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October 18, 2023

Clem Sohn, Michigan’s Doomed Daredevil Jumped Out of Planes and Flew Like a Bird

Clements Joseph Sohn (December 7, 1910 – April 25, 1937) was an American airshow dare-devil in the 1930s from Fowler, Michigan. He perfected a way of gliding through the air with a home-made wingsuit. He had himself dropped from an airplane at a height of approximately 6000 meters, and would glide down until he was only 300 to 250 meters from the ground, at which point he would open his parachute for the final descent.

He made the wings from zephyr cloth mounted on steel tubes, forming a large web under each arm which was clasped to his hips. A feature of the wings was a device to prevent them from opening out too far and ripping his arms from their sockets. A loose cloth formed another web between his legs, which acted like a bird's tail. His large goggles gave him an appearance which led to his becoming known as “The Batman” or “The Batwing Jumper.”

Clem was badly injured during the opening ceremony of Gatwick Aerodrome, in London, England, when his primary parachute tangled in his wings. He broke and mangled his shoulder on landing, after opening his emergency parachute at an altitude of only 60 meters and crashing into a taxi.

“There is no sound but the wind. If I lose speed the wind dies away, and there is no sound at all.”
Sohn’s career came to an end on April 25, 1937, in Vincennes, France. Before taking off, Clem had remarked, “I feel as safe as you would in your grandmother’s kitchen.” During his descent on that day, his parachute did not open. A crowd of 100,000 watched him frantically tug on the ripcord of his emergency chute, but that failed too, and Sohn, 26 years old, plunged to his death.


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