Photograph by Alain Ernoult
"I steer myself in space with only my body," says pilot Yves Rossy, who invented his jet-powered personal wings.
Photograph by Fabrice Coffrini, AFP/Getty Images
In 2008 Yves Rossy flies over Bex, Switzerland, borne by jet-powered wings he designed.
Photograph by Krystle Wright
ON THE BRINK
Australian Jim Mitchell leaps off Ottawa Peak on Canada's Baffin Island while wearing a wing suit in April 2010. He died weeks later when a jump from a nearby mountain went tragically awry.
Photograph by George Steinmetz
A powered paraglider enabled photographer George Steinmetz to take this picture of his colleague sailing over a salt ridge in Kenya's Chalbi Desert: "With this thing I can get a perspective you can't get any other way."
Photograph by Jeb Corliss
TESTING THE LIMITS
Jeb Corliss tries a wing-suit prototype 12,000 feet above Perris, California. New designs make it possible to stay aloft longer. His ultimate goal is to glide to Earth without a parachute: "That's my Everest."
Art by Alfredo Dagli Orti, Art Archive/Corbis
Our human longing to mimic birds has often proved painful. Greek mythology mourns the melted dreams of Icarus (above). Arab poetry relates a crushing crash by ninth-century inventor Abbas ibn Firnas. Medieval British monk Eilmer became lame after leaping from an abbey on homemade wings. But as technology takes off, the dream of personal flight seems closer than ever.
Art by Gianni Dagli Orti, Corbis
The "aerial screw," one of several flying devices sketched by Leonardo da Vinci, hints at the whirling motion of the modern helicopter.
Art by Heritage Images/Corbis
A taffeta hot-air balloon carries two men over Paris. Its inventors were said to be inspired by paper—or underwear—floating in a fire's updraft.
Photograph by SSPL/Science Museum/Image Works
To prove hang gliders are more than a passing fancy, German engineer Otto Lilienthal flies his own versions some 2,000 times before a fatal fall.
Photograph by Science Faction/Corbis
The Wright brothers pioneer the airplane and develop better gliders. Orville's 1911 model soars nearly ten minutes, the longest unpowered flight yet.
Photograph by Underwood & Underwood/Corbis
Spreading homemade canvas wings at 10,000 feet, "Bird-man" Clem Sohn rides the wind for 75 seconds. Two years later, a horrified crowd sees the stunt artist's parachute fail.
Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Aerospace engineer Francis Rogallo and his wife invent the flexible "paraglider" wing as a sort of parachute for space capsules. Human fliers latch on to it.
Photograph by Bettmann/Corbis
On the Hiller Flying Platform, a pilot stands atop twin fans and steers by leaning. It proves too unwieldy for military use.
Photograph courtesy U.S. Army Transportation Museum
When the U.S. Army orders a dozen De Lackner Aerocycles, one journalist envisions a "cavalry on modern, sky-busting steeds." Test pilots deem the open-rotor craft unsafe.
Photograph by Ed Clark, Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Bell engineer Harold Graham straps on a hydrogen peroxide-fueled Rocket Belt and flies for 13 seconds.
Photograph by Dale Frey, Williams International
The jet-powered Williams Aerial Systems Platform flies, but flops in the military market. Years later, the New York Times calls it "a flying garbage can."
Photograph by Bettmann/Corbis
A British prize set up in 1959 for the first human-powered plane is finally claimed by the Gossamer Condor, which has Mylar wings and a furiously pedaling pilot.
Photograph by AP Photo
French skydiver Patrick de Gayardon soars in his batlike nylon wing suit. He dies testing a new model in 1998.
Photograph by Derek Henderson for Time Magazine
Martin Aircraft tests its fan-powered "Jetpack" and says it plans to sell a recreational model. Flight time: 30 minutes. Price: $100,000.
Photograph by NASA Langley/Analytical Mechanics Associates
NASA's Puffin concept, a 300-pound electric "flying suit," would stand on its stubby tail for takeoff, then level off to cruise on wings.