Who Invented Wingsuits? (Plus Its Incredible Invention Story)

A wingsuit pilot in a blue wingsuit flying over a rocky mountain cliff with a sunset in the background.
Wingsuit Flying Is The Closest Thing Humans Can Get To Actual Flying

We have all watched videos about daredevils who perform incredible and dangerous stunts with wingsuits. But who was the first daredevil and who invented these wingsuits?

Jari M.H. Kuosma invented the first wingsuit in 1999, thereby developing wingsuit flying as a sport. He also created the first wingsuit training program for skydivers and instructors. Alongside his brand and company BIRDMAN®, he kick-started the commercial era of wingsuits.

What a legend!

Throughout his skydiving career, Jari performed more than 5200 jumps, 4000 of which were made while wearing a wingsuit. Jari is a well-known name in the skydiving community and is well-respected by thousands of skydivers all around the world.

However, only some people know about the incredible journey he took to invent wingsuits. So let’s dive deeper about:

  • The life of Jari Kuosma,
  • how he developed wingsuits,
  • the commercialization of wingsuits and,
  • the development of wingsuits since their inception

The Life Of Jari Kuosma – The Father Of The Wingsuit Daredevils

Jari M.H. Kuosma is a professional skydiver, pilot, designer, inventor, entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker. In the skydiving community, he is best known as the inventor of the first wingsuit (both for commercial and sporting usage) for licensed skydivers.

Jari was born on 3 March 1969 and originates from Helsinki, Finland. He started his skydiving journey at the age of 21 when he fell in love with the sport and he has never looked back since.

In 1997, Jari continued his passion for skydiving and completed the Accelerated Free Fall (AFF) Instructor Rating Course and afterward worked as an AFF instructor in Florida, USA. So he was able to turn his passion into a profession.

Jari also started base jumping and was the first Finn to be awarded an exclusive B.A.S.E. number # 585 for having the ability to BASE jump from four fixed objects like buildings, antennas, spans, and an earth cliff.

BASE jumping is one of the most dangerous disciplines of skydiving since BASE jumpers normally carry only one parachute (meaning without a reserve) and jump from a way lower altitude than normal skydivers. BASE jumpers only have around 8 seconds of freefall before having to deploy their parachute!

During his BASE jumping days, Jari traveled across Europe, South America, and the USA. On one of his travels, he came across a famous cliff in Arco, Italy where he learned the story of the legendary Patrick de Gayardon.

Patrick de Gayardon had died jumping from that cliff, trying to fly with a self-made suit. Back then, many skydivers tried to design something like a wingsuit to increase their uplift and come closer to flying.

As these self-made suits were not commercially produced and professionally designed, they were often not tested properly. Even if suits worked during test jumps, skydivers could never rely on the suit holding during the next jump.

That’s when Jari conceived the idea of making his own wingsuit – and revolutionized the skydiving industry.

Such Incredible Wingsuits Stunts Are Only Possible Due To The Invention Of Wingsuits

How Did Jari Develop the Wingsuit?

It was about time that someone developed a proper wingsuit, thereby saving lives. Based on statistics prevalent at that time – 72 out of every 75 birdmen who tested their own wingsuit perished!

Bringing an end to these deaths motivated Jari to design and make his own wingsuit that would conquer the skies. He bought all the books that he could find on ancient birdmen and the way they flew. He also read and studied all their stories, their successes, and the reasons why other skydivers died.

In contrast to wingsuit flying, skydiving is quite safe. If you want to learn more about the 13 reasons why skydiving parachutes still fail, check out this post.

After rigorous months of study and research, Jari began to develop his wingsuit with the assistance of his friends, Robert Pecnik (a Croatian jumpsuit manufacturer) and Stane Kranjcac (a Slovenian aerodynamics guru).

The goal was to make a wingsuit that was safe and straightforward to use, whether or not its users were exiting from an airplane or jumping off a cliff. Together, they successfully developed a modified version of Patrick de Gayardon’s wingsuit.

In 1999, Jari made his first wingsuit test flight in Arco, Italy (the same cliff where he conceived the idea) and successfully landed back on the ground. With his initial success, Jari decided to quit his full-time, well-paying job and begin his wingsuit manufacturing business.

So he began to commercially manufacture wingsuits. However, due to financial constraints, he was only able to produce 72 wingsuits versus the first plan of 100. And even worse: he struggled to market and sell the wingsuits.

Over the years, the bulk of skydivers who tried wingsuit flying died, reducing his potential buyers base. The sport had also developed a nasty reputation and many countries including Finland had banned the utilization of wingsuits during skydiving or BASE jumping.

Meet Jari Kuosma – The Father Of Wingsuits

Fortunately, other countries like France, Norway, and the USA hadn’t imposed any law banning wingsuit flying since most skydivers had not even dared to undertake it.

With no money to pay for import and Customs duties, Jari and Robert smuggled their wingsuits with their van across the EU border to France. (Yes, skydivers like to walk fine lines)

Even though, the french buyers were skeptical at first. Jari and Robert were able to sell their first 17 wingsuits. They allowed selected skydivers to test out the wingsuits – and luckily no one died. Convinced by the smoothness and new flight experience, the testers bought some of the wingsuits.

With 55 remaining wingsuits, they continued their journey to Norway and the USA wherein all of the remaining wingsuits were sold. That event helped to kickstart the commercial era of wingsuit flying.

The Commercialization Of Wingsuits And The Birth Of Birdman®

The news about successful wingsuit flying spread out immediately and skydivers became more curious and couldn’t wait to try wingsuits for themselves.

After the first baby steps of his wingsuit manufacturing business, Jari decided to leave his job as an AFF instructor, sell everything he owned, and invest all his money in the commercial production of wingsuits. He partnered with a Slovenian clothing company and turned their premises into a wingsuit factory.

He founded BIRDMAN® International Ltd, the first-ever company to produce and sell commercially made wingsuits to the skydiving community. He also hired his friend Robert Pecnik to work for him and develop new wingsuit designs.

To guarantee to the general public that wingsuit flying was safe, Jari created the first-ever user’s manual referred to as the “BIRDMAN® First Flight Course” for beginners, and thereafter the “BIRDMAN® Wingsuit Instructor Program” for skydivers was born.

After completing the course, skydivers were certified as wingsuit pilots and wingsuit instructors. The course was so effective that even other wingsuit manufacturers, which emerged after Jari’s initial success, and skydiving organizations like Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) adopted an equivalent system.

Through the years, Jari developed 22 wingsuit designs and tested them himself. He sold over 4,000 wingsuits to the skydiving community and made wingsuit flying a safe sport for everyone.

Unfortunately, in 2009, after a decade in the wingsuit business, Jari stopped making and selling wingsuits. Jari granted the wingsuit rights to Risk Control Corp – Japan (which launched 3 new lineups of BIRDMAN® wingsuits called Ninja, Blade III, and Katana).

Jari has since concentrated his time on writing and public speaking. However, he has still not entirely left the skydiving industry and still performs wind tunnel activities and designs new wingsuits from time to time.

Pioneers Who Shaped The History Of Wingsuit Flying
Overview of the Most Important Pioneers in Wingsuit Flying

The Incredible Development of Wingsuit Since Its Invention

Through his invention, Jari paved the way for the commercial era of wingsuit flying. He was able to get rid of the stigma that wingsuits are dangerous.

More and more skydivers came into the sport and more instructors started teaching wingsuit flying as a discipline – And with more people engaging in the sport, incredible progress has been made in terms of:

  • Wingsuit design
  • Material used
  • Safety regulations and procedures

Wingsuit Design

There are two types of wingsuits: Tri-wing wingsuits and Mono-wing wingsuits. Tri-wing wingsuits have three individual wings under the arms and legs while Mono-wing wingsuits integrate the whole suit into one large wing.

In addition, there are different designs depending on the level of experience. Beginners can use wingsuits with a smaller surface area which are easier to control and less unstable during flights. Experienced pilots can choose more advanced wingsuits that have a larger surface area for higher glide performance.

If you are interested in knowing more about the materials that are used to manufacture wingsuits, check out this post.

Wingsuit Material

To improve the standard and reliability of wingsuits, manufacturers have combined more materials and created new designs. Modern wingsuit designs are made from ripstop nylon and leading-edge materials (e.g., carbon fiber) that make an airfoil shape to give the wingsuit pilots the ability to glide forward on a 3:1 ratio.

Due to the new material, wingsuits are also much lighter nowadays than they were 20 years ago, further improving usability and maneuverability.

Have you ever been curious about jumpsuits beyond the usual ones and wingsuits? In my blog post “what are skydiving suits called”, I dive deep into these unique jumpsuit types. I explain which skydiving disciplines they’re designed for and detail the materials used in crafting them.

Safety Regulations

Since wingsuit flying is not for everybody, the skydiving organization has set qualifications and an eligibility criterion for wingsuit flying. Skydivers have to make a minimum of 200 solo jumps and be  “C” license holders before being able to join the course on wing suiting. This is to make sure that skydivers have gained enough experience and knowledge about the sport before they can begin wingsuiting.

Even though tremendous progress has been made, wingsuits are still expensive. The cost of a wingsuit ranges from $1300 up to $1700 depending on the design, features, and materials used.

Even though wingsuit flying is still one of the most dangerous disciplines of skydiving, skydivers around the world can now get proper training and guidance due to Jari – and wingsuits.

If you’re not sure if wingsuit flying is your thing but you’re still eager for thrilling experiences, I’ve written a special article about 13 activities you will enjoy if you like skydiving. These are perfect if you enjoy skydiving or wingsuit flying. In the article, I discuss their unique aspects, differences, and similarities to help you find the perfect adventure.

Enjoy your freefall using a wingsuit!

Kai Schmidt

Hi, I'm Kai. The first time I jumped out of an airplane and experienced free fall was one of the most amazing moments of my life. For me, skydiving does not only stand for freedom and independence but being present in the moment and being respectful to others and oneself. Now I want to share what I’ve learned with you.

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The image shows the most important pioneers, who shaped the history of wingsuit flying.