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The history of ski flying

on 2008-02-11

The history of ski flying – in the truest sense of the word: Beside the well-known ski flying on monstrous ski jumping hills there were other attempts to give skiers wings in the beginning of the 20th century as well.

“Without a doubt it is a magnificent, even intoxicating feeling to float down in the air so long, far and high, truly acting more like a bird than like a human being, to a certain extant acquiring a superhuman characteristic trait and flying along just like an eagle.” These verses are addressed to Austria’s Sep Bradl, who was the very first man to jump over more than 100 meters at Planica in 1936. Basically this meant the beginning of the era of ski flying.

But for proper flights you need to have real wings and this dream had already come true for two of his fellow countrymen in 1929. Two guys from Vienna, the airplane constructor Hans Bauer and engineer Josef Krupka – both enthusiastic alpine skiers – developed a device for ski flying. It consisted of a belt system fixed on the body, on which two airfoil wings were attached in breast height. Similar to an airplane the approach angel of these wings could be adjusted by the arms.

In spring 1930 on 2700 meters above sea level near the Kürsing shelter on Großvenediger the very first tries were made and Krupka realized several long flights with a velocity of around 100 km/h. With a pace of 40 he took off of the skiing slope and flew up to 150 meters long at a height of 8 m! During one of these flights a gust of wind made him fall and he luckily didn’t become injured, but the plywood wings, which had awing-span of around 4 meters, were completely damaged through this crash. Later they tried out a 8 meter wide thing with only one wing, which carried out to be too inflexible.

In nineteen thirties the skiing instructor and ski jump constructor Carl I. Luther from Munich was giving attention to theoretical and practical aspects of ski jumping. By the way, he was the first to define the “critical point” at constructing a ski jumping hill and as a consultant of DSV he was in charge of many plannings of new large ski jumping hills in Germany. Within the discussion about longer ski jumps, according to a Norwegian sketch he gave the advice to wear supporting pieces of cloth – just a kind of bat wings – between arms and body, in order to improve ascending forces during flights.

Prof. Hans Thirring from Vienna became famous in 1937 with his flying attempts with a canvas coat named after him. Independently of these suggestions for ski flying, Thirring originally had developed his coat for downhill skiing. He published a book called “Der Schwebelauf”, where de described and underlined the supporting effects of wide clothes for downhill skiing and ski jumping. At the same time the skiing expert Dr. Martinak from Carinthia made far jumps, too, with a kind of sail, which he tightened with his elongated arms between his ski poles.

Larger distances with the same inrun speed, optimized flight curves and a smooth curbed landing were the fundamental ideas of all these concepts. Beside the developments made at the construction of ski jumping hills all these attempts were trying to improve the performances of ski jumpers and their materials. Seen by historical and flight-technical aspects these even were more the precursors of present day’s paragliding, whereas still today some of these aspects are considered, as for example the suits of Austrian ski jumpers with very wide crotches some years ago proved.

Source: Book „Skispringer und ihre Schanzen” by A. H. Peyerl, Salzburg, 1949




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