Amber Forte, ace wingsuiter, freeflyer and canopy pilot, explains how to plan a safe, successful and super fun rodeo WS jump
Your biggest dream in life is to be taken for a rodeo flight on the back of a wingsuiter. You are a tall 120kg female bodybuilder who has just got her B licence and your petit 50kg boyfriend has done 50 wingsuit jumps…
Forget it love, unless you want to seriously damage your boyfriend!
You would be better off waiting a few years and taking your pretty little boyfriend for a ride. Let’s keep things traditional, shall we? Before you get your knickers in a twist, this is not about gender inequality, this is simply about weight and size.
As a wingsuiter, I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked by beginner skydivers if they can join me for a ride on the back of my wingsuit. The truth is, it is seriously fun to chill out on the back of a mini airplane while it cruises through the sky! But like most things in skydiving, there are many unforeseen risks that are smart to be aware of when you start planning your wingsuit rodeo. In my eyes if a jump can be both creative and challenging, but at the same time safe, that is the recipe for a fun and memorable jump experience.
So, you are a B licence skydiver with 50 skydives and you have a dream to be taken for a rodeo. Here are some things for you to consider…
Pre flight checks
1. Weight and size
The weight and size of both people involved is important to consider, nobody likes to be squashed on the bottom… It’s going to be safer and more successful if you put the big person on the bottom, not to mention enjoyment and comfort. When you are out looking for a partner to ride on the back of, consider that he or she should be either the same size as you, or slightly larger and heavier.
Whether you have ended up being top or bottom, it is important to understand the skill level and experience of the people involved. Knowing the experience of a skydiver goes further than just jump numbers, get to know your partner and understand what they can and cannot do.
As the wingsuiter in this partnership, I would hope that you have done a couple hundred skydives and have a good level of awareness in freefall. You should be competent with exiting the aircraft on the correct angle, not head-high or head-low, this will give you the best chance of nailing the exit and entering into a safe and controlled flight.
Having someone sitting on your back as a wingsuiter is not particularly comfortable. It is, as you would imagine, having a human sitting on top of you… Therefore it is important to be quite strong and understand how to control your wingsuit to a relatively high level. By this, I mean that you are able to fly in a slot on a group jump quite comfortably.
As the passenger, you should be able to trust your wingsuit pilot, although you are a passenger, you should still have a good level of awareness in freefall. Just because your trusty steed has a fancy dress and is full of confidence, does not mean that he or she is as trusty as you would like to think. Know the plan and remember, if shit hits the fan, you are alone and will need to let go and take care of yourself.
These days skydiving is just as much about flying as it is about fashion and having the most modern and carefully designed outfits. Therefore, most skydivers have equipment that is well-fitting and “freefly friendly”, although it is still worth checking this. The last thing you want is a premature opening in your face or suddenly holding onto something that should be attached to your partner.
4. Make a good plan
We have all been part of an overly ambitious jump plan that fell to pieces as soon as it left the airplane. It may be possible to laugh afterwards, but it can be pretty disappointing when you finally get your opportunity to experience a rodeo dive and end up flying solo for the whole skydive. I try to see every jump as a process, which starts on the ground with detailed planning and visualisation, leading to safe execution and stoke in the landing area. It’s a package and every part of it is just as valuable as the next.
5. Dirt dive
It may feel a bit weird to walk around with your eyes half closed, reaching out in random directions next to a fake airplane, but trust me, it works! In general, the better that you can be walking and visualising jumps on the ground, the more often you will nail your ambitious plans.
During the flight
1. Jump run
It is important to pay attention to the other jumpers that are going to be on your jump run and what they will be doing, even if you are wearing a wingsuit, especially if you are planning a rodeo jump. Generally, rodeos should be put out after angle flyers, belly flyers and freeflyers, but before wingsuiters.
Due to the combined weight of two people and only one wingsuit, your vertical fall rate will be faster and the horizontal distance will be less than a usual wingsuit flight, but still more than a slick angle jump.
Be aware that you will be getting out late on the jump run and your spot may end up being a bit long, it may be necessary to abort the rodeo a little early, pull high and make it back to the designated landing area.
2. Flight plan
Wearing a wingsuit does not mean that you have to land off all the time. We have all done it and will probably do it again, but it’s smart to try and reduce the number of times we land all over the place. Wingsuits are a great tool for covering distance and although the performance will be decreased with two people, remember you are still moving forward.
Both people involved in the rodeo dive should make themselves aware of the wind conditions on the day and agree on a flight path accordingly. If something out of the ordinary was to happen, you should both know where you are and how to get to the drop zone without issues.
This is the crux point of your masterplan. If you don’t nail the exit, there is no going back! You may as well enjoy your solo skydive and admit defeat, this time at least.
I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to practice your exit in the mock-up before you go for the real deal. There are many different airplanes with various door shapes and sizes – but the most important thing is that the wingsuiter is able to jump out directly into the wind, as they usually would when jumping with their other wingsuit buddies.
Start by placing the wingsuiter in the door of the mock-up, as far outside of the aircraft as possible and then look into adding the rider. The rider should stand behind the wingsuiter and place their belly as close to the wingsuiter’s rig as possible, get nice and cosy together in a good ol’ spoon position. The rider should hold on to one side of the wingsuiters riser cover and have the other hand holding onto the airplane.
Now it is time to practice the countdown, mirroring each other’s movements (ok, up, down, out / ok, out, in, out). It is very important that both people exit the airplane at the same time, this will make it easier for the rider to hold on tight and follow the direction of the wingsuiter.
After the exit, the rider should focus on keeping their entire body as tight to the wingsuiter’s as possible, this will give the wingsuiter more control over their wing and avoid the pair getting into a downplane or flat spin.
4. Give up
Note to the rider: If after the exit things start to spin and spin and spin, uncontrollably and it does not feel like it’s working, please let go. Your poor wingsuiter friend is completely handicapped at this point and needs you to get off. If at any point throughout the jump you feel that your wingsuiter is not in control, just give up and jump off.
You have successfully exited the airplane, no crazy flat spins are in sight and you are flying through the sky on the back of a wingsuit. As the rider you should try to keep your movements very gradual and calm, allow the wingsuiter to do the work and do not try to change or affect his or her movements. If you feel at any point that they start to get wobbly or out of control, take yourself close to their back and hold yourself in tight, until they regain control.
As the wingsuiter, remember to focus on your flight plan and fly calm and steady. Like you are driving a car and you want to give the passenger a nice smooth ride.
“Yes, this is so amazing, I am doing it, oooohh, smile for the camera, gotta get a nice picture for Instagram, woohoo, can’t wait to tell my mum, hahahahaha this is so funny, ahhhhhh”
We have all been there when the stoke of the skydive makes us forget about where you are going, or about the fact that there even is such a thing as altitude. Most skydivers will get some sort of awakening along their journey to being experienced, where they learn that it’s not that cool to pull low and land off in the middle of nowhere. You may forget that the ground exists for a moment, but trust me, it is coming.
I am not saying that you are not allowed to be stoked during your skydive, I am a big advocate of laughter and smiles in freefall. But, not at the cost of your safety.
Remember your plan and execute it like a bad ass. There is nothing cooler than making a solid, ambitious plan and nailing it like a boss. The beer afterwards has never tasted so good!
7. Break off
Pre-decide what altitude you are going to separate from one and other and start your opening procedures. This can be done in a number of different ways, here are a few that quickly come to mind:
- The rider simply just lets go
- The wingsuiter does a barrel roll and throws the rider off
- The rider deploys and gets drawn off the back of the wingsuiter by the opening of the parachute
Make a good plan for break off together: when, where, how.
Pre flight checks:
- Weight and size – Build your rodeo for success (big on bottom is better).
- Experience – Know what both people involved can and cannot do (be honest with your skill level).
- Gear –Make sure both people have freefly friendly gear.
- Make a good plan – Make a plan for success (less is often more).
- Dirt dive – Do the jump on the ground many times before you do it in the sky (practice makes perfect).
During the flight:
- Jump run – Know who else is on the load and place your rodeo accordingly into the jump run.
- Flight plan – Make a flight plan together according to the wind to assure that you both land at the designated landing zone.
- Exit – Exit as one unit at the same time (rider hold body close and tight to wingsuiter).
- Give up – Rider, be willing to let go if shit gets crazy!
- Rodeo – Be calm and steady (slow controlled movements).
- Awareness – Be stoked, but remember the plan and be safe.
- Break-off – Make a good plan for breaking off together: when, where, how.
Here is some video inspiration for your rodeo endeavour…. Have fun and be safe!
The Most Gorgeous Record Ever