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Do the SAS Have Bat Wings?

In July 2003, French daredevil Felix Baumgartner crossed the English channel by gliding from Dover to Calais. Baumgartner wore a specially-designed suit that incorporated a large wing strapped to its back along with an oxygen tank and a parachute.

Rumours that the SAS were evaluating or even using a similar device began to surface in mid 2006. Press reports even had artist impressions of the suit, which makes the wearer resemble a futuristic version of Bat Man.

Various reports suggested that the SAS free fall / air troops were looking at designs from German company, ESG to replace/compliment their current air insertion capability. The proposed device would feature:

  • 6ft-wide carbon-fibre wing
    supposedly with a low radar cross-signature
  • Thermal suit
    capable of withstanding temps as low as -55c
  • Life Support
    oxygen tanks linked into helmet
  • Steering
    via twist-grip mechanism
  • Computer Guidance
    computer-assisted navigation and stabilization
  • Payload
    15 stones of man+equipment
  • Propulsion
    Some versions of the suit will feature mini turbo-jets, extending the glide range to 120 miles

The 'bat wing' suit would supposedly make high-altitude insertions easier as it would eliminate much of the physically demanding and mentally taxing procedures required in traditional HAHO/HALO operations. The proposed powered wings, fitted with mini turbo-fan engines, would greatly extend the glide range of SAS air insertions from the current 30 miles to 120.

The SAS maintains a well practiced air drop capability although HALO/HAHO drops are rarely used. The last publicly-known HALO insertion happened during Operation Trent, in Afghanistan, 2001.

Critics of the proposed design pointed out that, the cost and feasibility of the design aside, the 'bat wing' could only support a payload of 15 stones (210 lbs). Many SAS missions will normally require each soldier to carry much more kit than this design would allow. HAHO parachutes can currently support up to 650lbs. Another drawback would be the difficulty of hiding the wings following the descent, something necessary for clandestine missions.

Do the SAS use the 'Bat Wings'? The MOD is characteristically silent on the issue. It is likely that the SAS took a serious look at the proposed system as they are always seeking new tools and new techniques. It's also likely that they found it to be unworkable. But... you never know!

Keep watching the skies...





sources:

Special forces to use strap-on 'Batwings'
(features artist impression of the design)
Skydiver in record Channel flight
(BBC News Report on Felix Baumgartner's cross-channel glide)

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