No one can argue that the topic of wingsuit instruction raises ire. There are those that want it, and those that don’t. In a recent survey conducted by USPA, 80% of DZO’s, 87% of S&TA’s, and 60% of skydivers polled (contrasting 82% of wingsuiters polled earlier in the year) indicated that change in how wingsuiting is taught, is a necessary step the evolution of our discipline.
Still very much in it’s adolescence, the stage is set for wingsuiting in the future, and at the moment, it doesn’t look great. Compared to five years ago, wingsuiting has found 1700% growth in dropzones that have banned the discipline across the world.
The fatalities we’ve seen in the past four years may be directly correlated to lacking information from a coach or intentional ignorance of information that every coach/instructor should be providing.
USPA fielded a proposal that at minimum, anyone teaching First Flight Courses must possess a current USPA Coach or Instructor rating. There is minimal pushback to this minimal requirement, and I’d like to explore why this is at the least, the bare minimum we should be requiring for wingsuit instruction on USPA dropzones.
There are many wingsuiters that call themselves “INSTRUCTOR.” Some of them, even many of them are very good wingsuiters, but are terrible instructors. Rather than teaching what NEEDS to be known, what is frequently taught is what they think is ‘important.’
For example, rather than helping a student focus on a safe exit, navigation, and deployment, instructional time is spent on “dude, here’s how you’re gonna fly farther/longer.” Instead of focusing on emergency recovery skills/techniques, a First Flight student might be told “I’m gonna dock on you once you’re stable.
A First Flight is a first glimpse into the world of wingsuiting. Properly taught, it sets the stage for conscientious wingsuiters understanding the issues before them. Improperly taught, we’re setting ourselves up for further tragedy, bad community relations, and bad attitudes towards “those fucking prom dress queens with all the drama.”
If coaches/instructors possess at the least, a USPA Coach rating, they have been taught the very basics of instruction, and hopefully understand the Whole/Part/Whole concept of proper instruction. Having witnessed dozens of FFCs taught by USPA Coaches, rest assured this unfortunately isn’t the case.
A proper First Flight course should include and emphasize the following:
~Emergency Procedures (InStability Recovery aka ISR)
~Clearing the Suit
A first flight should not have any emphasis on flying skills, acrobatics, time aloft, distance flown, or speed. The idea is to be comfortable and have instilled enough muscle memory that the First Flight is merely a test of the skills taught on the ground.
The importance of these elements was driven home this morning when I received an email from a very well-known, highly-experienced wingsuit pilot, asking me about ISR. I was a little surprised to know that not only did he not possess this information, but that he’s been teaching wingsuiting at a large dropzone for a couple of years, and does not teach this as part of his ‘course.’ Conversely, he doesn’t understand why our courses “take so long.” His course is 20 mins, ours is nearly two hours.
With any luck, instructors that have demonstrated the most basic teaching abilities should be better wingsuit coaches than the high rate of drivel we see currently teaching. One “instructor” (possessing no USPA ratings) has a track record of landing students in the ocean, trees, and off the DZ on a consistent basis, not to mention multiple in-air collisions. Applying a new BSR regarding who can/can’t teach wingsuiting probably won’t prevent this sort of idiot from bringing people into the sky, but it does put USPA Examiner eyeballs on those that want to teach wingsuiting.
A USPA Coach is trained in the importance of muscle memory, breaking tasks down into parts and then assembling parts as a whole. I believe these basic instructional tenets, combined with dedication are a significant part of why we’ve been able to train more than 700 logged First Flight Students and over 5000 training jumps without incident. Our safety record eclipses even AFF safety records, and the culture we’ve inspired to the region has made an impact for all dropzones in the area.
Hopefully the USPA board can this time put aside politics and do the right thing.