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Wingsuit Aerodynamic Performance Measurement and Design Improvements


PI Timothy Sestak

Wingsuit flight and wingsuit design is in its pioneering stages. Development of wingsuits with regards to aerodynamics is rudimentary, and has been done primarily by a process of trial and error, and lacks solid aerodynamic foundation. A wingsuit is essentially a ram-air inflated airfoil structure with a human pilot inside.

This research proposes a phased exploration of 1) the measured performance of current wingsuit technologies and 2) an investigation of basic changes in materials and construction that have the potential for significant improvements in lift and drag, resulting in increased glide ratios. Initial research will take place in the ERAU Prescott Campus, subsonic - closed circuit, 32” x 45” wind tunnel. The first phase of this research will test, record, and compare the effect on performance of various materials and fabrics currently used by wingsuit manufacturers on a well-documented rigid airfoil shape and a typical wingsuit airfoil. Materials tested will include typical woven fabrics commonly used on current wingsuit designs and more exotic materials like laminated X-ply reinforced monofilm commonly used on windsurfer and competitive yacht sails. The aerodynamic effects of contaminated airfoils vs smooth surfaces is well known but there is little documentation concerning the use of fabric on wing surfaces and of airfoils of the size, operating speeds and Reynolds numbers of typical wingsuit sized airfoils. Many wingsuits use fabrics and materials believed to be poor aerodynamic choices or improperly positioned on the airfoil for best performance. Phase One will establish a baseline of data to empirically demonstrate and compare the effect of typically used materials and potential alternate materials on wingsuit airfoil performance. This will provide baseline data for following studies. Phase Two will repeat the performance data collection of phase one using ram-air inflated wing configurations similar to those used in current wingsuits. The lift and drag performance of typical ram-air wingsuit airfoils and the effect on lift and drag of differing materials used to construct ram-air inflated airfoils will be measured. Phase Three will examine the effects of wing deformation due to in-flight dynamic pressures. Then techniques for stabilization of wingsuit lifting shapes and surfaces to counter deformation by dynamic pressure will be examined. This phase will include the human factors elements of designing wingsuit components that are flexible, allowing a full range of motion to the human pilot necessary to safely fly the wingsuit and then deploy and operate a parachute for landing, while being aerodynamically stable and able to retain aerodynamic shape at high dynamic pressures. Phase Four will use the information developed from the previous research to explore a range of airfoil and membrane wing configurations both with Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) modeling and wind tunnel testing to derive human factors compatible wingsuit configurations that offer significantly improved performance over current designs. Significant human factors constraints exist in developing new concepts for wingsuits. The final concepts/products must be able to perform on a human worn suit, capable of donning and doffing in a reasonable amount of time, and while being worn enable the wearer to walk to, board, and safely exit while in flight, a typical aircraft used for skydiving (i.e. Twin Otter with inflight jump door) without unusual discomfort or the need for special accommodations. For manufacture and production, materials and processes must be compatible with customization to the body sizes of the full spectrum of wingsuit users. The final product must be able to be manufactured in a reasonable amount of time and cost, be durable enough to last for approximately 500 normal use flights without repair or unserviceable wear, and be affordable to the customer within the current range of wingsuit costs ($1500 to $2500 for a custom made, fit to the individual, high performance wingsuit). In this work we intend to use the significant previous work performed concerning ram-air inflated wing aerodynamics and high performance sail and membrane wing aerodynamics. Previous work is mostly at much lower airspeeds and with larger surfaces and Reynolds numbers than wingsuit aerodynamics, but should offer significant clues toward useful paths of research. CFD analysis software designed for high performance nautical sails will be a candidate technology to model and analyze potential designs to compare against wind tunnel testing of proposed modifications. Follow on research would involve incorporation of the resulting concepts into full sized wingsuits with wind tunnel and inflight testing. Collapsible ram-air airfoils developed for this study are also applicable to Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) operations, reducing the size of pre-deployment wings and the necessity for large bulky transport and storage. Follow on research will seek funding for applications of this technology to UAVs.

Research Dates

09/01/2014 to 09/01/2025

Tags: aeronautical science college of aviation prescott campus

Categories: Undergraduate