Part crazy vision, part publicity stunt, BMW just debuted an-honest-to-goodness, zero-emission, working rocket suit. And we need one.
Call it a jetpack, call it a rocket suit, call it whatever you want — everyone has at some point dreamed of technology that would help them fly. Not crammed into a window seat eating stale pretzels flying, but personal, solo flight — where you are both pilot and passenger.
And this month, BMW outfitted BASE jumper and wingsuit pilot Peter Salzmann with what might be the first real iteration of that fantasy.
After years of planning and testing, and months of delays caused by the pandemic, the 33-year-old Austrian leapt from a helicopter hovering 10,000 feet over the Alps. And with the help of BMW’s 50V battery powering twin carbon impellers spinning at 25,000 rpm, Salzmann soared, glided, and then ascended like a superhero.
Check it out.
BMW: Project Electrified Wingsuit
OK, I’ll be honest: “The Rocketeer” this is not. But a motorized wingsuit capable of flight — let alone a fully electric one — is undeniably cool.
Looking like two tiny jet engines strapped to a pair of pajamas, the BMW electrified wingsuit marks the culmination of an idea hatched in 2017.
“At the time, I was developing suits for skydiving and BASE jumping with a friend and BASE jumping mentor,” Salzmann said.
“In a relaxed atmosphere one evening after a day of testing, we threw out lots of ideas about how we could improve performance. One of them was a supporting motor — and it’s an idea I just couldn’t shake. I found the idea of being able to jump from my local mountain wearing the wingsuit and land in my garden fascinating.”
With a bit of zany mad scientist fueling his idea, Salzmann linked up with BMW and Designworks — the auto manufacturer’s in-house agency for “mobile concepts of tomorrow.” From there, Project Electrified Wingsuit took shape. Over 3 years, the project developed two prototype engine systems, one large and one small.
Salzmann tested the concepts in a horizontal wind tunnel in Stockholm, Sweden. Ultimately, the smaller design, with its lighter weight and easier maneuverability, won out. Prior to the actual flight, Salzmann completed 30 test jumps to get a feel for gliding and moving in the unorthodox suit.
The final iteration boasts two carbon fiber impellers that each measure about 5 inches in diameter. A 50V lithium-ion battery powers the motors, which combined churn out 15 kW (about 20 horsepower) of power. The entire setup — motor and battery — weighs 26 pounds and spans about one meter wide. Salzmann toggled the engines with a slider between his middle and ring fingers.
BMW iX3 + Electric Wingsuit
Salzmann’s flight — that is, the time after he kicked on the futuristic mega-thrusters and actually gained altitude — lasted just a few seconds. But, as Salzmann noted in the video, “it’s still just the beginning.”
“Only an electric impeller is lightweight and agile enough to enable regular wingsuit flying and BASE jumping,” said Stefan Ponikva, BMW vice president of brand experience. “Light enough to climb mountains with, agile enough to fly tight turns and maneuvers, and yet quiet enough not to disturb the purity of the flight.”
For its part, BMW invested some of its upcoming electric-vehicle technology for Project Electrified Wingsuit. Salzmann’s flight will help demonstrate (and promote) the automaker’s all-electric iX3 vehicle, due to hit showroom floors in Europe before the end of the year.
While it won’t land on U.S. shores, the iX3 marks BMW’s first “fully electric Sport Activity Vehicle (SAV).” It has a 285- to 320-mile range (based on differing test standards), goes zero to 60 mph in under 7 seconds (282 horsepower), and will reach an 80% charge in just over a half-hour.
While we don’t expect to see the BMW wingsuit in stores any time soon, an all-electric SUV seems reasonable for American consumers in the near future.