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International, independent, e-magazine on skydiving, BASE & tunnel

WS Progression 4: Making it Back Alive

The last in a 4-part series on WS by Matt Gerdes and Taya Weiss. First article, on FFC is here, they covered WS exiting here, a WS skydive from start to finish here and now address how to make it back alive and well. This is a summary of the common pain points for DZs, which are also the leading causes of WS injuries and fatalities: Midairs, off-landings, cutaways, and interaction with parachutes. These are the things that WS skydivers need to take more seriously…

WS formation over Kapowskin — by Next Level
WS formation over Kapowskin — by Next Level

Making it Back (alive and well)

A Lot to Think About

If it seems to you that there is a lot to think about… you know, with not hitting the tail, not crashing into other people on the load, making sure that other groups fly inside their lane and staying inside yours, being aware of the pilots in your own group, navigating back to the DZ, holding your slot and flying predictably, watching out for other groups and parachutes closer to the DZ, breaking off slowly and predictably, being sure to open your parachute in the right place - the place you agreed to open it when you were dirt-diving, watching out for the parachutes of other groups, having a symmetrical and smooth deployment at the proper airspeed and altitude, and then getting your parachute safely back to the DZ…. well… that’s because it is a lot to think about.

Wingsuit flying is complicated, and requires a significant amount of training, education, practice, and dedication. It makes a horrible closet sport, and isn’t something that you can just do a little here and there, and do well at. It deserves respect, and your full attention. Your life's on the line… along with the lives of others.

A wingsuit skydive presents us with many opportunities to make fatal errors - fatal to ourselves and to others. Don’t kid yourself about the risks to others: If you mess up in this sport, you can kill someone, and it has happened before.

Don’t kid yourself about the risks to others: If you mess up in this sport, you can kill someone

Beginning at exit, tail strikes are our first concern. As previously covered, this is a joint effort between the wingsuit pilot and the aircraft pilot, with the wingsuit pilot being the final and overriding factor (If aircraft settings are incorrect, do not exit the plane, it's that simple (except in emergency and when directed by the pilot).

The second phase of the jump is the flight, where we have countless opportunities to collide with other wingsuits. You must know how to complete a guaranteed-stable exit in the suit you are using, know how to approach a formation safely, know how to navigate within your established flight lane, and know where to open your parachute. You must know this not only in theory, but in practice, in the suit you are using. Brand new suit? Congratulations! Please don’t jump onto a zoo-load with the cool kids, thank you! Take some time to familiarize yourself with your upgrade, and know the suit inside and out before flying with others. An unstable exit, uncontrolled approach to a formation, or an unstable deployment can easily endanger other skydivers on your load.

In order to plan your flight safely and open in the right area, you must know the wind conditions at exit, opening, and surface altitudes, before making your dive plan. You must also know what the non-wingsuiters on your load are planning to do. It’s easy to “land off” in a wingsuit, and many wingsuiters don’t take this seriously enough.

Things Wingsuiters Should Take More Seriously

Take measures to reduce the chances of a cutaway: choose the right main, and practice deployment techniques like your life depends on it.

Tail strikes: We’ve seen way too many close calls over the years. Sometimes the difference between severe injury and aircraft damage can be just a few inches, several times per day. We need to pay closer attention to this, and work together with pilots to achieve better safety margins.

Mid-air wingsuit collisions: Both inside groups, and between groups, mid-air collisions are a a big deal. Much of what we discussed in this series is designed to prevent them. We should all be more afraid of mid-airs.

in a wingsuit, main parachute malfunctions are a life-threatening emergency

Cutaways: All too often, skydivers take cutaways lightly. No biggie, if it goes wrong, just chop it! Losing your parachute should be your last concern - in a wingsuit, main parachute malfunctions are a life-threatening emergency. There is no guarantee that you will be able to access your emergency handles, that your reserve will open without line-twists, or that you will be near a safe LZ. Take measures to reduce the chances of a cutaway: choose the right main, and practice deployment techniques like your life depends on it.

It's a case of beer if you land off – when there are clouds, it’s 10 cases!
It's a case of beer if you land off – when there are clouds, it’s 10 cases!

Landing off the DZ: It should be more serious than beer. Off-landings can endanger yourself, the sport, and the dropzone business. If you aren’t part of the solution (getting wingsuits back to the DZ every time) then you’re part of the problem, making wingsuits look bad to the entire industry. And there are no excuses - this goes doubly for less-than-perfect visibility. At one of our favorite DZs, it’s a case of beer if you land off in clear skies. If you land off when there are clouds, it’s 10 cases. No joke.

Interacting with parachutes: People make unpredictable turns under canopy sometimes, particularly when they’re high and not expecting to be visited by a meat-bomb. Sometimes there is a change of wind direction or vertical movement in the atmosphere that will affect your trajectory, and sometimes when you focus on one parachute, you don’t see another. All of these things make wingsuit-on-canopy action more complex than many people realize.

If you want to set up a careful fly-by of a friend, and you both have the experience to plan and execute it carefully, then go for it. But keep in mind that there have been too many close calls involving wingsuiters flying by each other, and going low to do it. An impromptu pass that you set up at 4,000 feet and complete at 2,500 feet doesn’t leave much altitude left for a safe deployment.

And while it’s generally a bad idea to do casual buzzes of our friends, remember that USPA BSRs prohibit fly-bys on students and tandems, planned or not.

Wingsuit Deployment Series

This article is one of a 4-part series by Matt Gerdes and Taya Weiss on Wingsuit Progression. Here are links to the other articles:

Part 1 – First Flight Course - here

Part 2 – WS Exits from the Plane - here

Part 3 – A Wingsuit Skydive from Start to Finish - previous article - here

Part 4 – Making it Back (alive and well) - this article - here

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