What is a wingsuit?
When looking at wingsuits, there are a lot of manufacturers and design variations. Bigger or smaller wings, and different air inlet and airfoil shapes. But the basic principle is always the same: a suit, with three wings between arms and legs. These wings inflate due to the relative wind, and form an airfoil. Shaped just like an airplane wing, it provides lift and enables the pilot to glide vast distances across the skies.
What can I do to prepare for wingsuit flight?
A lot of people ask this question. And quite often a lot of jumps and money are spent on solo tracking dives and expensive tracking suits. Though this is great fun, it doesn’t actually teach you a whole lot.
The best advice to anyone wanting to fly a wingsuit would be, jump and have fun!
There are many other disciplines within skydiving, such as freefly, atmonauti and RW. And these disciplines teach you more about levels, fallrates, relative flight, exit, (group)separation and general body control and skills than any solo skydive can ever do.
- RW/FS teaches you stuff about levels, proximity, exits, approach and separation.
- Freefly teaches you a lot on flying more than one body position.
- Tracking teaches you dealing with forward speed and levels (when done in groups), and solo it teaches you a bit on performance (which is the least important aspect when it comes to learning wingsuit flying, yet the ONLY thing most people new to the sport focus on) making A LOT of jumps teaches you about body and heading control during opening, and dealing with off-heading openings etc.
- CREW teaches you a lot of the flying strategy you need when it comes to flying a wingsuit (not backing into formations backwards or diving into them by collapsing wings, but FLYING every single thing you do, in full controll)
Learning to fly your body is the most important thing to do. And though flying a wingsuit might be your only goal, you don’t have to feel bad for actually enjoying some of the other great disciplines within this sport.
And like any other sport, a good physical fitness does help. Especially when it comes to formation flying with wingsuits, weight can be a limiting factor. So if wingsuit flying is one of your long term goals when you start skydiving, also try and make your health and fitness part of that planning.
The gear used for a wingsuit jump is not much different than the one used for normal skydiving.
The only thing to pay attention to is having a BOC (throw out) opening system and choosing the right canopy. Parachutes all have different opening characteristics. Some fly a bit more aggressive then others, and quite often the opening of a parachute is related to how it flies.
For wingsuit flight, it’s recommended to fly a canopy that performs well on openings, and doesn’t have a tendency to quickly spin or dive.
These diagrams highlights some of the features of a wingsuit which improve its flying ability, and also highlight a few extra tools such as a knife, helmet and altimeter. The suit on the left, which appears to be a Birdman GTI, is now considered to be a small suit good for flocking and acrobatics. The suit to the right, a Tony Suits X-bird is one of the largest suits on the market, as can be seen from its protruding tail wing (beyond the feet) and large surface area on the arm wings.
How far can you fly?
When looking at how well a wingsuit flies, we generally speak about the glide-ratio (or Lift vs Drag). This is a number that indicates the forward distance flown for every meter of altitude that is lost.
A wingsuit flown really well, has a glide ratio of about 2.5:1 (so 2.5 meters forward, for every meter you drop).
When we skydive, we typically jump from 12.000 ft (4km) and open our main parachute at 3000 ft (1km). So we have a freefall of about 9000 ft (3km). At a glide-ratio of 2.5:1, this means we can cover about 7.5 km of distance. This distance can be even further if we are flying with the wind (downwind).
Stamina is also a great factor, as it takes quite a bit of muscle strength to fly a wingsuit to its full capacity. That’s why in general, the performance tends to be a bit lower on a full altitude skydive. People get better results on lower jumps, such as those performed within the sport of BASE jumping.
How fast can you fly forward?
The average forward speed of a wingsuit is around 160 km/h (100 mph). But the direction flown with regards to the wind has a big influence in the resulting ground speed.
If there are 100 km/h upper winds, flying into the wind, the wingsuit will only fly at a ground speed of (160-100) 60 km/h. If the wind is in the back during flight, the wind speed actually ads to the speed of the wingsuit. Which means the wingsuit can actually end up flying at (160+100) 260 km/h relative to the ground, just because of the push the wind is giving. This is similar to a boat in a river, going slower upstream and faster downstream.
How slow can you get the suit to fly?
A wingsuit has two distinct modes of flying. A slight diving position aimed at flying the biggest horizontal distance possible. Or a more flat position, where most of the lift is used to keep the suit flying as slow vertical as possible. This results in long freefall times, but the performance in terms of distance quite suffers in this mode of flying.
A normal skydive falls at around 200 km/h (120 mph). In a wingsuit we can easily slow this down to about 65 km/h (40 mph). Obviously resulting in a freefall that’s 3 times longer than a normal freefall.
If you fly a wingsuit really steep and quickly flatten out the dive, its possible to slow down to speeds close to 0 km/h (0 mph) vertical. This is often referred to as a swoop or plane-out.
Which suit is the fastest?
There are a lot of manufacturers of wingsuits and each and every manufacturer will of course work hard to show you that their suit is the fastest suit money can buy.
But when comparing the top of the line suits from each manufacturer, the performance is a lot closer then anyone is willing to admit. And in the end, the biggest difference is in the pilot.
A wingsuit is rigged around normal skydiving gear. Compared to normal freefall, the distances you fly and movements you make are much more sensitive due to the large wings. And as you can imagine, these wings also restrict the movement quite a bit. You can’t reach upwards, for example.
So it’s required to have a good basis in terms of knowledge and skills in skydiving to safely be able to fly a wingsuit.
Though every person is different, 200 skydives is widely seen as the bare minimum experience level at which a person could have learnt enough to be able to safely fly a wingsuit. In some countries regulations even specify having at least 500 jumps before you are allowed to fly a wingsuit.
A minimum of 200 skydives is also the norm we use when it comes to teaching people to fly.
When it comes to experience, more is always better. And in this case, also a lot safer.