The Human Carrot
A funny wingsuit BASE story by Douggs with a serious message...
Tony Uragallo, the man behind the world’s most wanted flight suits, only ever intended to make one jumpsuit.
“It was England in the 70s, we jumped in any old rag… but then a mate turned up with a great looking Clawson suit – it was black with rainbows and made from baggy heavy cotton. We were all amazed. I borrowed my mum’s sewing machine to make my own version. When I was done I told myself never again,” Tony said.
Nearly 40 years and an untold number of suits of every variety later, all skydivers can be happy Tony Uragallo didn’t stick to his resolve.
“Nothing worthwhile is every easy. I said ‘never again’ for the first few suits I made, but when everyone I knew was asking me to make them one, I bought a commercial sewing machine - Mum wanted hers back - and I went to work. I loved to listen to the traffic jam reports in London as I sat in my room listening to music and sewing.”
Tony’s jumping career began in the Parachute Regiment RHA Reserves. They regularly did drops with the 105mm Pack Howitzer - a serious gun designed to be towed to location by a Land Rover or airdropped by parachute. Laughing at the memory Tony said, “We’d jump in, shoot these things and then Rob from our team would phone back and adjust our aim.”
“I started sport skydiving in 1970 and I never looked back. I was very lucky with my start. Two of the guys I was in the reserves with lived close to me in London, we bowled on Friday nights and then we started skydiving together. A fourth chap asked us if we wanted to start a 4-way team. He bought four Stratostar rigs and a van and we started a team. Just before we left for our first training camp in Spain there was a rule change to sequential. We were lucky; when we came back and did the nationals we were the only ones that had trained the new rules so we won. We stayed together for many years and I kept making suits.”
Skydiving and Tony Suits have both come a long way since then. Tony moved to Florida, USA in 1979 because “Skydiving in the winter was a joke in England. When I finish a prototype I’m bummed if I can’t get a 20-minute call on the next load. In England, I’d be waiting for weeks.”
“I always knew I’d get into wingsuits. I made the body of Patrick de Gayardon’s suits and then he would add the wings. That was fun, but then he went and died and that was very sad. Then I did the same thing for Adrian Nicholas – he set a world record in 1999 when he flew for nearly five minutes, covering 10 miles. But then he died… I watched Birdman start up and I thought I'd see how popular it would be. Once I started making wingsuits I loved it and I still do… Sewing a wingsuit that I think will blow all the other suits away is exciting, but then jumping it can be scary. I do at least one prototype a week. I never need an alarm clock to get me to work.”
Tony Wingsuits currently have nine models, catering for beginners through to experts. The suits are dominating all the major competitions worldwide. In 2013 the suits won the World Base Race (WBR) in Norway (Jhonathan Florez), the U-turn Race in Norway (Gleb Vorevodin) and the Stechelberg ProBASE (Julian Boulle) and in 2012 Tony piloted his Apache to win the WBR. “I was pretty proud of that, most of the other pilots were half my age. I’ve retired from serious BASE now though, I can’t handle the deaths, it’s too tough seeing great people do their last jump.”
“It doesn’t mean I’m not still constantly looking for improvement in the suits. I don’t know the future but I know Tony suits will keep improving. It occupies my mind most of the time. Relaxing in the evening I get ideas. I remember the good ones and I make patterns the next day. I see a 3D shape and then I make a 1D plastic into that 3D shape. With a wingsuit I imagine carving a clay wing, then I sew the ribs together and inflate it to see if it resembles the clay carving.”
“I never get tired of seeing people laugh over a suit I just made for them. Winning competitions, constantly innovating, at 60 I'm still hanging with the big dogs.” (And clearly it’s keeping him young.)
Other styles of Tony suit are also evolving. “I still enjoy making the flat and freefly suits. I just reworked all the freefly patterns and today we looked at a new type of gripper foam and new pattern-making software.”
When asked what’s next for Tony Uragallo he said, “Next summer I fancy a shop in Wyoming, my wife has a horse there, so I might try that. I want my own runway and light plane. We’re going to tour the USA with the shop and check it out. Life is good and I have no plans for that to change.“
Destination: Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
Drop Zone: Netheravon, UK
Place to Sleep: With my wife (great answer)
Place to see the sunrise: Florida
Place to see the sunset: Florida
One of Tony Uragallo's races in the World Wingsuit League course in Tianmen Mountain, China, 2014, filmed by James Boole