All three jumped at the same time. Their fears vanished instantly. "Right from the door we were flying," Kuosma says. "It was an incredible experience. You pick a spot, a canyon between two clouds, and you fly there. You can play with your own shadow against the cloud. When we landed, it was like a big lightning: This is what I want to do, I thought, and this is what I want every skydiver to experience."
By late spring of that year, Pecnik had made 85 suits in a factory in Croatia. Kuosma threw them into the trunk of his car and showed them off all over Europe. In August, a year to the day after they had first jumped together at Arco, the two rendezvoused at the cliff in full BirdMan regalia. Both flew for 27 seconds, matching de Gayardon.
In the spring of 2000, they broke a distance record with a demonstration flight in Holland. Dropped at 16,000 feet over the offshore island of Texel, Pecnik, Kuosma and four others flew their BirdMan suits three miles over the Strait of Marsdiep, then opened their parachutes and landed on the mainland. The stunt got noticed, and BirdMan suits started selling.
Three years later, they've sold more than a thousand. Design modifications have extended the length of the wings without increasing the angles, and have tweaked the flier's profile to better approximate a classic wing shape. Recently, in a fourth-generation suit, Pecnik flew for more than a minute off Arco before pulling his chute.
Tens of thousands of skyflights are made each year. So far, only one skydiver has died wearing a BirdMan suit—but it was one he'd borrowed, violating Kuosma's training-is-essential ethic. He won't sell a suit to anyone with fewer than 200 jumps—experienced skydivers, he says, handle emergencies more calmly—and anyone with fewer than 500 jumps must take a safety course. Curiously, the course doesn't emphasize how to fly. "I don't have any technique to teach you," Kuosma told DeRego. "You know how to do it already. Just think about where to go and you'll turn."
What Kuosma does teach DeRego is to keep her arms symmetrical; an imbalance could spill her into a spin. If you feel the wings overpowering you, he says, pull your arms and legs in, reducing surface area. If it gets really bad, just cut the wings away. Above all, if it ever feels scary, pull your parachute. Kuosma learned that lesson in February 2000 while testing Pecnik's latest design. "Robert thinks I am his hamster now," Kuosma says with a laugh. "These wings were much longer and larger than we'd ever tried." The suit performed so well that it overpowered his shoulder muscles. "Super fast, I knew this flight was no longer under my control," he says. "I instantly remembered why all those early birdmen died, so I pulled my parachute, before the forces grew so big that I could not open it."