Air sports icon Peter Salzmann is still basking in the glory of being the first person in the world to fly through the air at 186mph in a fully electrified wingsuit.
The design of that suit - powered by a chest-mounted rig and offering 15kW of power, split across two carbon impellers - had been a long time coming. In fact, it took three years of research prototypes and test flights in conjunction with BMW to get to the stage which saw Salzmann teetering on the edge of a plane, 10,000 feet above his homeland of Austria. When we heard about Peter's amazing/batshit crazy record we just had to sit down with the man himself and find out more...
When did you first dream about flying?
As long as I can remember, I wanted to fly. As a kid I wanted to build little planes out of paper and later out of wood - even though they couldn't fly! Then I realised I could try to fly, so I started jumping from tables, my balcony and later the rooftop of my parents' house. Possibilities got better and better as I got older and now I am flying with my wingsuit, a paraglider or a hang glider.
What was it about the simple act of jumping that you loved so much?
It was the best feeling ever to be flying through the air. I know it was just falling in those days, but still it really satisfied me and I wanted to get better and better and jump from higher points. What I understand now is that it is not just about the single jump. It is about a task, a plan of how to do the jump, train the jump and the landing, until you are happy with it.
When did you realise you could make a career and a living out of doing something that you loved?
I tried to make a living from it in a number of different ways, first as a stuntman, which was pretty hard and almost impossible in Austria. Then I started teaching paragliding which really became my thing as I can show people how good flying is and teach them to become a pilot pretty fast. Earning money as a base jumper is not easy but I stuck with it and didn't give up. I had the perfect idea and met the right people at the right time.
You went from skydiving to base jumping and then to wingsuits, where did the idea for an electrified wingsuit come from?
The idea came to me one day when I was looking for new jumps and I realised that a certain exit point is not jumpable with a common wingsuit. So I started looking for possibilities for different thrust systems. I was already into development of tracksuits and wingsuits for skydiving and base jumping and also had the aerodynamic background. Why electric? I thought that it was the right way to go when I thought about the future of mobility.
What did you want to achieve when you started developing the world’s first fully-electrified wingsuit?
It was actually not about being the world's first. This was not our focus. It was about making a dream come true.
How obsessed did you become with this project?
It was with me every single day for the last three years. Is that an answer?
Tell us about the first time you tested the wingsuit in BMW’s pioneering wind tunnel, how did that feel?
For the BMW wind tunnel we built a Peter doll to make smart tests and compare different systems. It was really cool and interesting to see all that and get the data at the end. After that we chose a setup, where I flew in the only wingsuit wind tunnel in Stockholm. That was where I realised that we were on the right track, and that I would be able to fly safely with the system. This was not something we’d taken for granted.
How did you feel in the moments before the jump?
I had dreamed about it for such a long time. I was well prepared and had been through the jump hundreds of times in practice and in my head, so I was able to enjoy those moments in the build up to the fullest. I still get a big smile when I think back.
Talk us through the jump itself, when you flicked on those boosters and hit 186mph, how did that feel?
When we reached the right height and arrived at the perfect spot we climbed out of the helicopter, did our last checks and then I jumped off, followed by my wingsuit buddies who filmed me during the flight.
We went pretty steep to pick up speed and I had to navigate to arrive in the spot where all the people waited and the cameras were running. That was pretty challenging. But when I flattened out the flight path, I switched on the engines and transferred my energy into a climb. I could feel the engines giving me an additional boost and pulling me forward. At that moment it was a mixture of relief and pure joy. Relief that everything had worked how it was supposed to, and joy at flying so fast. I had the widest, biggest smile as I turned back towards our landing position. It was incredible.
Did you go faster than you expected or did it all go as planned?
Everything went just as we planned it. In fact the challenge was not to fly as fast as possible, which has been reported in lots of media outlets. The challenge was about making a climb as close as possible to the cameras, which was really tough for me.
It was also reported on some websites that I can fly more than twice as fast with the electric drive than with a normal wingsuit, but that is not true. The engines help me to not lose that much energy and speed on the climb, let me fly in a better constant glide and it also makes me fly faster compared to a flight in a normal wingsuit. But not twice as fast!
How do you feel looking back on the incredible footage?
It is super cool to watch. I get a huge sense of satisfaction knowing that everybody, the entire team, did a great job. I wouldn't change anybody from the team and couldn't think of a better partner than BMW.
Now you can say that you have flown, the super power most people want, how does it feel to be able to say that?
I am so glad I have been able to make my dream come true, I have lived my dream. I would say to everyone, believe in yourselves and never stop dreaming. It's not always about big things and long term dreams, it’s more about those little dreams and those tasks in daily life which make us happy if we can solve them. Never stop dreaming.
Finally, what’s next?
This is just the beginning. So stay tuned for more …