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Vol. 18 - June/July 2001 - English Edition The Magazine from Skydive World


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Wingsuit Safety
by Yuri Kuznetsov -

During the last two years wingsuits have grown up quite a bit. We are already flying a new generation of the suits - faster, better and definitely safer. What's even more important, there is more experience around - and it's building up fast. At the beginning, the most dangerous part of flying a suit was not what we knew about it but rather what we didn't know. This, and a lack of general information/experience, has created a huge variety in safety rules, recommendations, requirements imposed by different countries, clubs and DZs.
The rules I have seen around range from none to some more appropriate for first-jump students. While wingsuits do demand some new skills and experience, they do not compromise safety. It is very important to leave a huge margin for error while learning to fly (like everything else in skydiving!). Once you build up enough experience and learn the suit well, you will realize that it does not restrict you much. This is very much like learning to skydive again: putting a suit on sets you back to, say, your "B" license. You choose your canopy, opening altitude and such accordingly, and slowly progress towards "D" and that hot VX49.
The following is my experience with different safety-related issues:
1. Canopies
Many places either recommend or require big/square canopies for wingsuit flying. This is definitely a good idea for beginners: it takes quite a few jumps to perfect the opening position, steering through the opening etc. Once you gain enough experience, however, any canopy you normally jump will work just fine. Pretty much all of canopy concerns have been addressed by now. New suits (skyflyer etc) don't create much burble, you can steer through the opening easily and it only takes 2 seconds to free your arms completely afterwards. All my recent openings using regular vector/mirage and stiletto/diablo were every bit as good as without a suit. In fact, I am getting better on-heading performance using base rigs then I did without a suit.
Another concern has been kicking out of line twists while your legs are restricted, but this has proven to be a very minor problem. Lqrs (leg release) option on skyflyer eliminates this inconvenience entirely. If you get occasional twists due to your bag spinning, you may consider using a sleeve instead. Vertigo or basic research can make you a nice one. I have not had a problem here, though. Some containers like racer or wings may work better because their bottom corners are open, but this is a very minor thing.
2. Opening Altitude
Your opening will actually consume less altitude because it happens semi-horisontally (I always pull in full flight). While it's smart to pull higher on your first flights, your deployment altitude will likely settle down to what you're normally comfortable with. Wingsuits do not change your regular emergency procedures and pc hesitation is not much of a problem with skyflyer.
3. Experience
While birdman recommends 500 skydives before flying a suit, many places took it as a rigid rule. This is definitely an overkill. Many heads-up people in 200+ jump range can fly a suit safely - this is simply a matter of basic instructions and applying some common sense. I would, however, highly recommend a live cutaway experience - mostly to make sure that you are able to make quick and correct decisions in a high-stress situation (or at least find your handles). This may also be an overkill, though - none of my cutaways happened on wingsuit flights so far.
Wingsuits have been used with great success for hundreds of base flights during the last 2 years. Their operating envelope has been pushed very hard during those flights - without any major accidents. Most safety issues addressed in this posting are quite a bit more critical during a single-canopy flight, opening at 500' in the narrow gorge and landing on a stone "accuracy mat" surrounded by sharp rocks. Nevertheless wingsuits have proved to be safe and fun under these extreme conditions. They definitely are even safer - and not much less fun - on a skydive.

Birdmen in Norway
Photo courtesy of Yuri Kuznetsov

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