by Gayle Young
Some researchers say one of the most common dreams in the world is of flying – not crammed in the middle seat of an airbus during peak travel season, but of floating effortlessly through space of you own volition. Now, with the perfection of wingsuits, that’s almost a reality. No rig, no motor, no glider and, until you’re ready to touch down, no parachute. These suits give you the dimorphic body of a human-sized flying squirrel. Jump off a cliff and it lowers your rate of descent from terminal velocity, to as slow as 40 miles per hour, allowing you to glide for considerable time and distance. For this episode we secured rights to what has to be some of the most incredible wingsuit video ever shot. Four experts in Norway tumble off high, sheer cliffs and then glide for miles, hugging cliffs and buzzing roads on their way down the mountainside. It really does look like something from a dream.
Video Preview: “Humans Who Can Fly” — Imagine skiing down a mountainside, straight off the side of a cliff, and into the air with no parachute!
As usual, we were all over the map gathering amazing video for the show. In Nantes, France, our videographer Tony Miller shot a giant mechanical elephant created by a group of artists and engineers known as Les Machines d’Ille. They’ve also created a four-story high puppet called the Little Giantess who walks with the help of cranes, bats her eyelashes and even urinates (pure water thankfully.) Their giant 50-foot high spider, called La Princesse, is operated by pneumatic pumps and can climb walls. Reportedly a group concerned with arachnophobia protested her display in one city, saying she would unleash terror among those with a rampant fear of spiders. Les Machine’s workshop looks like part mad laboratory and part bizarre toy factory, complete with a giant elephant – six times larger than a real one – stomping across the floor.
We also headed to Las Vegas to shoot a contortion convention and met a little girl who can basically twist herself into a pretzel and who wants to be famous by the time she’s old, which as she puts it, will be by the time she reaches 16. And in Japan, we shot video of Yu Chan, a 20-year-old endangered sea turtle who lost part of his limbs in a nasty encounter with a shark. A National Geographic researcher has helped outfit him with prosthetic flippers that will allow him to swim again, and perhaps someday even be returned to the wild. So he’s basically a bionic turtle.
Video Preview: “The Bionic Turtle” — After a tragic shark attack, this turtle’s limbs are rebuilt with biotic limbs!
We also have a countdown of prehistoric giants that includes a nightmarish ostrich-like creature appropriately dubbed the ‘Terror Bird,’ and we have a segment on photos that purportedly show giant snakes in the process of eating humans. Are they real or are they hoaxes? The answers will probably surprise you. In all, this has been one of my favorite episodes yet. It has a lot of quirky animals combined with death-defying humans. Always a good mix.
Nat Geo Amazing “Man-Eating Snakes and the Invisible Man” premieres July 30th at 7P et/pt.