In “Anatomy of a Chop” I told you about my first ever skydiving malfunction. It was on my 8th wingsuit jump and it was self-inflicted.
I deployed asymmetrically after geeking the person I was flocking with, which resulted in numerous line twists that developed into a spiraling downplane. This is where the canopy dives vertically at the ground picking up speed whilst rotating horizontally at an ever-increasing rate of knots.
It’s definitely not fun.
The canopy I was flying on that jump is known for being friendly and docile, so it was with great surprise that I found myself in that position.
I gave away wingsuiting after that episode; not because I was scared, but because I decided that with only a few hundred jumps under my belt it was too early to be trying flat flying, free flying and wingsuit flying. I was over-committing and needed to pull back.
I concentrated on flat flying.
Four years down the track and armed with much more experience I decided it was time to get back into it. It would be lie to say that the preponderance of wingsuit videos recently posted by the likes of Jeb Corliss and others of that ilk had nothing to do with my decision.
To ensure maximum safety I undertook a wingsuit flight refresher course with an experienced tutor who told me that I was actually pretty good considering my last flight was in 2008. We dirt-dived the jump and then practiced exits in the aeroplane mock-up before emplaning for a leap from 14,000 feet.
After a thorough debrief he signed me off as competent to once again fly solo in a wingsuit.
I’m very happy to say that I’m now back in the saddle.
My new Phantom 3 wingsuit from Phoenix-Fly went for its first jump at Australian Skydive in Bridgewater, Victoria, last weekend, and I’m here to tell one and all that I had an absolute blast.
It was a strange to feel the nerves again, because 1200 jumps tends to de-sensitise you. This time, however, it would be fair to say I was deep in my own headspace for a while, thinking about what was to come.
Once onboard the plane my brain settled down, perhaps from being in a familiar environment, and on the ride to height I ran through some mental rehearsal of the jump I was about to make, visualising every aspect from exit to landing.
There was the usual banter from the crowd onboard but as we came closer to jump height everyone’s attention turned to gear checks. Pins were inspected, cameras turned on and handshakes passed around.
Time to go.
I was to exit last as the rest of the load had left the aeroplane. This is usually the case as wingsuit pilots cover more ground than ordinary freefallers and can afford the lengthier climb out.
My first exit went well, but immediately I opened up my wings I began potato chipping, a sure sign that I wasn’t relaxed. I was oscillating in the longitudinal axis and rocking slightly from side to side, and this meant I was unstable.
I made my first ninety-degree turn to the left of jump run, and then ten seconds later started my downwind run back to the drop zone.
Once established downwind I told myself to relax, as I could still feel that I was not fully stable and in control. This allowed me to settle down enough to try my practice deployments.
Wingsuit pilots signal their intention to deploy their parachute by clicking their heels together three times then shutting down their leg-wing before throwing their main pilot chute into the breeze. I found it surprisingly hard to do this because the leg-wing inflates in flight, and it felt like I had a huge pillow stuck between my knees.
I continued the flight for another thirty seconds or so until the audible altimeter in my helmet let out its familiar tones, telling me I was now at 6,000 feet, the height I’d decided I would deploy.
As a novice wingsuit pilot I knew I’d need extra time to deploy and sort myself out once under canopy. I also needed extra height up my sleeve in case I encountered problems during the deployment phase. You can never have enough insurance in this game.
I threw the pilot chute and seconds later found myself hanging silently from my beautiful canopy. My deployment had gone flawlessly.
I unzipped my arms and legs, released my brake toggles, and enjoyed what was one of the best canopy flights I’ve had, elated that I’d re-entered the world of wingsuiting.
I’m heading back to Bridgewater in a few weeks for a ten-day wingsuit camp where I’ll be getting tuition from some of the world’s best wingsuit pilots.
Who knows, I might even be flocking…