Laurent Frat lives to Wingsuit BASE jump and has dedicated his life to wingsuits and BASE jumping
‘Lau’ has over 1,000 wingsuit BASE jumps and nearly 3,000 skydives. He is a three-time Red Bull ACES contestant, was first in accuracy at Wings for Love (third team overall), and competed at the World Wingsuit League in 2014.
Laurent lives in the French Alps where he skydives and does wingsuit BASE from big mountains all year round. He worked for years as a firefighter, paramedic and on a search and rescue team – giving him excellent situational awareness and risk assessment abilities.
Lau also spent years racing mountain bikes competitively and training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He says that these things have helped him to understand the importance of training and humility.
He believes that being a good coach is about being able to present material in a way that students will be able to absorb it. Lau’s experiences in journalism, fitness training and the emergency services gave a great foundation for sharing his knowledge.
How did you start wingsuiting?
In 2007 I saw a video that had some really impressive footage of guys flying in Norway – right away I knew this was something I had to do. I had seen wingsuit videos before but, at the time, it just seemed like a stunt, not a sport a guy from California could get into. Then when a couple of guys I knew started sharing videos of their wingsuit jumps, the dream started to feel like something real and attainable – so I went for it 100%.
The closest DZ at the time was in Lodi, California and it was the place for wingsuiting at the time. I was fortunate to meet lots of experienced jumpers there and I sponged up as much knowledge as I could. Where I live, my wife and even my job have all emerged from my experiences in the sport.
The longer I am in the sport the more fun it seems to get. There was a point around 2012 when I was ready to sell my skydiving gear and focus only on BASE jumping. But as wingsuits have become more sophisticated and comfortable, wingsuit skydiving has become something really amazing. If you’re a skydiver and haven’t tried one, think angle flying that lasts twice or three times as long, with tons of power, and we can even go up!
What’s your opinion of how the WS discipline has developed?
The biggest developments in wingsuit flying have come from the side-by-side evolution of suit technology and pilot flying skills. Really good wingsuits with talented and creative skydivers continue to fuel the sport’s evolution. Red Bull Aces was an important pivotal event in wingsuit history that not only drove a massive jump in suit technology but also brought together an exchange of ideas, flying styles and of course an awesome competition. These innovations continue to trickle as far as into intro level suits and even how we teach FFCs.
On the BASE side of things, Chamonix really changed the game. I was lucky to be a part of what we refer to as the golden age of Wingsuit BASE. Never before were so many pilots able to fly so many vertical meters with such frequency as we did then. It fueled a big jump in the general experience level and offered many lessons – sometimes very hard ones.
Video – Red Bull ACES 2016
What excites you about wingsuiting these days?
One aspect I’m really excited about is how much the community is growing. Our last Next Level Camp had so many talented people on the roster. In years past it was a challenge, especially in Europe, to fly with large groups of skilled people but these days camps are packed with talent and we are able to do some really interesting dive plans. It’s a constant inspiration for me to train more and continue to develop my own flying style.
What is Next Level Flight and how did it start?
Next Level Flight started when a group of friends and like-minded people saw a need for better access to higher quality training for wingsuit skydiving and BASE jumping. Next Level is a collective of some of the world’s best wingsuit skydivers and BASE jumpers who are also passionate about teaching, the progression of our students, and creating bonds of lifetime mentorship and friendship.
What is the best way to start wingsuit skydiving?
The first step to flying a wingsuit is to complete 200 skydives. As an aspiring wingsuit skydiver, I saw these obligatory 200 jumps only as a barrier to my objective. I quickly realized 200 skydives are not that many, and often not enough to prepare us for the additional complexities that come with flying a wingsuit. People getting started should consider that the more skydives and tunnel time we have under our belt, the more we learn to fly our body in different orientations. This makes it easier to recover from instability, and also allows for more time to familiarize with the gear. Basically, with more experience comes more comfort and improved air awareness which leads to more fun and satisfaction. This is a proven formula for a faster learning curve and makes all of us better overall pilots.
Everybody’s first jump in a wingsuit should start with a First Flight Course (FFC). The goals for your first few flights will be to learn to exit safely, navigate your flight while in control, deploy your parachute correctly, and land at the DZ safely. During these first coached jumps and subsequent de-briefs, your FFC instructor should cover techniques for an efficient but relaxed and “neutral” flight at a reasonable angle of attack (not near-stall). You should also become comfortable with spotting your exit (it will be longer than you’re used to) and flying a pattern that does not interfere with any other groups.
It’s important to find a good instructor. They should be able to define: Pitch; Angle of Attack or “AoA”; Airspeed vs Groundspeed; Anhedral vs Dihedral; Body Configuration vs Body Position, and how these differ and are independent from Pitch and AoA. A quick conversation on these topics will give you a good idea if a potential FFC instructor is right for you.
What does a new wingsuit pilot need to know about gear?
You’ll want to make sure, right from the beginning, that your equipment is appropriate for wingsuiting. Most people who dabble in the discipline without the proper gear have a scary opening experience(s), decide it is not for them and miss out on all the fun. Choosing a main parachute that prioritizes consistent and reliable on-heading openings is crucial. The best choice is a docile non-elliptical 7-cell design made from low-bulk, semi-permeable fabric. Wing loading should be no more than 1.3:1, but of course, always consult manufacturer recommendations.
The AAD or Automatic Activation Device is an important safety tool and should be considered mandatory. There are no downsides to having one when flying a wingsuit. There have been cases where an AAD used by a wingsuiter did not fire due to the slower descent rate or varying pressure areas. However, there have been several documented saves. Keep in mind wingsuits can present an added risk for collision.
As far as RSL or MARD devices, wingsuits shouldn’t significantly alter your decision-making about whether or not to use one. They are generally recommended for newer skydivers and most expert wingsuit skydivers choose to use them.
Most considerations for our reserves while wingsuit skydiving are the same for wingsuiting. They should not be loaded much higher than the main canopy while loading near 1:1 provides more margin for a safe landing in case of injury or unconsciousness. Any vast size difference between the main and reserve can add additional danger in the case of a two-out situation.
Drag, during any stage of the deployment, can add unwanted movement and asymmetry which can lead to line twists. Choosing a semi-stowless bag can help provide smoother deployments. If using a standard bag, consider leaving 18 inches (45 cm) of line unstowed and carefully S-folded at bottom of main pack tray. This allows the bag to move further out of the burble before hitting the first resistance.
An 8 to 9-foot bridle will extend the pilot chute further from the wingsuit wake turbulence. Bridles shorter than 7 feet will increase the risk of the pilot chute being affected by wake turbulence, possibly leading to a PC-in-tow. The minimum PC size for wingsuiting is 26 inches, and 28 to 30 inches is strongly recommended. The weight and shape of the handle will contribute to PC stability, deployment, and effectiveness. Hackies and heavy PVC handles should not be used.
As we talked about drag with the d-bag, the container can also introduce drag. A “dynamic corners” modification where the bottom flap of the main tray opens completely can reduce the deployment bag from snagging on a corner during a more horizontal extraction that can come with the higher forward speed of wingsuit deployments. This modification is generally available from most manufacturers and/or can be completed by any master rigger.
The right wingsuit for your first jumps should be one that fits, is a model deemed suitable for FFC use by the manufacturer, and does not interfere with access to your handles once installed. Most manufactures and sales reps should have rental equipment suitable to take you through your FFC.
Some jumps with a tracking suit can be helpful but not necessary. This is largely dependent on the student and their general flying abilities. More jumps with the additional power that tracking suits can offer definitely can’t hurt your progression.
Having both audible and visual altimeters should be considered mandatory as the increased free fall time and additional cognitive load that comes with navigation can add to a change in altitude awareness.
When is your next event?
When the world of skydiving starts to open up again we will start putting events on the calendar. We look forward to returning to Skydive Spain in the near future. The best way to find out about upcoming events is to visit our calendar here
Anyone with additional questions about wingsuiting or our events should feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anything you would like to add?
I’m really excited to get back in the air with everybody. It’s been a tough 2020 and I am stoked about seeing my flying friends from all over the world again. I would also like to thank Squirrel and UPT for their support.
Original article published on Skydive Spain’s blog here.