June 8, 2006:
Commandos now have a new way to sneak into enemy territory. It's a pair of lightweight wings, that enable a parachutist dropped from high altitude to first glide for up to 200 kilometers, before opening a parachute (at 1,000 feet or lower) to land. The glide speed is pretty high, about 350 kilometers an hour. The plastic composite wings are delta shaped, and contain oxygen for the parachutists, GPS gear for navigation, and other equipment. The commando can carry about 200 pounds worth of gear with him on the (up to) 20 minute glide. Most glides will be for shorter distances, more likely 50 kilometers or so. That's because, with the wings, you lose one kilometer (3,200 feet) of altitude for every six kilometers you move forward. But this is enough for commandos to come in from outside the range of enemy radar, or visual detection (of aircraft). Jumping at night, the rigid wing equipped commandos can control their direction and altitude using hand and body movements. Using the GPS, they can land with great accuracy. The system was demonstrated in a spectacular fashion three years ago when Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian "extreme sports" athlete, crossed the English Channel using the wings. He jumped from 30,000 feet over England, and landed in France 12 minutes later.
Commandos actually use parachutes very rarely these days, although they practice high altitude jumps. The rigid wings are an improvement over the older methods because they do not require an aircraft to enter hostile air space. Several nations have been interested in buying the wings from German company ESG. The firm is experimenting with equipping the wings with small turbo jets, to extend range even more. One problem with the wings is that, once you land, they are more difficult to hide than a parachute. Normally, commandos will bury their parachutes, to try and hide their presence as long as possible. Burying the wings will take longer. But the wings are likely to be used to commando attacks that would be carried out shortly after the landing.