Clem Sohn

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Clements Joseph Sohn (December 7, 1910 – April 25, 1937) was an American airshow dare-devil in the 1930s from Fowler, Michigan, USA.[1][2][3] 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.[4] 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".[5][6]

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.[7][8]

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.[9][10]


There was at least one attempt to exploit Sohn's fame with a product tie-in. A UK manufacturer made the 'Welcom' Clem Sohn Bird-Man Glider, featuring "a red suited male figure with fold-out arms" and rubber wheels. It is now a collectible.[11]


  1. ^ "Daring Bird-Man Soars at 10,000 ft. on Homemade Wings". Modern Mechanix. May 1935. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
  2. ^ Birthdate from cemetery inscription. Archived May 11, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Abrams, Michael (2006). Birdmen, Batmen, and Skyflyers: Wingsuits and the Pioneers Who Flew in Them, Fell in Them, and Perfected Them. New York: Harmony Books. pp. 41–52. ISBN 978-1-4000-5491-6.
  4. ^ "Transport: Wing Man". Time. March 11, 1935. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
  5. ^ Feldspauch, Rhonda; Simon, Lisa. "The Village of Fowler". Fowler, Michigan. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
  6. ^ Abrams, pp. 41, 45-47.
  7. ^ French, Dennis. "The Yorkshire Birdman". Archived from the original on February 19, 2012. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
  8. ^ Abrams, p. 49.
  9. ^ "Transport: End of Sohn". Time. May 3, 1937. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
  10. ^ Abrams, pp. 50-51.
  11. ^ A specimen in good condition, complete with the original box, sold on E-bay in 2008[permanent dead link] for GBP 100 (US$147.76). Retrieved December 10, 2008.[dead link]

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