Wingsuits and Flying Inside a Box

There was once a time in my life where I’d found myself without a job, a home, and any real sort of income. There were many nights where I was uncomfortable, and several days where meals consisted of Saltines and ketchup “borrowed” from a nearby restaurant.  I was hungry. I chose the alternative of crackers and ketchup over the alternative “nothing.”

I had the opportunity to participate in illegal activities that would have probably changed my life, turned me into something different than who I am today. It was an alternative to what I was doing.

Someone could have placed a big beautiful steaming green plate of road apples in front of me. And I wouldn’t have eaten it, no matter how hungry I was. It was an alternative to what I had to eat.

Sometimes, alternatives between “nothing” and “bad choice” is really no alternative at all. In those situations, most would agree that “nothing” is the better option.

When Bill Wenger of the USPA Competition Committee told me that his team had accepted the “grid system” for judging wingusiter skydivers because “it was the only alternative,” I pointed out that an alternative between something and nothing isn’t really an “alternative.”

The USPA Competition Committee has a responsibility to look at rules, regulations, judging systems, and measurement devices with an eye of discernment. They have a responsibility (I believe) to seek out input from various groups/camps of skydivers and gather opinion and learn how people in each discipline feel about the way rules, regulations, judging systems, and measurement devices apply to said groups of skydivers.

Yet in the case of the “grid system,” the USPA did exactly the opposite. A presentation of the grid system was rushed together less than 10 days prior to the BOD meeting in Dallas Texas in July of 2009. The board accepted this system with no investigation, no commentary, no discussion amongst wingsuit skydivers, and without applying a test phase to the system.

Save for half a dozen wingsuit skydivers, no one knew thys system was being presented to the USPA competition committee. In effect and regardless of intent, this system was “sneaked” past wingsuiters.

This has resulted in much angst among members of the wingsuit community, and several people spoke out against the grid system beginning in August of 2009. My own Regional Director did not return phone calls nor emails. He also happens to be the Chairman of the Competition Committee. It appeared that an agenda was in place to force wingsuit skydivers to accept the grid.

When the time came for the wingsuit bigway in November 2009, my own participation in the formation was killed by the organizers of the bigway. Taya Weiss and Jeff Nebelkopf both met with me prior to the formation taking place and it was made very clear in those meetings that I was not going to be allowed to fly in the formation due to my criticism of the grid system.

Further to that point, Jeff Nebelkopf made it clear that if I attempted to participate in any aspect of the event, he “would take steps to have me removed from the dropzone.” I stayed away from all bigway events.

I continued to be critical of the grid, being worried that the grid authors would take the grid system to the FAI. I was assured by two organizers that it would not be going to the FAI, and to not worry about it.

Imagine my surprise to see the grid system on the agenda of the IPC event taking place in Lausanne, Switzerland in 2010.  Again, I sent an email to my Regional Director and Chair of the Competition Committee. And no response was received.

I sat with Larry Bagley, Director of Competition for the USPA, and was told that this “wingsuit thing had gotten ridiculous” and that I was “being blamed for people being opposed to the grid.”

Telling Larry of my concerns about the grid, he indicated that if it were accepted by the FAI as a competition standard, it would be very difficult to repeal it and put any other system into place. I asked him how we could stop this from occurring, and he explained that at this late date, only a letter writing campaign could make any difference.

And that’s what occurred.

Dozens of wingsuiters across the globe wrote letters to the USPA. Only those that are members of the USPA are counted in the consideration of how the USPA should best approach the issue. As a result of those letters, the Director of Competition at the USPA stepped up and said that “No more wingsuit records will be ratified until this mess is cleared up.”

Consequently, myself and another person have been named as “ringleaders of a small minority” in telling the USPA that we feel it is too early to foist a judging system upon wingsuit skydivers both at the US level and international level.

This is my primary position. Give us nothing rather than forcing us to accept a “bad something.” Give our community time to suss out better answers and solutions to a problem most of us didn’t know existed until we saw the inclusion of the grid on the FAI agenda.

What problems do I have with the grid system?

-It is not objective. It is entirely subjective. Two people will not produce the same result without speaking to each other about how the result was achieved.

-The grid system is very easy to cheat.

-The grid system allows for a sloppy, terrible formation to be ratified as a record jump.

A USPA Record Formation
This is a USPA Record-Achieving formation.
Do we REALLY want this formation to be a "record" formation? Because it is, by USPA standards.

-The grid system offers a small group of wingsuiters the opportunity to profit from the grid, and I feel this is not appropriate.

-The grid system has been put into play by the USPA without skydivers having the opportunity to work with it, to improve upon it, and develop it as a community. In fact, when authors of the grid were approached to have a dialog about improving the grid, they told us to “f**k off” using a graphic image consisting of middle fingers in the middle of a grid.

What we got when we asked about improving the grid in August of 2009
"Improving the Grid"


Recent record attempts in Florida occurring on the same day show a different application of the grid as well. One formation is a 7 way, somewhat ugly but fitting the grid. One formation is an 8 way, exceptionally ugly, but fitting the grid. The Director of Competitions for USPA was *ordered* to ratify the 7 way grid. It’s prettier. And, the 8 way was wasn’t as pretty and quite ugly. But it is still the largest grid-worthy formation flown in Florida. So, why was the 7 way ordered to be ratified before review of the 8 way?

Mistakes have been made in trying to slow the growth of a judging system. For example, I misunderstood something communicated to me, and I wrongfully included three names in the “no-grid group” in an email I sent privately to a friend. For that mistake, I apologize. I misunderstood, and misspoke as a result. It was an honest mistake, and nothing nefarious nor underhanded was intended, despite what the grid authors may purport.
My mistake does not dilute the efforts of the several dozens of wingsuit skydivers who have spoken out against the FAI and even the USPA adopting the grid system as a means of measuring wingsuit formations.

A real record formation
This is a terrific formation. But it was not record-worthy. This is a drawing from an actual formation.

There are currently seven other proposed/possible means of measurement, and I’m certain there are still others out there now that the word is out that we’re going to have to accept/develop some sort of judgement/measurement system.

All I ask in that measurement system is that we are able to:

Independently verify judgment results

-Objectively measure an inch as an inch vs stretching inches to conveniently fit a large area.

-do away with the notion that we should be allowed to fly in a box that is nearly 30 square feet in measurement.

-Promote safety.

-Not be tied to any one organization such as the grid is inseparably tied to Raise the Sky non-profit. Taya Weiss said in a recent article, “We’d like to see all record events tied to a charity….” This is simply wrong for the USPA and/or FAI to support. It is not independent, and is not fair play. Supporting a charity should be a choice for each individual skydiver, rather than being a requirement and expense if one wishes to participate in any bigway event. I feel that the email campaign that ties the grid to the charity is a play on emotions of those that might otherwise not support what the grid is about. Maniuplating emotions to support what should be a factual, objective discussion isn’t fair play either. It wouldn’t be appropriate to drag wingsuit-related fatalities into this discussion; it’s equally inappropriate to drag charity work into a discussion of a wingsuit judging system.

“Record” skydives should be about excellence and skill, effort and hard work. Building something that someone with only one or two wingsuit skydives can participate in is about “feel good” politics rather than creating excellence. Regardless of skill, someone with fewer than a dozen wingsuit skydives should not find themselves in a position of being a “world record holder” compared to the person who has 5000 wingsuit jumps. This is where safety comes in. During the 2008 wingsuit bigway, most participants had a minimum of 100 wingsuit skydives with many having well over 500 wingsuit skydives. No one had fewer than 100 wingsuit skydives went the event was over. In the 2009 wingsuit bigway, many people had far fewer than 100 wingsuit skydives, some with only a handful. There were three separate incidents (none fatal, but one requiring hospitalization and a CYPRES fire) that occurred.

How about we actually weigh alternatives, instead of weighing in on only one side of an issue?

The grid system was a tremendous foot forward and first step, much like the first steps of a toddler. Yet no one would ever apply the measurements of a toddler to marathon runners. The alternative is to develop a better, well-thought out system that wingsuiters have had the opportunity to discuss amongst themselves. To do so, would provide a “winning alternative” in my opinion.

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Published by

DSE

I've been a successful sales manager, musician, film/video professional, instructional designer, and skydiver. Picked up a few pieces of gold, brass, titanium, and tin along the way. This blog is where I spill my guts about how I'm feeling at any given moment, and maybe a blurb or two about what's happening in the sales, video, or skydiving worlds.

6 thoughts on “Wingsuits and Flying Inside a Box”

  1. These sample pictures do look ugly, and in my opinion should not be judged as any kind of records. But the 25 way in Chicago was a beautifully formed formation. I do understand a few things now in regards to why i didn’t make a final formation. I don’t feel discouraged in any way but i have a new point of view why that happened.
    Now the real question i have is where can i read about any alternative methods of judging? Is it posted any where ??

    Thanks and blues. Greg..

  2. Greg, the other methods haven’t been formally posted for a few reasons.

    You’ll soon hear more about other methods, methods that are more consistent with other symmetrical measurement systems. The ones being presented to USPA are the collaborative efforts and commentary from dozens of USPA members.

  3. Hi, I’ve been following all this mess for a while , and I must say I completely agree with you.
    From the first day I saw that photo (don’t remember which) superimposed with the grid, I thought “man this is not very serious” …
    Good to know that there are other ideas in the works.

    Cheers from a skydiver in Argentina (and USPA member) with just only around 10 wingsuit jumps
    Gonza

  4. USPA posted a new grid with the base jumped measured in height and position. This do look better, at least you can’t re-size as much as you could before. I think this is a big improvement.

    Also Jsho trying to get a dock point system going.

    Do you have any opinions on that?

  5. On my fortieth birthday. May 2, 1965, I made my first “batwing” skydive at the Issaquah Sport Parachute Club just east of Seattle. A seamstress sewed patches of denim to a pair of coveralls beneath both arms and between the legs. The space from my elbow to my wrist was held in place with a cord that was looped over the thumb. Just prior to reaching in for the pull, I’d slip the loop from my thumb.

    Because the Parachute Club of America, the USPA’s predecessor, prohibited the use of “batwings”, the club safety officer forbid me to jump. However, Linn Emerick (C-1036) interceded. He said that he saw nothing wrong with the wings. It was his club and if I wanted to jump them I had his authorization.

    I made a thirty second delay from seventy-two hundred feet; however the wings slowed my decent, so I assume that it was a forty or forty-five second delay. I wrote in my log book that the wings improved my stability and that the turns were slower. I made a second thirty second that day.

    My “batwing” venture ended three years later in Vietnam. Although I was the president and jump master of the Saigon Sport Parachute Club, Sgt. Ray Duffy, A Golden Knight, tore the wings from my coveralls at a meeting while I was in the Mekong Delta working as a Refugee Advisor. He too said that “batwings” were prohibited.
    Sheridan Peterson D-2024
    Windsor, California

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