re-sized wingsuit jeb corliss

Fly Like A Bird

So you want to learn to fly a wingsuit?

Well, they say the path to that is a full and fun one. We have talked about it before and mentioned The Brothers Gray in Orange, Virginia as some of the instructors available to teach you the how’s and wherefore’s, but here’s another little drop in the ocean to think about. A quick a – z of what you are taking on.

You must first learn to skydive and to do this you need to find a drop zone. Depending on how much time you have, how much money you’ve got to spend, and how brave you are, you have three options for what method of skydiving you’ll use for your first jump:

  • tandem (where you are strapped to the front of your instructor),
  • static line (where a cord attached from the plane to your parachute pulls the parachute open almost immediately after you jump out), and
  • accelerated freefall (AFF) (you pull your own rip cord and you float to the ground solo). These offer varying levels of airborne freedom and varying levels of training time.

Then you must go through levels 1 – 7 of the AFF course which will teach you, in 7 jumps, how to belly fly and how to land a parachute. ‘Belly fly’ is the most basic style of free fall body control.

Follow the AFF up with a few coached jumps where you are jumping on your own. By the end of 25 jumps you will know how to pack a parachute, airplane protocol, belly flight body control and various landing patterns and what to do in an emergency. Both the Accelerated Freefall and the Advanced licence can be done in a week. You can of course take longer to do them but constant repetition makes you feel far more confident and it is important to be confident if you are going to continue your skydiving into wingsuit flying!

From Skdiving to Wingsuit Flying

Wingsuit flying is more regulated and also potentially far more dangerous than skydiving as there are a lot of things that can go wrong when your arms and legs are zipped up into the wings of the suit. It is highly unlikely that you will be allowed to progress to wingsuit lessons if you do not already have at least 200 skydives – we have discussed this before in an earlier blog.

By becoming an adept skydiver you will learn the various types of skydiving such as the above mentioned belly flying (the most basic), free flying, tracking (where you use your body to choose the direction of your flight) and relative work where you join with other people in the air. Learning how to do tracking is a very useful exercise as you learn to fly your body as if you are in a wingsuit.

It should also be said at this point that mistakes in judgment and procedure are the cause of 92% of skydiving fatalities. What does that mean? It means that if you do everything you’re supposed to do during that exhilarating 60 second drop to the ground, you’ll be fine, but if you don’t…

You will finally be ready to progress to wingsuit flying and when you do this you will understand why skydivers are so regulatory about the learning process. A wingsuit instructor will teach you everything from how to connect the wingsuit to your skydiving rig, to how to exit the plane and throw your pilot chute, and what flight pattern to take.

You need to imagine yourself as an aeroplane during the jump! So the more you know and understand the actual flight of a plane the more you will understand your own flight in a wingsuit – talk to the pilots! Your first jumps are likely to be scary as you will be working hard just to stay stable in the air, but you will soon be ‘flocking’ with your friends. Don’t fly ‘blind’ – which means landing miles away from the landing area!

Wingsuits or Squirrel Suits

There are various types of wing SUITS to use and they all sound like they come out of a Harry Potter novel! How about this one…Phoenix Fly Vampire 2 !!! However this particular suit is large and difficult to manage as a novice. It would be much better to start off with a small, intuitive, simple suit like the Birdman Classic or the Phoenix Fly Prodigy. When you are learning in these suits you will be able to do jumps out of helicopters, flips and barrel rolls, plus flying relative with other people. When you have built-up your confidence you can move on to the Phoenix Fly Vampire 2. It will take some getting used to as it is a very big, high performance suit and not easy to fly, but when you get used to it it is, apparently, perfect!

Obviously learning how to wingsuit fly is expensive, and costly on time too, but if you can afford to, it is recommended that you keep the lessons tightly packed so you create a habit not a hobby – skydivers call it ‘being current’. You cannot afford to be cocky in this sport – one small slip could end everything. Not a nice thought.

Don’t take my word for it though. Go to a skydive club and do everything by the book. Listen to and learn from your instructors. You are a braver person than I am! This is what Steph Potter (wife of Dean Potter the amazing mountain climber, baseliner, etc etc etc) has to say:

Flying like a bird, with my friends, is perhaps the most amazing experience a human being can have. The more you fly, the more natural it becomes, and it just gets better and better”.

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