Skydive Elsinore Wingsuit School Video Guides

 


Wingsuit training has been a dynamic journey in skydiving for the past decade, with a great deal of spread in how the discpline is taught to new wingsuiters.  At Skydive Elsinore, we’ve developed a wingsuit training mechanism very similar to the AFF program.  Using basics of coaching, coupled with input from John Hamilton, Jay Stokes, “Lob” Lobjoit, Jarno Cordia, Robi Pecnik, and several hundred students in the initial process, we’ve developed functional, consistent methods for wingsuit training.
These videos are what we show to wingsuit students at various levels in the coaching process. There are other videos not shared, we’ll make them available at a later date. 

This article is not intended as wingsuit training. It is intended to inform existing and would-be wingsuit coaches about our methodology. A wingsuit coach is highly recommended, and it is equally recommended that a quality coach be sought out, safety record questioned, and methods explained before hand. A 10 minute first-flight course isn’t training. A proper, complete FFC is going to last a minimum of 45 minutes, with 90 minutes being more common. PLEASE SEEK QUALIFIED COACHING** for a First Flight Course and at least a few post-FFC jumps. This is important for your personal safety, for aircraft safety, and the safety of others. Wingsuiting is different from ‘normal’ freefall due in part to the horizontal component, and the speeds at which we can travel, in addition to deployment differences and the potential for higher speeds if instability occurs. 

Each part of  the jump is broken into smaller chunks of manageable  information, which are then combined to complete the jump. Whether it’s the first flight course or a post-FFC coaching jump, every module is broken down into at least two parts. There are at least two modules to every jump.
Currently we offer 10 levels beginning with the FFC and finishing with an introduction to backflying. Most of the levels are supported with kinesthetic and isometric exercises, not unlike the Skydive University methods taught in the USPA Cat G-H coaching jumps for new skydivers.

FFC’s are broken down into five elements/modules;

  • Exit
  • Navigation (with practice touches)
  • Deployment
  • Clearing the Suit
  • Emergency Procedures

The elements/modules are heavily drilled/practiced on the ground, and supported with pre-jump training video.

Often times, we have would-be wingsuiters with exactly the minimum number of jumps required by the USPA BSR, and they may or may not be current. Our coaches use discretion in training, however, low jump number students are often required to do all FFC ground training and a wingsuit-less wingsuit jump (performing all tasks that they’ll be performing when they don the wingsuit) prior to doing a jump with the wingsuit and continuing training.

This is a pre-FFC training jump. The student fulfills all wingsuit tasks without wearing the wingsuit. The student has already been through the ground portions of the FFC.

EXITS:

Wingsuit students often express fear of the horizontal stabilizer (rightfully so) during the pre-course interview. Exits are drilled until the student can confidently exit the mockup with eyes closed. We spend more time on exits than in any other module of the course, as the setup, launch, flyaway, and horizontal stab avoidance are part of every wingsuit jump in the future, and the only part of the jump that is life-threatening for both the student and pilot (and others that may still be in the aircraft after a wingsuiter exits).
We teach a positive-contact exit method that assures closure of the wing; there can be no mistake. This exit method serves every turbine aircraft with a side door, and we train wingsuiters (on request) to manage 206 and 182 aircraft exits. 

NAVIGATION  (WITH PRACTICE TOUCHES)

(Skydive Elsinore provides wingsuits students with a 90 degree turn from jumprun upon coach request. Not only does this practice offer the student a more straight-on flight path, it also ensures that First-Flight wingsuit students are well off the path of jumprun, preventing proximity with tandems and/or other skydivers in most situations). Practice touches are broken down into four components. Note that waveoffs are part of the practice-touch process; waveoffs should be taught in all First Flight Courses.

DEPLOYMENT:

First Flight Students frequently express trepidation about deployment; getting the parachute out cleanly while wearing large surface areas is daunting for even the most experienced skydiver. We drill deployment procedures to the point that students are able to do them with their eyes closed on the ground.  This builds confidence and muscle memory. Kinesthetic reinforcement is very important in this drill. A waveoff before deployment is required of the student. Some coaches do not teach a wave off, citing that it “might be too much information for new wingsuiters.” This is simply ridiculous. We teach waveoff in the FJC, so if  a first-jump AFF skydiver can wave off, so can a first flight wingsuit student with at least 200 jumps. Ingrain the habit from the start. We also may never see this wingsuiter again after the First Flight Course.

CLEARING THE SUIT:

Clearing the suit does not have a supportive video;  it is fairly straightforward, and takes only a few minutes to teach although this part of the training is also broken down into three parts, then assembled as a whole.

EMERGENCY PROCEDURES

INSTABILITY RECOVERY:
We spend a significant portion of allotted time on instability recovery. Many FFC students have been watching YouTube, reading Dropzone.com, or have heard horror stories about the mythical flatspin (that doesn’t occur with properly taught FFC courses).  They are fearful, and often express fear in the FFC interview process.

When coaching, we do not refer to “flatspins” but rather “instability.”  Old school methods teach to ball up; this presents its own problems as students progress into larger and larger suits. The method we train is effective whether in large or small wingsuit, rather than having one procedure for large suits and one procedure for small suits.  We train on creepers with kinesthetics and isometrics, and the student is well prepared to deal with any instability or rotation that may occur.

LINETWISTS:

Linetwists are a part of the Emergency Procedures module. We offer multiple methods for the beginning wingsuiter. There are other methods available; we’ve found these two methods to be quite effective for the new wingsuiter. 

Linetwists occur in a small percentage of FFC’s. Of course there are other methods for clearing linetwists; we’ve found these methods to be very effective for the newer wingsuiter, without adding to their set of training tasks.

FFC/JUMP ONE

Once the FFC has been successfully completed, we move into rapidly advancing skills and confidence of the FFC student while their confidence is high.
The second jump in the series trains a front float exit with start/coast/stop and forward motion control. We teach this immediately so that students understand various methods of slowing down or “stopping” in the event they may be flying too close or too fast towards another wingsuiter in a group setting. We feel this is the next most-important skillset.

JUMP TWO:

Front Float Exit/Start/Coast/Stop skills.
Student will exit front float (coach in rear) and once relative to coach, the student will perform three tasks prior to deployment. The front float exit is arguably the most safe exit for wingsuiting, and it is taught very early. We also use this exit as an FFC with students that are very tall.

JUMP THREE:


Running/Pivot Exit (for Otters, Caravans, Skyvans, other large door aircraft)
Up/Down fall rate skills (performed with the hips, not head, arms, or legs)

JUMP FOUR:

GAINER EXIT (for Otters, Caravans, Skyvans, other large door aircraft)
This is a “rabbit jump” where the student is no longer base; the Coach acts as a base and provides a stable reference for the student to fly to.
(No Supporting Video)

JUMP FIVE:

Students are prepped for barrel rolls. A Front Float exit is common, but students are given a choice of Running/Pivot or Front Float exits. Gainer Exits are generally not appropriate for barrel roll jumps. The purpose of this jump is as much about instability as it is about performing the barrel rolls.  Students that are able to deal with mild instability are generally prepared for beginning backflying.

JUMP SIX

Baton Passes. Student choice of exit.

JUMP SEVEN

Performance Category jump. Student has two options from which to choose.

JUMP EIGHT

Performance Category jump. Student has two options from which to choose.

JUMP NINE

Performance Category jump. Student has two options from which to choose.

JUMP TEN

Running pivot exit. Student will transition from belly to back, backfly for five seconds, and transition to belly for five seconds. This is an introduction to backflying.

Phoenix-fly and Skydive Elsinore have funded and facilitated the development of the training method.  I’m very grateful to them both for making it possible to develop a program for wingsuiters that is sensible and efficient for cross-training AFFI’s, USPA Coaches, and Wingsuit Coaches.  Wingsuiting is still seen as a discipline similar to freefall, and the dedication to creating better, more consistent training on the part of both groups is inspiring and appreciated.

Coaching helps wingsuit students arrive safely at backflying confidence with the entry-level to flying on their back.
Positive-contact exits work very well, offer great stability, and provide a method that assures there can be no tail strike.

Kinesthetics and isometrics play a big role in coaching at Skydive Elsinore Wingsuit School.

**Jump numbers are not what makes for a “Qualified Coach.”  Manufacturer ratings are a good place to start; There are great coaches without manufacturer ratings and there are terrible coaches with them.  

 


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Less Weight, Feels Great

Tonfly is well known for their camera helmets. Designed in Italy, built in Slovakia, their carbon fibre helmet designs are a bit different than everyone else.
When Giovanni Suzzi, president of Tonfly,  offered up an opportunity to review his newest helmets,  I was expecting them in the mail in two separate boxes. When UPS dropped the package at my door, I was certain an error had been made due to the lightness of the single package.  I was shocked to find two helmets inside. These helmets weigh almost nothing, but yet are incredibly strong, solid, and as protective as any skydiving helmet I’ve ever worn. 

“The helmets are made from a tighter carbon fiber weave,” says “Sonic” Bayrasli, exclusive distributor for Tonfly in the USA. “This contributes to a marginally higher cost.”

The 2X and 3X helmets are definitely a unique grade of helmet. The exceptional lightweight means less fatigue at the end of a long day of skydiving. This also allows for a thicker padding inside, thus quieting the helmet more than any helmet of the same class.

Both helmets sport an audible pocket over the right ear, made specifically for the L&B Optima, Solo II, or Protrack devices. This unique pocket allows for external access without crowding the wearer’s head. There is also room for a second audible over the left ear, perfect in size for a Flysight (wingsuiter’s tool)  or other standard size audible.

The ladder-strap chin cup provides for a secure mount. However, I discovered that if the chin cup isn’t reasonably centered in the ladder straps/on the chin, the release catches can easily be knocked loose. Equal tension on both sides of the chincup is fairly important for the most secure fit.  As with earlier models of the Tonfly helmets, the 2X and 3X helmets use a carbon fiber chincup covered with a vanity cup emblazoned with the Tonfly logo. This vanity cup is available in many colors to match any custom color scheme a buyer might come up with.

Speaking of custom… Tonfly offers the 2X and 3X in all sorts of custom colors with logos put in place as designed by a buyer. I asked for some unique logos and color combinations and Tonfly was more than obliging. 

Both helmets are designed for mounting a single camera on top. Neither helmet is designed as a helmet for both video and stills; these are made to be as light as possible. A Zkulls mounting ring is provided on both helmets (optional) along with a molded space for the GetHypoxic HypEye camera controller (optional).  The 3X also provides a debrief port for the HypEye control/debriefing system (optional).  This is very useful for team debriefs, viewing video immediately after a jump where a DV, HDV, or AVCHD camcorder is used and an HDMI cable isn’t available. This also means that the AV connector on the camera won’t need to be disconnected, thus saving wear and tear on the camera connector (a common point of failure).

Two very unique features set the 3X apart from it’s brother; the air pump system that allows the base of the helmet to conform to the wearer’s head, and a “crown” that allows the user to quickly shift the angle of the camera by as much as 15 degrees forward or back.

The air pump system is terrific for wearers with long hair; it makes the helmet ‘feel’ like a full face helmet in the way it contains hair. Those with short hair will appreciate the additional quiet that the custom conformation option provides. It takes 4-5 pumps to make the helmet tight against my head, and I have medium-length hair. The small air release nipple next to the pump provides an instant release of air, but in truth, it’s impossible to make the helmet uncomfortably tight, even with the air pumped as tight as the internal bladder allows.

 The slotted  mounting plate allows users to change the camera angle, albeit not instantly. This is very useful for wingsuit pilots or freeflyers. Wingsuiters will like the ability to shift a camera forward (angled more downward) which allows for easier capture of a formation in a vertical slot, and freeflyers will like the additional angles for flying close in small groups.  Changing the angle of the platform requires a slotted screwdriver and a couple of minutes. It’s very easy. However, the screws are also extremely light weight, so use care when turning them so as to not strip their threads.

As mentioned before, the adjustable camera platform also provides access to the video debrief port found on the HypEye camera control system. On a personal note, I’ve found this feature invaluable not only because it reduces wear/tear on the camera AV port, but also because it allows for a very fast connection to both television and computer monitors (if equipped with a composite input).

Wingsuit students use Tonfly Helmets at Skydive Elsinore
Wingsuit students use Tonfly Helmets at Skydive Elsinore. Each is equipped with a custom-color L&B Optima, courtesy of L&B.

Both helmets share the same chincup and ladder characteristics.

What I don’t like about these helmets:

                The screws that hold the camera platform to the 3X are thin metal and easy to strip. Tonfly could address this by including a couple of extra screws/receivers with each helmet (they’re very difficult to find here in the USA). 

                The ladder straps on both the 3X and the 2X don’t hold as well as their older brothers in the CCM/CC1 realm.

What I do like about these helmets:

                Super comfortable on the head. No pressure points anywhere.

                Extremely lightweight (hence the “X” in their name, perhaps?)

                Very strong. I’ve been knocked in the head by several students, one of them wearing boots sharp enough to chip the paint on the helmet, but I didn’t feel a thing. I was also hit by a newbie wingsuiter hard enough to cost me a battery, lens, and destroyed camera; one can only imagine how much of my skull was protected by this lightweight helmet.

                The fit. I don’t know what Tonfly does exactly, but I appreciate the way this helmet fits. Students often comment on how much they love the fit of the helmet too. Mine is a size 59; it seems to be an average size.

                The camera system on the 3X simply rocks. I love how it works, how it feels when I’m flying, and provides the angle I prefer with wingsuit students.

                Quiet. The 3X is the most quiet helmet I’ve ever jumped.

 

More information:
www.tonfly.com
www.tonfly-usa.com

 

Recovery road: Revisited

It’s been a while since I updated my blog Facebook and other social media sites tend to have that impact,  I guess.
 Two years ago I was involved in a very bad skydiving accident, which is documented as the Recovery Road series here on WordPress.
There was still a procedure or two that I chose to wait to have done: and then a fall in a small aircraft hastened the necessity to get this work done. Rather than write a lot about this experience.  I chose to document it in video form instead. I recently got my hands on a Sony Bloggie camcorder and found it’s a lot of fun to shoot video with the small camcorder that’s built much like a cell phone.

This is a short documentary account of my MCL/Meniscus/Cartilage procedure and experience. No blood n’ guts, just a drug-influenced host.

This short video was shot with a Sony Bloggie camcorder, and given that I just returned from Mexico and having done a road tour for the new Sony VAIO laptop computer and the Sony Imagination Suite 2 software, I thought it might be fun to see how quickly I could put this video together. I hope you enjoy the video more than I enjoyed the experience of making it.
Only time will tell if the operation procedure was a success, but I’m very excited to get back into the sky as soon as possible.  Thanks for all the letters and e-mails of support.
~d

GETTING WET: WINGSUITS IN THE WATER

An unplanned water landing is a frightening scenario for many skydivers; it’s one of the reasons that live water training is required for a USPA B License (If you didn’t truly get wet when working on your USPA B license, your instructors weren’t doing you or anyone else any favors).  Add a wingsuit to the mix and it’s enough to give pause to even the most experienced skydiver.
In 2010 alone, we’ve had three known unintentional wingsuit water entries in the USA. Wingsuits can fly further than skydivers can, and water is an attractive hazard to fly-over.   Toss in a low deployment, restricted movement,  and some adrenaline and a normal skydive can get really exciting really fast.

Wingsuiters ain't got much on Houdini when it comes to restricted movement and going into water.

OK, so it’s not quite the same as Houdini and his locks, and  skydiving in a “prom dress” or freefall in a straight jacket isn’t nearly as difficult as some make it out to be.
However, emergency situations do require a different approach.
Wingsuit skydivers should pre-plan  for an unintentional water landing even if flight over water isn’t an issue at their home DZ.  A boogie or other special event may put wingsuit pilots into unfamiliar situations where water is present.
Flotation devices should be a part of that pre-planning process if over-water flights are a common occurrence.  Bear in mind that CO2 cartridges cannot be carried on commercial aircraft, and this factor alone makes using flotation devices a challenge for the traveling skydiver.

USPA TRAINING and RECOMMENDATIONS

Section 6.2 of the USPA Skydiver Instruction Manual (SIM) guidance for unintentional water landings tells us to:   

 
 

a. Continue to steer to avoid the water hazard.
b. Activate the flotation device, if available.
c. Disconnect the chest strap to facilitate getting out of the harness after landing in the water.
d. Disconnect the reserve static line (if applicable) to reduce complications in case the main needs to be cut away after splashing down.
e. Steer into the wind.
f. Loosen the leg straps slightly to facilitate getting out of the harness after splashing down.
(1) If you loosen the leg straps too much, you may not be able to reach the toggles.
(2) Do not unfasten the leg straps until your feet are in the water.
g. Prepare for a PLF, in case the water is shallow (it will be nearly impossible to determine the depth from above).
h. Flare to half brakes at ten feet above the water (this may be difficult to judge, due to poor depth perception over the water).
i. Enter the water with your lungs filled with air.
j. After entering the water, throw your arms back and slide forward out of the harness.
(1) Remain in the harness and attached to the canopy until actually in the water.
(2) If cutting away (known deep water only), do so only after both feet contact the water.
(3) If flotation gear is not used, separation from the equipment is essential.
k. Dive deep and swim out from under the collapsed canopy.

 


All of these same procedures apply when wearing a wingsuit, yet  preparations for an unintentional water landing don’t stop there.  We still got work to do.

PRIOR TO ENTERING THE WATER

It goes without saying that the best way to avoid a water landing is to avoid being over the water.  However, sometimes it cannot be avoided.
In addition to the previously mentioned, USPA-recommended actions, the wingsuit should be unzipped as much as possible prior to landing. This includes armwings, legwings, and body zippers if possible.  Do not pull the cutaway/release cables on the wingsuit (assuming the wingsuit has cutaway cables, not all do) if the arms can be unzipped. An armwing that has been cut away will be much more difficult to move and unzip once it has filled with water and your arms are still in the sleeves (For example, the newest Phoenix-fly wingsuit arms might be cut away, as they detach the full wing from the arm, but the arm will still be inside a foam sleeve making it difficult to swim).
The tailwing may act as a drag point and force the upper body forward, putting the skydiver on his belly. Enter the water with feet and knees together.
Flying at half brakes should allow the canopy to continue forward. Do not flare. Take a deep breath prior to entering the water.

AFTER ENTERING THE WATER

The canopy is a potential point of entanglement.  It is recommended that a main canopy be cut away once you are fully in the water. If there is a current, this will prevent the main from dragging you along with it.  A reserve cannot be cut away without a hook knife (if you are going to carry a hook knife, carry a metal, not plastic hook knife. A $5.00 hook knife will not do the job).
Roll backward or sideways onto your back. If you have not deployed the reserve, the reserve will keep you floating for approximately 30 minutes in fresh water, longer in saltwater. With the tail (and perhaps the armwings) potentially being still inflated, being on your back will prevent the tail and rig from forcing your face into the water. Try to remain calm, breathe deeply and begin the process of removing goggles, helmet, and legstraps (chest strap if it was not undone in the air).
The arm and legwings of a three-wing style wingsuit are similar to a ram-air parachute; there is an inlet and air fills the cells. These same inlets and cells can fill with water as easily as they fill with air. Although water in the cells alone will not cause the wingsuit to sink, movement of the wing will cause the suit to be dragged downward. This means that attempting to tread water will drag you under.  Do not attempt to tread water, but rather keep your legs motionless.
If there is any current, it is imperative that you stay on your back and try to keep your head upstream. Keeping the legs apart will help achieve this goal. Even a slow current will move your body very fast. Remaining calm is perhaps the most important aspect of clearing the suit and surviving.

Jeans, boots, and gloves can make the task of escape a little more difficult than expected.

Once you are fully unzipped and your legstraps loose, slide your rig and armwings off. After the upper body has been freed, “sit down” in the rig and suit to put you head-high. This allows the torso to roll forward so that it’s possible to dive deep and away from the rig, allowing the legs to escape from the legstraps and tailwing.
Although the USPA SIM instructs skydivers to swim away from their rig,  I have made the personal choice that I will not swim away from my rig if the reserve has not been deployed.  It may be used as a flotation device and might be the difference between life and death.  I will cut away the main canopy and swim away from the main.
This is my personal decision and is in opposition to USPA recommendations.  Follow at your own risk.

 
During the various water experiments, there were a total of 49 water entries in various conditions and wingsuits, all with a rig or dummy rig in place,  many with a main canopy attached.   Performance Designs Sabre II, Silhouette, and Storm canopies were used.
We jumped into still water 18’ deep,  6’ deep,  current pools 34” and 24” deep with speeds up to 7 knots.  We also jumped into wave pools with swells of up to 3’, which are small to moderate compared to coastline swells.

Tossing the main canopy into the 7 knot current pool.

 

SUMMARY

During these entries, three things became clear;
~Go into the water with as many zippers undone as possible. Your chest strap should also be undone for best possible speed once in the water. while this may seem logical, in at least two of the three unintentional water landings, the wingsuiter forgot to unzip arms while dealing with other issues.

~Get onto your back as quickly as you can. Stay on your back as legstraps, zippers, helmet releases, and goggles are removed. You may want to consider leaving the helmet on if in moving water and head protection is needed.

~Take a deep, calming breath.  Even though my experiments were intentional water landings,  they were still nerve-wracking when the suits were fully zipped up.  Being jittery is entirely likely. Staying calm and keeping heart and breathing rates down may easily be the difference in survival, particularly in cold water.

The tail stayed inflated for about 10 mins...It was deliberately not pulled under water so we could see how long it might stay pressurized.

~Be sure to stay clear of the canopy and lines. Currents may drag the canopy around a bit. Rescuers might have an easier time finding you if they can spot the canopy in the water  so staying somewhat near but well clear of canopy and lines is a good idea.  A hook knife should be part of your kit.

~When landing in water that has a current, try to keep your head upstream while getting out of the suit. Leave the helmet on to protect your head from rocks and other objects.  Stay as far away from the canopy as possible.  This is easier said than done.   Note that in the video, the current combined with the canopy drag was more than two men could manage even in shallow water. This is where a hook knife would be beneficial.

~If the rig has a reserve still packed in it, it will float. It also is very easy to escape once the legstraps are undone, as it will remain on top of the water as you dive forward away from the container.

"Exiting" from the 3 meter board, fully zipped
"Exiting" from the 3 meter board, fully zipped

In conclusion, if over-water wingsuit flights are planned, seriously consider a floatation device. They will not have a significant impact on the comfort of the suit, and are not relatively expensive. ParaGear, ChutingStar, and other skydiving supply shops sell these devices. Remember that CO2 cartridges may not be carried aboard a commercial flight, so you’ll need to source or ship cartridges to your final destination.


If a flotation device is not part of your gear/kit,  have an advance plan in the event of a water landing.  There have been at least three known unintentional water landings in the US this year;  only through luck and calm procedures did the wingsuiters survive. Read the Incident Report below to see how one survivor described his experiences and how multiple errors led him into the water.

Big puffies and blue skies (and calm waters, I suppose)!
~d

douglas spotted eagle is a USPA AFFI, Coach Examiner, PRO, and PFC Senior Examiner (North America) on staff at Skydive Elsinore.

Student’s Incident report:
#####
Name [Deleted]

My age: 31
Years in the sport: 4.5 yrs.
# of skydives: 287
# of Wingsuit SD’s: 7
# of BASE: 70+

I recently purchased a new Phantom2 Pheonix fly wingsuit and was super eager to get in the air. I got to the DZ and got on the first available load which was a 10 minute call.
On any typical skydive, an immediete 10 minute call upon arrival isn’t so bad, but setting up a wingsuit system quickly is not a great idea….but i did.

Mistake #1: I forced myself to have to rush to get on a load to do a technical jump for no apparent reason. In the end, I don’t think my rushed preparation lead to the actual situation, but
I guess my mind wasn’t where it should have been.

I was the last to exit from 12,500′. I had a really great (mostly stable) flight, flying around some clouds.
At pull time, like most jumps, I was out over the ocean. I took one last look at my wrist alti at 5K’.
Based on my audibles 4000′ warning, I’m guessing I was open between 3500′-3000′.

Mistake #2: I shouldn’t have pulled that low with a WS on with my low experience level.

Mistake #3: I have made 6 previous WS jumps. All more than 2.5 years ago. I did not physically or mentally dirt dive this jump before getting on the plane.

After a stable pull (I felt), I immediatley opended with line twists.
I’ve had line twist before with this canopy/harness (Sabre 1, 150; 9 cell/Infinity dom;1997) and was able to kick out of them in the past.
This line twist began to accelerate instantly. I made 3-4 attempts to kick out of it, but with the restricted movement of my legs in the WS, and spinning horizontally around the canopy, it didn’t do much at all.

Mistake #4: I was under too small of a canopy for a WS jump. My exit weight= 240lbs. Wind loading= 1.6. I should have been under a more docile (7 cell), or larger canopy.

So, having no luck with my kick attemps, I chopped it. It took me a few seconds to locate my handles (one hand on each).
In my haste, I did a “T-Rex” style cut-away. As soon as I saw my right riser clear, I let go of the handle and pulled the reserve (also “T-rex”). Obviously leading to my main still dragging off my left shoulder.

Mistake #5: I was jumping a borrowed rig. Although I’ve had about 20 uneventful (other than line twist) jumps with this rig. I wasn’t really familiar with it.

Mistake #6: Probably the biggest one. I DID NOT CLEAR MY CUT AWAY CABLE/HANDLE COMPLETELY!

Mistake #7: This goes right along with the above…Pulling my reserve WAY TOO SOON!

I think because of my slightly slower descent rate (caused by my main still being attached), and my reserve already fired, I felt the second set of risers bouncing around on my head and saw all the lines whipping infront of my face.
As the reserve was slowly coming to line stretch, the lines were beggining to entangle with my helmet (actually the camera on my helmet)

Mistake #8: Wearing a camera on a “student” WS jump.

With the lines still “somewhat” relaxed, I thought of dumping my helmet but instead I picked/brushed the lines off the camera, clearing them. A split second later, I felt the canopy pressurize and go to complete line stretch.
Instantly, the reserve risers had forced my head completly forward, making my chin squeeze into my neck. I knew I had MAJOR line twists on my reserve now too.

So now, I’m under one collapsed main still dragging off my left riser, and one tightly twisted up reserve to my right side, still fully zipped into my WS, and I’m getting choked from behind by the reserve risers and can’t lift my head to see any of it.
I kinew I wasn’t “falling” anymore and that the canopies were not entagled.
I don’t know, but the reserve must have been “un-spinning” because the pressure was slowly coming off the back of my neck and the twist opened up enough to squeeze my head back through, behind the risers.

Mistake #9: Not sure if I could have prevented this one. If my arms had been unzipped and out of the wings (which they weren’t) I may have been able to reach back during the reserve deployment, and guided the risers in-front of my head before pressurization.

At this point, my first objective was to finally cut the main off so I could get completely out of my reserve line twists. The main was still being held on by 1cm of ripcord cable still in the three ring release closing loop.
In any case…I was focused on getting that last tinny bit of rip cord out of the closing loop. I had “tunnel” vision on trying to pick at the centimeter of cord. There was too much tension on the riser so I couldn’t get it out.
I was definetly not thinking clearly at that moment. ALL I had to do was find my cut-away handle floating behind me and pull it another 1/4 inch.
In retrospect, the dragging main (acting like an anchor) may have kept my reserve from continuing to twist and spin me into the ground/water. I’m not sure if completely cutting away at that point would have been any better.

Mistake #10: Had I been thinking clearly, I would have found my handle and finished the job of cutting away.

At this point I stopped all attemps to correct anything. I saw that I was about 300 yards(?) of the beach, over the water at about 500-300′(?) up. I knew I was going for a swim.
The swell was small (2-3′), but definetly was not flat and calm. In preparation for my mid day swim, I started unzipping everything…chest, arms, legs, chest strap. I then reached above the reserve line twist, grabbed the rear/right line set and did a “rear riser” turn towards the visibly shallower water over the reef.
I dont know if that helped at all because I pretty much felt like I was under a round canopy with no directional control. I just knew i was drifting towards the reef now.
Not knowing the shallowness above the reef gave me a second of pucker factor, but at this point I had not much control or time anyway.
I then did a “backwards” PLF (obviously with no flare, toggles still stowed and twisted).
I slammed the water pretty hard….

Mistake #11: Although this is what saved me from serious impact, I landed in the water with a WS on….not good!

While I was underwater, my wingsuit quickly turned into a tunasuit, but before I even had time to deal with the next hurdle……..I stood up.

I was now standing 300 yards out in the surf, in 3 feet of water with both canopies attached and the WS on, all filled with water.
I was getting dragged in-land with the swell a little bit, but had plenty of time to finally cut-away the main and completely step out of the WS.
I saw all the scrambling of people on the shore. I was soon reached by a couple of skydivers and a rescue kayak. We loaded up the rig on to the kayak and swam back to shore.

Mistake #12: I probably should have made my first priority to un-zip my wings. Although, at no point did I feel like they were restaining my movement (until i wanted to steer towards the reef).
I guess I unzipped them right when I had a moment and thought it was totally needed.


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Massive thanks to:
Lake Elsinore Casino
Tooele City Pool
Raging Waters/SLC
Skydive Elsinore
Skydive Utah
Performance Designs
Rigging Innovations
Teledyne Instruments
Joey Allred, Aaron Hutmacher, Jose Calderon, Mannie Frances, Karl Dollmeyer, Scotty Burns, Chuck Blue, Jarno Cordia, Bence Pascu, Joe Turner, Frank Hinshaw, T.K. Hinshaw, Tom Deacon, Jim Crouch, Jack Guthrie, Scott Callantine, Jeanie Curtis, Mike Harlon, Chris Squires, Robert Pecnik, Jeff Donohue, and Andreea Olea. 

 

So You Wanna Fly A Wingsuit?!

Chris Flies his Homemade Wingsuit
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.”

Valinda and John Mitchell receive wingsuit instruction at Skydive Elsinore

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)
~Stable flight
~Navigation
~Deployment
~Emergency procedures/recovery from instability

Students may find themselves being asked to deploy while on a creeper.

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.

This student is performing a practice touch, a part of any good FFC program.

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.

Linetwists may be caused by opening a wing or tail during deployment.

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!

A small flock of wingsuiters over Skydive Utah. Photo by Scotty Burns.

Douglas Spotted Eagle is a USPA Coach Examiner, AFFI, Phoenix-fly Coach Examiner, PRO-rated skydiver.

Going the Distance…

Lake Elsinore is surrounded by mountains, long stretches of land, and of course, the lake. It’s perfect for wingsuiting, as the views from above reveal the Pacific Ocean to the west with Catalina Island sitting just at the horizon, and landmarks that make for simple navigation. The hills also mark the perfect line for a straight flight to the dropzone with everyone exiting from the line of flight to measure distance and today the wingsuiters at Skydive Elsinore challenged the headwinds of the day.
Names were written on paper and drawn from a helmet to determine exit order. DSE/I drew first slot, so I knew I’d be exiting and deploying over water. Exciting stuff. Everyone boarded the aircraft with hopes of walking away with one of the prizes.
We launched the run from a quarter mile west of Grand Avenue, flying towards Mission Trail Road/Lakeshore Boulevard at a flat/level altitude of 8,000 AGL.
First prize was donated by Phoenix-Fly, a 50% off coupon for any PF wingsuit excluding a Vampire. Larsen and Brusgaard provided second prize, a VISO Altimeter.

Jumprun took a go-around to get the pilot lined up, and once we were over Rome Hill, I flashed a peace sign to the crew as I left the aircraft. Lining up my eyes and flightline, the 30 knot headwind quickly became obvious but I knew everyone would be fighting the same problems.

We had judges spread across the ground to determine who opened at what point. Contestants were required to have open containers by 3K.
As I flew down my lane I felt the wind pushing back, but I was moving. It felt good, solid…Yep…I’m gonna place at least second in this one…
I pulled and as I did, I watched Dennis Sattler’s canopy open a little bit ahead of me. I scanned the horizon for anyone else, and there were no other canopies as far out as mine.
YES!!!! I’d placed second. Now…keep in mind that Dennis weighs 30lbs less than my fat ass, and he’s flying an Xbird, so I expected him to leave me in the dust. He wasn’t too far ahead of me, so I felt fine about my effort.
Then I saw another canopy opening at least 500′ farther to the east of either Dennis or myself. DAMN!
Cate Henegan had taken off her standard Raptor and donned a Phoenix-Fly Vampire 3. Good decision, as it won her the contest by a wide margin.
For me, the true excitement came when OJ Briaud took the third prize slot (I wasn’t competing, as the organizer of the event). It was exciting, as OJ had done his FFC only the day before, and won third (technically fourth) place in this contest on his FIFTH wingsuit skydive. The lightweight young man is a monster-tracker that I’ve been coaching for about a month. He’s taken his coaching to a new level and flies like a madman already, turning in 2 minute times on his second and third wingsuit jumps.
Joel Hindeman (who has just recently begun wingsuiting) came in sweetly at fifth, only a fraction behind OJ’s point of deployment.

Our award “ceremony” was short; Cate graciously donated the first prize of a 50% off Phoenix-fly Certificate to the second place winner. Dennis, the second place winner donated it to the third prize winner, so OJ went back to Tahiti with a new wingsuit on order.
Joel Hindman received the Larsen and Brusgaard VISO altimeter.

Cate wins the contest!!
Cate Henegan learns she won the Wingsuit Distance Contest!!

Congrats to Cate and Dennis for their first and second placings in the contest. Them donating their prizes to the newer jumpers was a very kind gesture, and I was moved by their generosity.
Thanks to everyone who played in our sandbox today, it was a super fun event!!

Massive appreciation to Skydive Elsinore, Phoenix-fly, Larsen and Brusgaard for supporting and sponsoring this event.

Heavenly Memories

Sunrise over Elsinore

Yesterday was a day of bungie-jump emotion; four awesome wingsuit students, three of whom were working on the same techniques so we spent the day barrel rolling and laughing at the silliness and fun of it all (Barrel rolling is a pre-cursor to learning to fly on one’s back).

Running exits, floating exits, and gainer exits marked the day until I found a friend crying quietly in a corner. Inquiring what was hurting her, she simply looked up and told me “Jordan was killed in action two days ago and I just found out.”

I didn’t know Jordan Emrick well, and had only been on one jump with him. We’d spoken on multiple occasions about flying a wingsuit and he was looking forward to it when he “gets back.” Jordan was being deployed to Afghanistan, and he is an EOD specialist in the Marine Corp.

My first reaction was to cringe. It’s been a tough year with the loss of several friends in skydiving due to pilot error in one way or another. Now we’ve lost a really fun skydiver to the war in Afghanistan. Had you ever met Jordan, his unusually large, toothy grin was one that would never leave your memory. He simply was funny and light.

The second reaction was to want to “do something” whatever that might be. It seemed that many people were feeling the pain of the news, and there was a somber feeling amongst those whose lives had been touched in some way by Jordan’s presence.

We’d been preparing for a Veterans Day Flag Jump anyway, and so my flag was in my training room. I grabbed it and told my friend, “we’ll fly a flag in Jordan’s honor” and went up on a load.

A couple of guys on the load/aircraft knew what was going on and one of them tearfully shook my hand. The plan was to keep the jump low-key.

On exit and deployment, the setting sun lit up the flag in a way that the colors seemed surrealistic. The canopy flight seemed to go on forever. Tears filled my eyes as cheers filled my ears. The British Royal Engineers are training on the DZ, and they all stood for the flag as I landed. It was a great moment of respect for Jordan, for our flag, and even though it was a mere pause in the tickwork of the dropzone, it was beautiful to be a part of it.

Niklas Daniel is an amazing photographer who captured this in full glory, complete with emotion and powerfully moving shots.

For Jordan

You’ll be missed Jordan. There is a hole in the sky where you once used to fly. See you on the other side.