Wearing carbon-fiber monowings, paratroopers could glide 120 miles before landing.

Wearing carbon-fiber monowings, paratroopers could glide 120 miles before landing.

Lightweight carbon-fiber monowings could let troops jump from high altitudes and glide 120 miles or more before landing, thus allowing transport aircraft to avoid detection.

The technology was first demonstrated three years ago when Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner "flew" across the English Channel. He leaped out of an aircraft 30,000 ft above Dover, landing safely near Calais 12 min later. Wearing an aerodynamic suit and a 6-ft-wide wing strapped to his back, he soared across the Channel at 220 mph, moving 6 ft horizontally for every foot he fell vertically. He opened his parachute 1,000 ft above the ground.

Currently, special forces such as Britain's SAS rely on a variety of parachute techniques to land behind enemy lines. Steerable parachutes open at 27,000 ft but jumpers must then struggle to control them for long periods, often in high winds and extreme cold, while breathing from an oxygen tank. With monowings, forces descend in about onethird of the time required for parachutes.

Alternatively, they can freefall from high altitude, opening their chutes at the last possible minute, but that limits the distance they can glide to just a few miles.

The manufacturer, ESG Elektroniksystem und Logistik GmbH, Munich, claims its wing is almost completely silent and extremely difficult to track using radar. Weapons, ammunition, food, and water stow inside the wing, but concealing the 6-ft wing after landing could prove harder than burying a traditional parachute.