The roots of ground launching can be found way back in the 1960s. In 1965 American skydiver and aeronautical engineer, David Barish, started ground launching while testing a single surface parachute for NASA. The new single surface sailwing was designed to bring space capsules back to earth. This basic design evolved into the advanced paragliders and the sport of paragliding.
The Sport of Paragliding
Paragliding is the simplest form of human flight. A paraglider is a non-motorized, foot-launched inflatable wing; easy to transport, easy to launch, and easy to land. The paraglider itself is constructed of rip-stop nylon, from which the pilot is suspended by sturdy kevlar lines. The pilot is clipped into a harness in a sitting position for maximum comfort. With a paraglider, you actually fly like a bird, soaring upwards on currents of air. Paraglider pilots routinely stay aloft for 3 hours or more, achieving elevations of 15,000 feet and travelling cross-country for vast distances.
Bladerunning is Born
Bladerunning was invented in 1996 by Montana resident, B.J. Worth. BJ got the idea during a skydiving stunt over a ski field during a movie production; and skydiving from an aircraft then flying down a mountain within several feet of the ground, and it has been a hit with skydivers. Again, skydivers had created another form of parachuting, different from skydiving or traditional paragliding, and it has evolved into one of the most cutting edge forms of parachuting today.
At the first official Bladerunning competition two American skydivers, Clint Clawson and J.C. Colclasure decided to foot launch a tandem skydiving parachute into flight while waiting for the weather to improve. After some successful launches, the pair began ground launching their new Icarus Extreme FX canopies; flying through the course down the ski slope… and the sport of extreme ground launching was born. Bladerunning continued for several years without much ground launching. Ground launching high performance parachutes was proved possible, but created many challenges for pilots; skydiving parachutes could be difficult to launch and limited the way in which the pilot could fly.
The GLX development
Six years after Bladerunning started, Icarus canopies combined their test jumpers and formed "Team Extreme". Jim Slaton and Luigi Cani joined ground launching pioneers Clint Clawson & J.C. Colclasure and Team Extreme quickly gained recognition as extreme parachute pioneers. The team pushed the limits of the modern ram air parachute during the Icarus Project, conducting several expeditions around the globe. They set records by becoming the first, and only, parachutists to land on top of Mont Blanc (Europe's highest Alp), descending the north face of Switzerland's Eiger mountain with parachutes, and landing the world's smallest ram air parachutes the VX49/39.
It was during these early expeditions that team member Jim Slaton became fascinated with the idea of using high performance parachutes as tools for exploration. Foot launching large parachutes and paragliders is relatively easy, but too docile for a fast, low level flight like Bladerunning. Jim suggested the concept of a canopy designed specifically for ground launching and Bladerunning, and we were eager to add the GLX to the Daedalus Project. Testing went into full swing and the GLX was created with several features not used on modern skydiving canopies.
The GLX is not designed for skydiving, but the early versions had design parameters that allowed it to be deployed. Even though it was not common knowledge at the time, Jim flew an early prototype during the 1st World Cup of Canopy Piloting called the 'GX'. The GX had ram-air stabilizers, a hybrid nose, relocated cross bracing and a spanning technology that allowed the cells of the canopy to get smaller towards the wingtips. Jim ended up taking 9th in the world flying a canopy designed for a vastly different application!