Who hasn’t seen it or even done it before: a wingsuit exit from a tailgate aircraft?!
The tailgate WS exit is pretty easy and great fun. In its most simple form, you stand at the rear end of the airplane, facing forward to the pilot and just make a tiny hop backward. The result is that you will be forced into a normal forward flight position right away. To say it straight: it’s almost hard to fuck up! 😉
Now you might have seen a few more advanced-looking pictures with wingsuiters exiting a tailgate aircraft and flying higher than the aircraft, looking at it from above – this must be fun and for many a never-seen-before perspective!
About two years ago, it was around the first of May 2021, we ended up as a group of wingsuiters at a dropzone with the monumental name ‘Skyforce’. It’s a DZ in Poland, about two hours’ drive south of Warsaw in a district called Lodz – a name that probably most German fellows past their thirties associate with a terrible song about a guy called Theo who is getting his butt kicked in order to drive to Lodz. The exact name of the town next to the dropzone is Piotrkow Trybunalski, which I translate with my limited Polish knowledge to Peter’s Court.
To get back to the topic, it might be worth mentioning that Skyforce were operating Short SC-7 Skyvans, tailgate aircraft that were manufactured in Northern Ireland between 1963 and 1986. After the first couple of days of jumping there, we asked the dropzone operations and the pilot if it would be possible to get us some slightly increased exit speeds. They confirmed and gave us some 90 or 100 knots. We were happily jumping and trying to convert as much as possible of the forward speed into altitude by using flares that were probably pretty poor at that time. We still had loads of fun seeing the aircraft slightly from above.
We asked for gradually increased exit speeds and got 105, then maybe 110 and 115 knots, which was great and felt controllable, even when we took massive hits by the relative wind. We learned that jumping not standing-up straight but already a bit feet back and into a normal flying position would help decrease the impact. But then again, if you had a negative angle of attack, meaning your head was lower than your feet and your neck would first catch air, you could get a real ‘whip’, which feels super uncontrolled… but, since an accelerated wingsuit can pretty much only fly in one direction, almost like a feather ball [shuttlecock] , we realised that the system was very forgiving. So, we had the pilot increase to around 120 knots exit speed. 😃
In order to achieve the desired speed quickly after dropping the other skydivers, the pilot increased the power and torque of the engines, and also started to dive a bit. We initially did not like the thought of losing exit altitude but soon found out that the difference between the flaring wingsuiter and the diving airplane gives an even better optical impression. 😃
As the Wingsuit Flies
Here’s what it looked like, the wingsuit pilot’s viewpoint…
We had to start making plans about exits; can we exit several people at the same time or is a serial exit necessary; how long a delay must there be in order to maintain safety in case one wingsuiter does a proper flare and another pilot does not, etc. Another challenge that we did not have to face previously was that with increased exit speeds and serial exits, our group was dispersed over a long distance and we had to come up with a solution to make the group gather as quickly as possible without wasting altitude, so we could still enjoy a proper wingsuit flight tightly together, especially since there were amazing cloud towers in the area. The whole long weekend was great fun and we ended up planning something more structured for the year after…
Skyforce HSE 2022
Indeed, we gathered a bigger group of wingsuiters the year after. Once again, we had great fun exiting, overtaking the airplane altitude-wise and there were – wait for it – again amazing cloud towers! This time we wanted to push a bit further and asked for more and more exit speed. 130 knots… 140 knots… 150 knots! When I entered 150 knots into the conversion engine, it gave me an amazing exit speed of 277.8 km/h! Who would have thought of that?! 😎
The feeling during the exit was pretty interesting. At some point, I had a picture in mind as if a giant Sumo wrestler would smack me on my chest with both hands in full force. I don’t ever want a Sumo to smack me in real life but please, leave me my imagination! It felt so powerful that I even wasted a moment thinking of the wingsuit seams and if they would withstand the sudden pressure increase. The flares got higher and higher too. Then we asked the pilot for the next speed increase, he said ‘no’. We were wondering what was wrong but accepted a maximum of around 155 knots exit airspeed. It was explained to us that we had hit the limit of the specifications of the aircraft. At first we were not really believing this, but realising what it meant, we had to chuckle. (We never checked in detail but assume it is the VMO or VH and not the VNO or VNE speeds as displayed in Wikipedia here). Besides, we were not going to argue with our super-friendly and cool pilot. If he says ‘no’, it’s a no.
Anyhow the event was a great success again. We had a bunch of Flysights on, to get an impression in real numbers of what we did, not just a feeling. We came up with a few flares that passed the 100m altitude mark and were quite impressed. Combined with the dive of the airplane it looked like a massive amount of altitude!
As the Wingsuit Flies 2
And the WS pilot’s viewpoint when followed by another wingsuiter…
Curiosity killed the cat. Of course, some of the participants were curious enough to enter their data into Skyderby , a tool created by Aleksandr Kunin and which you probably know is used in performance competitions as well as online competitions to create rankings. The Skyderby results were stunning, as they created amazing rankings in the online flare competition, here.
The grins were wide because the description online was ‘the task is to gain as much altitude as possible’, which we did. Of course, we were comparing apples with oranges. The ‘conventional’ flares were at different initial speed (some say that the top speed was delivered in a different angle, which probably would have to be looked into, and was more of an opinion than a solidly-checked fact) and also set with completely different suits. Most were using powerful Squirrel CR+ suits and we were using Squirrel’s awesome all-round suits Freak 2, 3 and 4. In order to avoid negative feelings, we also added videos to clearly show where the flares had their origin. I talked to Aleksandr and asked if we could get a separate section for HSE – High Speed Exits. He agreed and it is coming later this year.
The future of HSE
After all the positive feedback, the controversies and the fun that was had, we came to a decision that there is an interesting future in HSE flares. The competition software Skyderby will be HSE-ready this spring and there are now two competitions planned. One will be Saturday 29 April to Monday 1 May in Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland (on Facebook here) and another one will be around the 9 August in Klatovy in Czech Republic (here). The competitions will not be dead serious but all the HSE-sceptics that were negative or doubtful are cordially invited to participate and aim to beat the previous numbers with their flare skills. Both events will not be just about the flares but will be used as a gathering of competent wingsuit pilots that still have around 3,500 meters of altitude to have fun together after the HSE flare. At Skyforce there will be some competent canopy pilots that will not say no to some XRW and at Skydive Pink Klatovy, there will be some other goodies waiting.
What could your takeaway of this article be? For sure that fun stuff is happening, and the world will keep spinning and evolving. Just because many are stuck with their discipline (and are most probably happy) does not mean that the sport cannot grow and change. Stay curious and hungry and encourage others to be the same!
A takeaway for the wild and ferocious could be that doing new and exciting stuff does not need to be dangerous and reckless. Almost all the seriously badass videos you find online took many attempts and years of training, with a high degree of risk. Increasing exit speeds in 5-10 knot portions instead of going big in one shot helped us just as much as sitting together and discussing things, appreciating findings, and slowly but steadily optimising. We have the most total fun and happiness when sustained over a long period of time without accidents or drawbacks.
If you have not started wingsuiting yet, maybe this makes you curious to give it a go?! High Speed Exits can be performed with small wingsuits as easily as with large ones and are just as fun. Ask your local Wingsuit First Flight Course Instructor or myself.
Blue skies, Daniel Ossio
More wingsuit articles by top WS pilots
- Aircraft Wingsuit Formation (AWF) by Daniel Ossio
- Wingsuit Coaching by Dan Darby and Ashlee Richman, Arcus Flight
- Jump Run for Wingsuits by Matt Gerdes