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The Man Who Can Fly

Expert wingsuit flyer and pilot Rex Pemberton’s latest trick: turning himself into a human rocket


First, the Sydney, Australia native was obsessed with going up. In 2005, Pemberton became the youngest Australian to summit Everest, and in 2006 he became the third youngest person to climb the Seven Summits—the tallest mountain on each continent. Then he discovered that coming down could be just as much fun. At the age of 21, he began BASE jumping and skydiving with a wingsuit, a fabric outfit that allows a skydiver to glide for several miles before deploying a parachute. But gliding wasn’t enough, and he realized his real passion: flying.

For the last five years, Pemberton and a group of engineers and friends have developed the X-Wing, a carbon-fiber wing that fits on a skydiver’s back. Last year, while testing the X-Wing, Rex flew 15 miles, from Los Angeles airspace to Catalina Island, a feat we documented here. This year, Rex and his team affixed two small jet turbine engines to the X-Wing—effectively turning it into a jetwing—and ventured down to Baja, Mexico to test out the prototype. “I’m going to become a human rocket. We don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Pemberton. “All sorts of things could go wrong: parachute malfunctions, engine fires…” To find out, you can tune in here on July 28. In the meantime, here’s a bit more about the human rocket.

Age: 33

Number of Skydives: 4,000, including 3,000 wingsuit dives

Coolest Record: Becoming the youngest Australian and the third-youngest person to complete the Seven Summits at age 23

Weirdest Record: Becoming, perhaps, the only person to give a motivational speech on each of the 7 continents

How It All Started: Topping out on a randomly chosen mountain, 19,000-foot Hualca Hualca in Peru at the age of 16. “I was on a class trip, and we just saw this peak and decided to climb it,” says Pemberton. After that, he couldn’t stop going on adventures—mountaineering, BASE jumping, wingsuiting, and now, pushing the envelope of powered flight.

Most Famous Sibling: Caroline Pemberton, Miss Australia 2007 and television host

Favorite Wingsuit Flight: Jumping off the north face of the 13,000-foot Eiger in the Bernese Alps. “It’s such an iconic mountain,” says Pemberton. “It combines my two favorite things: flying and mountaineering. I can hike up the west flank, fly down for three minutes, and be walking the streets of Grindelwald a few minutes later.”

Most Practical Achievement: Earning his pilot’s wings in the U.S. He will soon get a pilot’s license in Australia as well.

Favorite Way to Relax: Slacklining in his front yard in California

Years Developing the X-Wing: Four. X-1 was a plywood cutout of Rex traced by his sister that he strapped to a wooden cutout of a delta wing. The latest versions, X-12 and X-13, are carbon-fiber wings outfitted with advanced electronics, small jet engines, and a smoke system. Pemberton and a partner hope to start demonstrating them at air shows soon.

On the Future of Jetpack-Powered Flight: “This is something in my life I won’t put on a shelf. I think we will evolve this and the tech for a long time to come,” he says. “I think the future of powered flight is going to be limitless.”

Up Next: This Fall, Rex is heading back to his native Australia for a yet-to-be-revealed project involving big-wave surfing.

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