Wingsuit: A parachutist’s jumpsuit with wings comparable to a flying squirrel’s. As early as the 1970s, some skydivers used “swoop cords” to tauten their jumpsuit from wrist to ankle, increasing their surface area and reducing their terminal velocity. The wingsuit takes this idea and runs with it. Wingsuits don’t have a very good glide ratio, but they do make lateral progress. Thrillseekers push it to the limit by flying down mountainsides. A parachute is usually used for a safe landing, but there is a video of one guy landing unhurt on a gigantic pile of cardboard boxes, so it’s only a matter of time.
Tech Level: Low, actually. Like parachutes, all you really need are fabric, a needle and thread. Fatally steep learning curve for the early adopters, though. The wingsuit is suitable for pre-industrial genres like Clockpunk, Time Travel and Alternate History, and it could also be at home in Military SF or Space Opera.
Appeared In: Umm, Rocky and Bullwinkle? And don’t try to say that Rocky was a real flying squirrel- he was a talking cartoon flying squirrel. That’s fiction. And speculative. Not good enough? How about The Man Who Fell to Earth, with David Bowie in the lead role? An awesome opening sequence shows him streaking down through the atmosphere to crash into a lake.
For Your Plot: Thrilling scenes where your hero has only seconds to choose a tolerable landing zone. Plenty of potential for death. How about a chase scene?