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Wingsuit Flight Procedures

A document for the APF and Australian Wingsuit Flyers

Written for the safety, benefit and enjoyment of all by Neil Fergie F-383; BMCI April 2004

(with input from wingsuit manufacturers, web sites and other sport parachuting bodies)

Contents

Introduction

With the increase in the popularity of wingsuits and wingsuit flying in Australia, it is now essential to standardize all aspects of this exciting new branch of skydiving. Although if correct qualification and training are carried out, wingsuit flights are safe and enjoyable, the reverse can very quickly develop – and hazardous situations can rapidly occur in the air.

The purpose of the recommended procedures introduced here is to ensure we develop safe and proven parameters for the further spread of wingsuit jumping. The objective is to encourage wingsuit flying to be a fun and exciting activity, whilst ensuring that hazards are reduced to the minimum level possible.

Design

  1. Wingsuits are technically specialist jumpsuits that have been developed and manufactured with fabric ram air wings located between the legs of the jumper and from each arm to the torso.
    • The are made up of a number of dual surface cells, much like a ram-air canopy which, when properly inflated during flight, produces lift.
    • Wingsuits slow the jumper’s descent rate in freefall whilst increasing forward speed to previously unheard of speeds. Typical descent rates are between 40 and 70 mph, with forward speeds approaching (exceeding?) 80 to 100 mph.
  2. With proper use of a wingsuit, jumpers can stay aloft longer and cover substantial horizontal distances in freefall relative to other jumpers.

Background

  1. The original wing extension designs, called "batwings" were introduced in the 1950s. However, due to a number of fatalities attributed to control and equipment problems, worldwide sport parachuting organizations prohibited their use.
  2. By the late 1990s, modern equipment and innovative designs made wing suits popular once again.
  3. Over the past few years a number of manufacturers have commenced producing wingsuit designs that have made it possible for skydivers with sufficient experience and training to begin making safe wingsuit flights at drop zones worldwide.

Qualifications and preparation

  1. Before attempting a wing-suit jump, a skydiver should:
    1. Have a minimum of 500 freefall skydives; or a minimum of 200 freefall skydives made within the past 18 months, and receive one-on-one instruction from an experienced and qualified wingsuit trainer (who possesses an authority and/or recognized instructor status from a wingsuit manufacturer). Wingsuit flying is certainly not “just another skydive”. So it is very important that, whatever jump numbers the skydiver has, he/she is able to:
      1. Maintain a conventional track position for extended periods
      2. Recover from spins and other unstable free fall maneuvers
      3. Demonstrate and ability to correctly respond to emergency procedures in a calm, confident and calculated manner.
    2. Completely read and understand all documentation and training information provided with the wingsuit by the manufacturer.
    3. Strictly follow all recommended procedures outlined in this document.
  2. Training by an experienced and qualified wingsuit trainer should cover the following topics:
    1. gear selection, especially canopy choice and the deployment device
    2. rigging and wearing the wingsuit
    3. aircraft pilot briefing and skydiver heading awareness during wingsuit flights
    4. aircraft exit techniques
    5. basic flight techniques for wingsuit flights
    6. deployment procedures
    7. emergency procedures
    8. in and around cloud procedures

Equipment

  1. The correct parachute deployment device and method are critical for successful wingsuit jumps.
    1. Arm motion is very limited for the main deployment procedure, due to the restrictive shape of the wingsuit. These restrictions prevent both legs and arms from being able to adopt positions that the jumper has previously been accustomed ##The suit generates a large burble behind the jumper.
    2. Bottom-of-container throw-out pilot chute is the only deployment system that should be used while making a wingsuit jump.
    3. Under no circumstances should a pull-out system, leg-mounted throw-out, or ripcord-activated, spring-loaded pilot chute be used.
    4. A longer pilot chute bridle of around 100” is recommended.
    5. To help prevent line twists on opening, main containers without restricted corners are recommended. A number of container manufacturers have these “dynamic corner” options in their ordering and manufacturing process. In addition, many types of containers can be safely modified by a qualified rigger to open the corners of containers that are used for wingsuit flights.
    6. Many wingsuit flyers choose to pack with their deployment bags rotated 90 o to allow the bag to leave the container without first rotating from under the reserve container. This is known as “grommet-to-grommet” as the grommet atop the deployment bag is positioned directly under the container closing grommets during packing.
  2. Wingsuits must be worn correctly to ensure proper performance during the flight and that safe deployment and emergency procedures can be carried out by the jumper who is wearing the suit.
    1. Ensure that the skydiving rig is correctly connected to the wingsuit, taking careful precautions to follow manufacturer’s directions. Care should be taken here and a continuity check of the wings should be given by an experienced wingsuit jumper each time the wingsuit has a rig installed.
    2. Arm-torso fabric wings must include a quick-release system that the jumper can operate in any flight mode.
    3. Leg-leg wings should also be releasable after opening to allow the jumper free leg movement during landing.
    4. After the suit is on, the jumper should make sure that all of the straps and operation handles can be accessed properly.
  3. Canopy choice is an important consideration for wing-suit jumps.
    1. The main canopy should be docile in nature with consistent opening characteristics.
    2. Problems such as abrupt heading changes or line twists on opening can become a much larger problem due to the jumper's limited extremity movement when wearing a wingsuit.
    3. The jumper should use a familiar canopy.
  4. At least one popular manufacturer has a number of models of wingsuits available. These models include wingsuits that are designed for novice, intermediate and advanced wingsuit flyers.
    1. It is strongly recommended that early wingsuit flights be made on the novice model wingsuits.
    2. For skydivers with well-above the minimum levels, it is permitted to make early flights on an intermediate wingsuit.
    3. Suits that are designed for advanced wingsuit flyers should not be used by novices or low wingsuit flight number jumpers under any circumstances. This is due to the extreme power and lift of these wingsuits. Without sufficient experience using novice and/or intermediate rated wingsuits, loss of control is a very real probability. This may cause unintentional spins that may be extremely difficult to recover from and pose a threat of serious injury or death.
    4. As an indication, the minimum number of wingsuit flights using novice or intermediate wingsuits before attempting an advanced wingsuit is the earlier of 75 or signoff by an experienced and qualified wingsuit trainer (who possesses an authority or recognized instructor status from a wingsuit manufacturer.

Exit Techniques

  1. Flight plan:
    1. To avoid entering the airspace of other groups of jumpers, wing-suit jumpers should plan to fly the wing suit off the line of flight of jump run. Generally, this means a 90-90-90 flight plan. After a line-of-flight exit, the jumper turns 900 to jump run and flies for a period, followed by another 90o turn to begin a downwind leg. At this stage the wingsuit flyer should be flying parallel to the windline. This is significant for safety, as a premature or high deployment by any jumper who exited prior to the wingsuit will pose no danger to either skydiver. When the wingsuit flyer judges the time as right, he/she then makes a final 90o turn back toward the windline to glide towards the correct opening point. At this stage it is not unusual for the wingsuit flyer to be watching canopies of those who exited prior to actually be landing – an unusual / pleasing sight for a skydiver used to faster free fall times!
    2. The wingsuit jumper should coordinate with the pilot for the planned jump run and make the aircraft pilot aware of the wing-suit jump flight plan. It is recommended that coordination occurs with the pilot to allow the wingsuit flyer to do the opposite circuit as the descending aircraft. Many jump aircraft typically make a left hand circuit after the last skydiver exits. So if the wingsuit flyer makes a right hand circuit, there will be no traffic problems with the aircraft, both immediately after exit or later in the flight.
  2. There are many possible variations of exits and aircraft configurations, but wingsuit jumpers should usually exit the aircraft last. One exception to this rule is a multiple aircraft busy boogie, where a number of aircraft may be on parallel jump runs at the same time. In this case, wingsuits should exit first and make a long circuit away from the other parallel jump run.
    1. Some aircraft doors will be difficult to negotiate due to the restricted arm and leg movement with the suit in the jump configuration.
    2. On side door aircraft, especially those with a low tail, there is a significant danger of a tail strike. For this reason, all side door exits should be made with all wings collapsed until the jumper has fallen a safe distance below the aircraft – typically 2 seconds or more. Wings collapsed means legs together and arms by the side.
    3. Under no circumstances should a wingsuit flyer jump upwards into the slip stream when exiting a side door aircraft, as this will pose a very real danger of a tail strike.
    4. Wing-suit jumpers should practice the exit on the ground using a mock-up or the actual aircraft.

Deployment

  1. Deployment is generally considered the most complicated part of flying a wing suit.
  2. Deployment procedures should be practiced on the ground until smooth and proficient. This practice should be made whilst wearing the wingsuit and parachute gear to be used in the actual flight.
  3. Stop all radical maneuvers by 6,000 feet AGL.
  4. The wave-off signal is accomplished by clicking the heels together several times.
  5. Recommended deployment altitude:
    1. Low-time wingsuit jumpers should initiate deployment no lower than 5,000 feet.
    2. Once a jumper has become comfortable with the equipment and procedures, deployment is recommended by 3,000 feet.
  6. Keeping the body symmetrical is critical for safe deployment.
    1. Start by closing the legs and bringing both arms to the side of the body.
    2. Keep the legs slightly extended to create a slightly head-down attitude and improve air flow over the back of the jumper.
  7. Initiating deployment
    1. Bring both hands in symmetrically while grasping the pilot chute handle with the hand on that side.
    2. With the wrist of the pilot-chute hand, quickly flick the pilot chute into the airstream to the side of the jumper while bringing both arms to full wing extension symmetrically.
    3. Quickly retract both arms to re-collapse the wings as soon as the pilot chute is released.
  8. As soon as possible after deployment:
    1. Release the wings (typically a zipper is provided for non-emergency situations).
    2. Begin controlling the canopy using the back risers to maintain heading and fly clear of traffic.
    3. After establishing a controllable canopy and a clear heading, release at least one leg zipper.
    4. Once the wingsuit is configured for the remainder of descent and landing (arm and at least one leg wing released), release the brakes for full canopy flight.
    5. Attempting to land using a wingsuit without deploying the parachute would certainly result in serious injury or death.

Emergency procedures

  1. If one wing comes loose in freefall the other should be released immediately.
  2. Routine parachute emergency procedures should be planned and carried out with the wings of the suit still attached. Both main cut-away handle and reserve ripcord are able to be operated with arms still within the wingsuit – so time does not have to be wasted if the jumper makes a decision to initiate emergency procedures soon after deployment.
  3. If the main canopy malfunctions and requires a cutaway, the legs should be closed together to collapse the wing.
  4. If line twists are experienced, and if height permits, jumper should unzip/release both arms and one leg to enable risers to be grasped and legs to be kicked to encourage canopy to untwist.
  5. If line twists are experienced, and a lower height necessitates a decision to initiate emergency procedures, jumper should not allow himself descend to a dangerously low altitude, but rather, he should cutaway and deploy reserve canopy without delay.
  6. Water landings are extremely hazardous and should be avoided. If jumping in the proximity of an open body of water then a flotation device must be worn. If time permits prior to water landing, cutaway all wings and unzip all zippers, loosen chest strap, expose flotation device and inflate. After landing, cutaway main canopy (after first releasing RSL if connected) and calmly get out of wingsuit, while ensuring flotation device stays firmly secured to you. If canopy settles onto you, it is important to clear it from around your body as fast as possible, whilst remaining calm. Do not attempt to prevent any piece of equipment from sinking, as you risk being dragged under by it.

Initial wing-suit flights

  1. Practice the deployment position soon after exit on the first jump.
  2. Learn basic stable flight with the wingsuit before trying radical turns or barrel rolls, front-loops, etc.
  3. Learn to control fall rate and heading with solo jumps before jumping with other wingsuit skydivers.
  4. Experiment with various body positions to enable varying flight characteristics. For example, rolling shoulders forward and introducing a slight negative arch will decrease descent rate. Turns can be initiated using head and/or body and/or hands (as rudders) and/or feet (as rudders) and/or combination of some or all. Experiment and enjoy.

Cloud

  1. Cloud can bring an enjoyable dimension to wingsuit flights. But it can also pose considerable hazards not known in regular skydiving.
    1. When flying around clouds or within cloud valleys, it is imperative to be aware of where non-wingsuit jumpers who exited previously are likely to be free-falling. Stay away from areas in which they are falling to avoid dangers of these jumpers having high or unintentional openings.
    2. At drop zones where jumping through cloud is permitted (per APF/CASA regulations) extreme care must be taken in total cloud cover:
      1. If cloud layer is relatively thin, 1 or 2 thousand feet maximum as well as intermediate in height – 5 to 7,000’, plus a number of regular skydivers have previously exited, wingsuit flying can be undertaken with a reasonable amount of safety. The wingsuit flyer must carefully watch jumpers who previously exited and adjust his/her flight path to allow correct track to the DZ, using previous exited jumpers as a “bread-crumb-trail” back to the drop zone and correct opening point. However, a 90-90-90 flight plan is important to ensure the wingsuit is not directly above other previously exited jumpers at any time.
      2. Other than in the above strictly controlled conditions, wingsuit flying in total cloud cover is extremely hazardous. Consider just a 20o miscalculation in fight path direction. Two minutes (plus) of free fall traveling at 80 mph forward speed will place the wingsuit flyer a huge distance away from the correct opening point. Add unfriendly country or an open body of water below and imagine the potential consequences. Now imagine a 45o miscalculation in direction, 2 minutes free fall at 80 mph forward speed. Thick high cloud, where line-to-dropzone cannot be established by observing non wingsuit jumpers who exited previously, should be avoided at all costs.

A final note

These procedures have been written for the sole purpose of making wingsuit flying safe and fun. Their content is designed to assist especially new and low-time wingsuit flyers to learn and put into practice now-proven procedures.

It is imperative that training of new wingsuit flyers be carried out by experienced wingsuit flyers that have training authority granted by a wingsuit manufacturer. This will ensure that standards of instruction are maintained and new wingsuit flyers have the very best opportunity of experiencing the activity with maximum enjoyment and minimum of hazard or danger.

As with all branches of skydiving, wingsuit flying carries known and unknown dangers. Participants are responsible for their own actions. It is strongly recommended that all new wingsuit flyers sign an appropriate waiver prior to their first flight. The waiver that is used by WingsuitsOz is available upon request.

Above all, fly long and high - and tell all why you are grinning so much!! Now you know why the birds are always singing.

Neil Fergie F-383; BMCI Canberra, April 2004