Breathtaking Chamonix in France is fast becoming the place for Wingsuit flying.
Wingsuit pilot Ellen Brennen gives a simple, but accurate description of what its all about:“It’s a sport of jumping off a cliff, on top of a mountain, wearing a suit that has wings on it that once we jump off inflates, and we are able to fly down the mountain and then land with a parachute.”
A team of 61 wingsuiters breaks the FAI world record for the largest ever wingsuit formation over Perris, California pic.twitter.com/rKTsdmnncw— M Barak Cherguia (@CherguiaMbark) December 28, 2015
Preparation and training are key ingredients
Matt Gerdes, is a test pilot: “People don’t just arrive at the edge of a cliff and jump off wearing a suit, there is a lot that leads up to that. There’s years of training in the skydiving environment, learning to fly parachutes, learning to fly your body without the wingsuit in freefall, and finally learning how to fly the wingsuit, then finally brining all of those skills into the mountains. That takes a lot of time and commitment.”
The adventure sport is latest craze in a genre that is ever changing and innovating and becoming more dangerous?
Since the first accident in 1981 276 people have died BASE jumping.
Dr Bruno Durrer deals with a lot of injuries caused by extreme sports: “I think times are changing and adventure sports are changing and I think we see, or according to our experience we see really responsible people having bad luck and having accidents. We see this in mountaineering, we see this in other outdoor sports and we see of course adrenaline junkies who are really pushing the limits too far, and having accidents, but it is not our job to judge.”
How do these wingsuit jumpers get started? American Zak Tessier, professional skydiver who has approximately 1500 wingsuit BASE jumps, explains how it starts. “Most people start with a tandem skydive. They go with a tandem instructor, you go with a special harness strapped to their body, you can’t go anywhere and you see what you think.” After the student will continue their progression by taking an Accelerated Freefall Course where with the help of an instructor, the student learns how to jump on their own. After approximately 200 jumps from the airplane the skydiver is allowed to don a wingsuit. Here the beginner wingsuit pilot learns to pilot the suit in a relatively safe manner because there is plenty of altitude, they are equipped with a main plus reserve parachute, and no mountain terrain or objects to strike. In the meantime if the jumper plans to BASE jump they begin by jumping from more forgiving objects such as bridges ,antennas or overhanging cliffs with just a single parachute system and their normal clothing.
When the student has progressed in both aspects of the sport they could be ready to combine the two. Generally new wingsuit BASE jumpers pick a very tall vertical cliff such as Monte Brento near Dro Italy or Kjerag in Norway are two sites that are popular amongst beginner wingsuit BASE jumpers. As the skill level increases and quick inflation of the suit facilitates a quick transition from falling to flying the athletes will find lower cliffs to fly from that have more interesting terrain to fly over or through. Terrain flying is where the wingsuit pilot flies close to the ground where the sensation of speed and flying is most intense.