So, You Want to Fly a Wingsuit?
Wingsuiting is a fast-growing discipline in the skydiving and BASE-jumping world, and like all new disciplines in the sport, there are some potential pitfalls that this article might help you to avoid.
Wingsuits can convert downward speed into forward speed/lift much like a canopy can, up to a certain point. This allows the wingsuit skydiver to travel much farther over the ground than even the best tracker can travel. Like a canopy, there is a balance between weight and performance. Wingsuits come in a wide variety of sizes, but all are of a similar shape. It is a common misconception that size is related to skill, freefall time, and distance traveled. New wingsuiters would be well-advised to not be concerned about which suit they’ll eventually be jumping; suit styles, features, and sizes are constantly evolving. In other words, use the introductory suit provided by your coach and plan on a world of discovery after that first experience.
How should I prepare for a wingsuit skydive?
First and foremost, you’ll need a minimum of 200 jumps in the past 18 months if you’ll be jumping at a USPA dropzone. This is a BSR, or Basic Safety Requirement. It is highly recommended by both USPA and all manufacturers that you take a First Flight Course/FFC from a qualified wingsuit coach. There is no USPA “instructor” rating for wingsuiting, only manufacturer-issued ratings. Be sure the person providing FFC coaching is current and it is highly recommended that you seek someone with additional instructional ratings. There is no difference between a wingsuit “instructor” and a wingsuit “coach.” Some manufacturers have elected to not confuse the USPA Instructional ratings with being one who teaches wingsuiting, ergo; “coach.”
Tracking jumps with a focus on navigation will go a long way to achieving a good sense of navigation. Navigation is a critical component of a wingsuit skydive since we’ll be adding the potential ability to fly several miles from 13K. Concentrating on flying “quiet” (without a lot of body/limb movement and relaxed) is a benefit to preparing for a wingsuit skydive. Your coach may even require that you’ll do a tracking dive with the prior to the first wingsuit flight.
There are some equipment recommendations to consider prior to making a first wingsuit skydive. For example, lighter canopy wingloadings are preferable. A good wingsuit coach will recommend or require a non-elliptical canopy for the FFC (It’s a good idea to avoid ellipticals for wingsuiting in general), and most coaches will highly recommend (if not require) an AAD. Losing altitude awareness should not occur in a wingsuit skydive, but your body clock will feel “off” in most first wingsuit jumps.
A hard helmet is recommended; wingsuits restrict movement. If there is going to be an impact of any kind in a wingsuit, it generally will occur at the front of the fuselage (your head) and your arms cannot be used to protect the head/face. Full-face or open face helmets both work. I personally wear an open face helmet, but many wear full face helmets. There is little doubt the wind can be heard more clearly in a full-face helmet. The sound of the wind is often used to gauge fall rate.
An audible may promote awareness due to the potentially elongated skydive. First flights, like AFF, generally terminate at 5.5k, and most skydivers have a lower deployment point. The audible may help with the change in body clock and new sight picture at deployment time.
Mudflap or chest mount altimeters are highly recommended; looking at your wrist may cause a turn or instability in the first wingsuit skydive. A good coach should be able to provide these things in the event you don’t have them. I personally prefer chest mounts for FFC’s as they keep the student’s head aligned with the body when looking at the altimeter.
Look for a coach that provides appropriate time to teach specifics relating to:
~Exits (Exits are the most dangerous part of any wingsuit skydive)
~Emergency procedures/recovery from instability
You should be doing at least two practice touches in the air as well. Your coach should make sure you not only know all of the above procedures, but assure you feel comfortable in all aspects of the process. The training process should be specific to the aircraft from which you’ll be jumping. Otters and Skyvans have a slightly different exit method than say…a King Air or Cessna 182.
Wingsuiting is becoming more common across the world, and suit designs are available for the newcomer to the discipline. A good coach should have an abundance of suits so that the suit fits properly. Wingsuits for introductory skydives/FFC’s include Phoenix-Fly Prodigy, Shadow, and Phantom 2. Tonysuit offers the Intro model, while FYB offers the Access and Indy. All of these wingsuits are designed with beginning wingsuit pilots in mind. Some of them can carry well into a wingsuit pilot’s jumping career, while others will most likely be used for a couple of dozen jumps at best.
Be cautious about planning for larger suit sizes. There is a balance between wingloading and hang-time. A lightweight person in a very large wingsuit will be more like a “leaf” as opposed to a rocket, where a heavier person in a small suit can generate ridiculous forward speeds.
Performance should not be an objective in initial flights. There are three goals/TLO’s in the FFC that I teach:
~Safe/clean exit (Avoiding the stabilizer and being stable)
~Navigation back to the DZ
~Clean deployment free of malfunctions
Once you’ve determined that you want to continue down the wingsuit piloting path, you’ll likely figure out whether acrobatics, relative work, flocking, distance flights, or hang-time (time aloft) is the goal. There are suits that can meet most of these goals, while some suits are better designed than others for specific tasks.
Other coaches may provide other emphasis, but at the end of the day, the goal of the first wingsuit flight is that it is a fun skydive with a heavy emphasis on safety. You’ll experience a different ground rush, feel the sensation of true flight, and find the wingsuit a very different experience from other skydives.
A list of wingsuit coaches may be found on the websites of various manufacturers.
We’re looking forward to seeing you in the flock!
Douglas Spotted Eagle is a USPA Coach Examiner, AFFI, Phoenix-fly Coach Examiner, PRO-rated skydiver.