Published April 24, 2008
It weighs only 30 pounds and can be fully weaponized for assault and rescue. It has a 6-foot jet-wing that is steered with handheld rotary controls connected to its rudder. And it can hide more than 100 pounds of combat gear in a built-in compartment.
The Gryphon attack glider, designed to penetrate combat zones at 135 miles per hour, could revolutionize the art of parachuting. It has got to be at the top of James Bond’s Christmas list this year.
A vision straight out of "Batman," the carbon-fiber stealth glider quadruples the speed of similar craft — and there are quite a few special forces soldiers who would like to jump out of a plane at 30,000 feet and give it a whirl.
Its helmet has a heads-up display and provides on-board oxygen for the jump. To land, a soldier separates the wing from his pack and releases his parachute to slow his descent. The wing remains attached to the soldier by a cord and lands before him.
You might wonder who would volunteer to test-pilot a glider traveling at such high speeds. At ISNR London, a security conference, I had the opportunity to meet Erich Jelitko, who not only conceived the ultimate boy toy but also enthusiastically test-pilots the glider.
A former special forces operator and German army paratrooper instructor, Jelitko has made more than 50 jumps with the glider.
He took me through a test flight of a simulation of Paris. He demonstrated the glider’s agility by flying through the legs of the Eiffel Tower — not an easy feat at high speed. Soldiers also can opt to train on other city simulations from New York to London.
Currently, planes and pilots are put at risk because soldiers need to jump close to combat areas. Typical high altitude, high-opening, or HAHO, jumps from around 27,000 feet allow soldiers to travel only about 30 miles after exiting the aircraft.
The Gryphon could increase that range fourfold, creating an attack corridor of nearly 125 miles. Unaffected by headwinds or crosswinds because of its favorable lift-to-drag ratio, the glider would allow elite units to reach targets with increased speed, precision and stealth.
The Gryphon’s built-in oxygen supply system allows soldiers to jump from up to 30,000 feet. And with temperatures at that altitude sometimes reaching minus 64 degrees Fahrenheit, every second counts. Even in upwind conditions, the Gryphon could reduce HAHO jump duration to a third, from an average of 45 minutes to just 15, vastly reducing the risk of exposure to extreme cold.
The Gryphon’s designers, SPELCO GbR, are even planning to affix a relatively cheap and small turbo jet, which is used for unmanned military drones. Harnessing that jet, the glider would allow soldiers to jump lower, maintain altitude and travel farther than is currently possible.
With its stealth technology and high speed, the Gryphon will provide maximum surprise and safer entry into target areas. And with the Gryphon virtually invisible to ground and airborne radar, enemy forces would struggle even to detect it.
The stealth and speed capabilities also could be handy for agile hostage rescue operations and rapid reaction to moving targets. SPELCO is developing an electronic system to automate some of the steering to make it easier to fly, more like an airplane. If it succeeds, the average bungee jumper — and not just elite forces with specialized training — can have a go, too.
And those commercially available Gryphons could mean that friendly neighborhood Batmen might be just around the corner.