I'm creating a city that uses wing suits to get from high elevated areas to lower areas. It's not a "steampunk" world, but they do rely on steam power.

I wanted to create a way for them to land using the wing suits while also utilizing steam.

One idea was a water filled tank on their backs that, when heated, releases steam from tubes on their wrists that helps slows them down.

Any idea? I'm not tech savvy at ALL!

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Hang gliders. These have been available for centuties and require no engines. They also allow for very soft landing. $\endgroup$ Jun 3, 2018 at 1:37
  • $\begingroup$ Are you thinking pure tech? I ask because steampunk often has an element of magic. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Jun 3, 2018 at 12:58
  • $\begingroup$ What is the focus of this question - "How to enhance a wing-suit so it's easier to land safely using Victorian/steam era tech?" or "How to justify a wing-suit with wrist steam jets?" - these two are quite different. Also, +1 for asking a question most likely to be answered by "you don't need the steam engine" - which is genuinely useful :). $\endgroup$
    – G0BLiN
    Jun 4, 2018 at 15:10

2 Answers 2


Sometimes a Cigar is Only a Cigar

The biggest issue I have with steampunk is that people focus on the aesthetic and cosplay-friendliness of their characters rather than the actual story or the characters themselves. This means super-gluing brass valves, oversized cogs, and copper tubing to everything. You've just described a glider, something that they did in fact have during the end of the steam era. Just use a regular glider like pic related. Then get back to focusing on the elements of the Victorian era that are actually interesting like the crushing poverty, massive gap between rich and poor despite both living in intensely close proximity, or how industrialization has cheapened human labor and life to the point where man seems more enslaved by machinery than benefited by it.

Pretentious writing critic tendencies aside steam power weighs hundreds of pounds for only a few horsepower of output because it relies on water, flywheels, and heavy fuels. To get the same power as your lawnmower you would need a steam engine, water reservoir, boiler, and fuel source that weighs close to 100 pounds.

If your device simply must be powered maybe use this contraption that mixes high purity peroxide with silver to decompose it into high pressure jet of hydrogen which is focused through a nozzle. Flaring the wings and cutting the power provides more than enough drag to slow down. Only good for short hops I'm afraid, but that's all you wanted it for anyways. Strap a peroxide-catalyst engine to one of these and let er rip. (bonus points if your steam punks have figured out aluminum)

enter image description here


If by "wingsuit" you mean the sorts of suits used by BASE jumpers and high performance aerobatic skydivers to extend their range and manoeuvrability, then you have a problem with "steampunk" technology: low power to weight ratios.

enter image description here

Leonardo Da Vinci does not approve

Yes there are relatively high performance steam engines and even today the thermal energy plants using steam have all kinds of special equipment to wring the last bit of energy from coal, but generally speaking it requires a fair bit of size to effectively place superheaters, bottoming cycle expanders and so on, and much of the efficiency is a function of scale (tiny superheaters would probably end up being energy sinks, rather than ways to boost the output of your steam engine).

Then, of course, in addition to having large and bulky machinery strapped to the wingsuit, the pilot or jumper also is carrying a hot firebox to raise steam, a high pressure boiler or reservoir for the steam and an expander (steam engine) whirling away, all right next to the soft squishy human part of the equation, plus a lot of plumbing devoted to moving high and low pressure steam around. A steam leak or boiler failure isn't going to go well for the pilot.....

There is a barely plausible way to have steampunkery for your wingsuit, but it might be a bit alarming for the user: steam rockets.

The simplest version is what Bob Truax used to power Evel Knievel's rocket motorcycle for the jump over the Snake River Canyon. The rocket was essentially a pressure cooker vessel filled with high pressure live steam, which was then rapidly vented to generate the thrust needed to "jump" the canyon.

enter image description here

Skycycle X-2 steam rocket

Two other methods are possible, using exothermal reactions to generate steam, both pioneered by the Germans in the Second World War. The Me-163 rocket interceptor was powered by a rocket engine using decomposing hydrogen peroxide to generate steam and thrust. Two versions were developed, one using a Hydrogen Peroxide based monopropellant, and a more scalable and throttle able one using a bipropellant (Hydrogen Peroxide as the oxidizer and a methanol based fuel as the propellant).

enter image description here

Me-163 Rocket interceptor

enter image description here

HWK-109-509A rocket engine from a Me-163

The issue here is the fuels used (C-Stoff and Z-Stoff) are insanely dangerous, highly corrosive and safe handling requires thousands of litres of flowing water to wash away spills.

Only somewhat less dangerous was system devised by Hellmuth Walter to use H2O2 as an oxidizer for a hydrocarbon fuel like diesel. This is a combustion system which burns the diesel or other fuel in the oxygen released by the decomposing Z-Stoff, while also providing steam (which in many Walter designs was used in conjunction with the flame to power a turbine, most notably in submarines).

So by using either of these methods, the pilot can fuel the wingsuit (with suitable precautions) and use rocket power to take off, fly and even land. The overriding danger is if any of the oxidizer is destabilized prior to combustion, there will be a nasty explosion (probably on the user's back) and they will be doused with highly corrosive liquid or spray. The other issue of a hot rocket exhaust can be moderated with some clever engineering.

enter image description here

Gene Shoemaker with a Bell rocket belt, powered by decomposing Hydrogen Peroxide


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .