Dr. Angelo Grubisic, an acclaimed British astronautical engineer and wingsuit designer, died on August 21 during a BASE jumping accident in Saudi Arabia. BASE jumping is a sport where athletes jump from a fixed structure or cliff wearing a specially-designed suit that allows human flight. BASE is an acronym for building, antenna, span, and earth.
“Angelo lost his life doing what he loved the most, wingsuit base jumping, and we want to ensure his achievements and ambitions are known to the world and to celebrate the mark he made on all of our lives,” his family told the BBC.
Grubisic dreamed of making faster, safer wingsuits and had just won the gold medal in the British Parachuting Association’s Advanced Wingsuit competition last July. “If you’re not doing what you love, then you’re the crazy one,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Here’s what you need to know about Dr. Angelo Grubisic.
1. Grubisic Was a University Lecturer & Former NASA Researcher
Grubisic was an Astronautics lecturer at the University of Southampton in the U.K. He was an expert in electric propulsion systems developed for in-space attitude and orbit. He lectured on manned space flight and how it impacted the human body, mission design space systems engineering, and spacecraft propulsion.
From 2004-2008, Grubisic was a researcher and research scholar at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The JPL describes itself as a “national research facility that carries out robotic space and Earth science missions.” Grubisic’s work focused mostly on ion energy and ion cathodes. He also worked with the European Space Agency.
Grubisic held Ph.Ds from the University of Southampton and the University of Surrey. He obtained his Master’s degree from the International Space University and a BE in Aerospace Technology from Coventry University.
2. Angelo Grubisic Headed Up the Icarus Wingsuit Project
Grubisic led the Icarus Wingsuit Project, a team of students in the University of Southampton’s Engineering, in Aeronautics and Astronautics department who are developing new wingsuits engineered to set world wingsuit records for human flight.
Founded in 2015, the program’s website explains that their researchers were working to design better, faster wingsuits “making use of world-class equipment, including wind tunnels and supercomputers.”
“What started as a small test of a wingsuit in a wind tunnel has grown into a project impacting the lives of many students as well as the sport,” Grubisic wrote.
3. Grubisic Also Worked on Jet Suits Designs
In 2018, Aerospace Testing International wrote about Grubisic’s work on the Daedalus Jet Suit, sometimes called the real-life “Iron Man” suit. The suit was originally designed by Richard Browning’s Gravity Industries. Browning and Grubisic began collaborating in 2016 after realizing their shared interest in human flight. ATI wrote that the suit “could be the next step in human flight.”
The Daedalus has six micro jet engines attached to each arm and a pair on the back with the control system. The system is linked by a metal frame worn over the body and can run for approximately 12 minutes.
Grubisic was looking at a way to merge his wingsuit designs with Browning’s Daedalus jetsuit so the wearer could take off horizontally. “We’re looking at concepts that will allow us to transition to full horizontal flight in the same way a Harrier or F-35 does,” Grubisic explained.
Browning and Grubisic were mutually interested in taking jet suits from being a form of entertainment to a serious sport. Grubisic described how it felt to wear the suit. “Piloting the suit is an intense, visceral experience. When you start the engines up there’s the smell of kerosene, flames come from your arms, you feel the torque from the engines and everything gets noisy. You feel like your body is completely engaged in the suit. The suit is embedded onto your physical frame.”
4. One of Grubisic’s Close Friends Also Died BASE Jumping
Last January, Grubisic gave witness statements during an inquest looking into the June 24, 2018 death of his friend and fellow wingsuit jumper Rob Haggarty. 47. The Andover, Hampshire native died from head and chest injuries after failing to clear a cliff on an 8,000 foot-high mountain in the Italian Dolomites.
Grubisic told the coroner he jumped immediately before his Haggarty, who hit the rock face three times. Grubisic didn’t realize there was a problem until another jumper informed him. “I was pretty distraught at that point. I grabbed a pair of binoculars and looked back at the mountain and saw Rob’s canopy was hung on the mountain,” he told The Independent.
According to Grubisic’s review of drone video footage showing the accident, Haggarty failed to leap with a “significant enough push out.” Haggarty was considered a skilled at BASE jumping and had 500 wingsuit jumps under his belt.
Grubisic described his friend as a “conservative” jumper and added that he always took “great care with his gear, always staying safe and doing the more conservative jump which makes it all the more surprising he made a mistake.”
5. Grubisic Hoped His Wingsuits Would Encourage Students to Study Engineering
While Grubisic loved the sport of BASE jumping, he also hoped his wingsuit research might encourage students to consider engineering and aeronautics studies. “Angelo achieved a huge amount in 38 years on earth and will be missed by the many students and colleagues whose lives he touched,” Coventry University said in their Facebook post.
He also appeared in the video Higher, Further, Faster: Angelo is Born to Engineer, to show how engineers could combine their careers and hobbies.
Students and colleagues paid their respects after learning of Grubisic’s death. “A fantastic lecturer & inspiration for us all. A real-life rocketman. Fly easy up there,” one student wrote. “Fly peacefully Dr. Grubisic, the knowledge you imparted has been invaluable and will continue to be,” wrote another.