But now for the real question: What would happen if you increase the mass of the flying object? In particular, what would happen to a wingsuit jumper with an extra person on top of them that essentially doubles the total mass? Well, according to this calculation the jumper would still have the same glide ratio—but that’s only true if the lift-to-drag ratio stays the same. Let’s just assume that it is indeed the same to produce the same glide ratio.
With a larger mass, both the lift force and drag force would have to increase in order to keep the jumper at a constant velocity. However, it would have to be a larger constant velocity for a wingsuit jumper without an extra person. The only way to increase the lift is to increase the velocity. (Remember that the lift and drag forces depend on the velocity.) So this means that the wingsuit jumper with the hostage on the back would have to move down and forward at a greater speed than the other jumpers. This would prevent all these bad guys from flying in formation—but that’s just what we see in the episode of Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Is there a way to make it actually work? There is one thing: If the jumper with the hostage had a suit with larger wings, it’s possible that he could still have the same glide ratio. But how big would it have to be? For this calculation, let’s just assume they are falling straight down. (It will be a little bit easier.) In that case, I will have the downward gravitational force and the upward drag force. For terminal velocity, these two must be equal in magnitude.
You can see from this that if you double the mass (m) and you want to have the same terminal velocity (v), then the area would have to also increase by a factor of 2. What would that look like? Let’s say that a normal wingsuit jumper is a rectangle that is 1 meter by 2 meters (approximately). That’s an area of 2 square meters. For the wingsuit with the hostage, you have to have a length of 2.83 meters by 1.41 meters, which gives an area of 4 square meters.
So, the guy would need a bigger wingsuit. Big deal, right? Well, it’s not a big deal if you plan for it before you bring a hostage—and maybe they did. But there’s a bigger problem with this larger suit. It looks funny. There is probably nothing worse that a bad guy can do than to look weird in front of the other bad guys. But I guess sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.
More Great WIRED Stories