Ever since early man could walk upright, we've dreamed of flying. And you can bet homo erectus wasn't imagining a cramped middle-seat next to a fussy baby on a 747; the personal-flight freedom of birds has always been the goal, however distant. Daredevils among you will be happy to learn that in recent years, humans have been drawing ever closer to achieving it -- by a variety of methods, some crazier than others -- and here are our faves.
1. The Wingsuit
Batman jokes aside, the wingsuit is pretty darn cool, and probably approximates personal flight more accurately than any of our other examples. It's also scary as all get-out: to make it work, you've got to jump off of something really high, like a cliff or an airplane. The jumper wears a special suit with fabric sewn between the arms and the body and between the legs to create an airfoil shape, not unlike that of a flying squirrel. Once adequate air speed relative to the jumper is created -- this happens more or less instantly when skydiving, but takes a little longer if BASE jumping -- air speed is converted to lift.
This is where the magic happens: the jumper's body essentially becomes a wing, and rather than falling toward the ground at around 120 mph, a good portion of that vertical momentum is converted into horizontal momentum; wingsuiters often travel 2.5 feet forward for every 1 foot down (that's called the "glide ratio,") slowing their descent to between 60-90 mph, and quieting the wind rush around them to a degree that they can hold casual conversations with one another while traveling in formation. Here's a video.
Unlike birds, however, most wingsuiters don't try to land on their feet -- you need special, expensive landing strips for that sort of thing -- they wear parachutes, deployed once they're within a few thousand feet of the ground.
2. Human-powered helicopter
As you can probably tell, it's pedal-powered, and features very light construction in its body and its enormous wings. The challenge all these pioneers have faced is creating an HPH with a super-efficient power-to-weight ratio; they must create a lot of lift but not much drag, since drag consumes power. (Sounds like an exhausting pedal.)
3. The Personal Jet Wing
4. The Backpack Helicopter
Unlike traditional helicopters it has 2 sets of coaxial, contra-rotating rotors (KA-52 Hokum for all you military buffs) which eliminates the need of a tail rotor for balancing. The rotors have a length of only 4 meters (118 inches) so no parking problems too. It is powered by 4 lightweight 125 cc 2 cylinder engines which use standard gasoline. The GEN H-4 can fly to a maximum altitude of 1000 meters at a top speed of 90 km/hr (59 mph) for up to 30 minutes.
This one's definitely on my Christmas list.