It's true that this man's sleeves are shiny, and it's true that the fibers of his wings are of the synthetic sort, and it's true that he seems to be hovering in a Star Wars like passageway, the side door of which must surely lead to a deadly trash compactor, but however futuristic this shot may seem, what's most peculiar to me is just how familiar these wings appear when compared to those of the batwing jumpers of the thirties like Jean Durand and Charlie Zmuda. Ok, I'll let that sentence end there. The man is Jari Kuosma, whose BirdMan wingsuits have pretty much allowed thousands of skydivers to fly about in the air, for several minutes at a time. And in the photo he's experimenting in a wind tunnel in Finland while developing the "Skyflyer 3—Special." The new wings (which have been on sale for a year now) have semi-rigid Mylar ribs, have disposed of Velcro, and have a faster cutaway system. Kuosma also took advantage of his time in the tunnel to test dimpled fabric, with a golf-ball like surface, that might allow for better air separation as it leaves the rear edge of the wings.
But putting fabric between the legs and between the arms and torso has been the primary birdman setup since 1935. The first bat-wings had ribs for something like rigidity as well, and those early birdmen certainly did glide—there's newsreel footage that proves it. Of course, it's true that flights of much more than a minute weren't really possible till the double layered "ram-air" wings of the 1990s, but Kuosma's wings have taken us about as far as we can go with wings that don't extend beyond arm-span. However much drag is reduced with different fabrics and shapes, the increase in performance will be marginal—nothing compared to the increased flight time that comes with a few months of shoulder pressing barbells.
If we've reached the near end of wingsuit development, what's next in this new and ever evolving sport? More flight time can really only come with longer wings. But skyflyers tend to enjoy jumping with their friends, which is part of the reason wingsuits, unlike their rigid-winged counterparts, have become so quickly popular—they don't take up an extra seat in the plane. But for a more truly birdlike flight, Skyflyers will either have to have some kind of longer, collapsible wing, or start jumping by themselves.
As for the collapsible wings . . . I'll get to that soon.