V battery which spins them at 25,000rpm for a power output of 15kW.

Tested in BMW’s own wind tunnel before final trials in a full-sized skydiving version the first flight of the Electrified Wingsuit took place in Salzmann’s native Austria. The daredevil and two other wingsuit flyers jumped from a helicopter hovering at 3,000m (10,000 feet) over the Drei Brüder mountain formation. The electric assistance of the twin impellers accelerated Salzmann to 186mph (300km/h), triple the speed of the unassisted wingsuit flyers and actually allowed him to climb over the highest peak while they were forced to circle around.

The three flyers then reunited and parachuted down to terra firma, landing, quite by chance, next to a brand new BMW iX3 electric SUV. We’ll take one of each please.

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Why does this work particularly well for BMW as a brand? Because the recently-revised blue and white BMW roundel is derived from a logo very familiar to most of the world, the circular centre section of the car and motorcycle maker’s badge depicting a stylised rotating aircraft propeller to represent the Bavarian brand’s aviation roots.

Long before the German premium vehicle group built its first motor car in 1928 (with its inaugural motorcycle in 1923), BMW was founded in 1916 as a producer of aircraft engines to meet demand for aviation power units during the First World War, with it returning to building aircraft motors again between 1933-45. Since the end of the Second World War hostilities however, the BMW group has kept its wheels firmly on the ground. Until now, that is.

Welcome to FOS Future Lab where we report on the latest visions of future technology. We'll be boldly covering flying cars, hoverboards, jetpacks and spaceships with plenty of down to earth topics in between.

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