Wingsuit Deployments Part 1

Flying a wingsuit, once you’re ready for it, is pretty straightforward. It doesn’t take much effort: Just relax, look where you want to go and fly back to the DZ without hitting anything. The tricky part—the part that even some highly experienced skydivers struggle with—is deploying and opening the parachute.

This information is based on what the instructors at Next Level Flight, which provides structured wingsuit flight courses from basic to advanced, learned while testing both wingsuits and parachutes. It is what they think works best now, which may contradict older, outdated instructional material. Of course, better techniques may replace these new techniques in the future. Such is the nature of progress. Out with the old, in with the new!

The Pull is the Beginning of a Process, Not the End of One
The most common mistake wingsuit flyers make is to stop flying or controlling the wingsuit and body after starting to reach for the pilot chute. Reaching for the pilot chute and deploying it is the beginning of a process that needs full and active participation.

Pitching out your PC and then going limp or just thinking, “It’s over now” does not work. People often give up on maintaining their heading, pitch control and suit symmetry the moment they begin to reach back to their pilot chutes. There is no off button in skydiving, and deployment is the moment in each flight where symmetry and focus are most important.

Think symmetry: First and foremost, fly your body and your suit symmetrically through the entire deployment process. Concentrate on keeping your shoulders level and perpendicular to your line of flight. Choose a point of reference on the horizon and maintain your heading toward it. Once your risers begin to load, keep the load equal by reacting to the feedback transmitted from your opening parachute.

Symmetry is important for the loading of your harness, but it’s even more important in the moments before you load your harness, because an asymmetric body configuration will change your heading. A heading change during deployment will not help your opening: Turns lead to line twists.

Throw your PC like you mean it. Rear facing camera shots have shown that a weak toss and slow flight can render a pilot chute momentarily useless if it is sucked onto your back or leg wing.

To prevent this, reach back symmetrically (most pilots reach back with both hands to keep the arm wings symmetrical) and deploy symmetrically, with force. An overly aggressive pull may negatively affect your body position, but you must deploy your PC with the clear and unwavering intent to get it into the clean air that is well to the side of your wingsuit. Never drop it.

Avoid habits that waste altitude. Like runway ahead of you and fuel in the tank, altitude is security. You could crumple yourself up into a cannonball and lose 1,000 feet of altitude before every deployment, but it’s smarter to fly for a minimum of altitude loss. Collapsing leg and arm wings causes an immediate and significant loss of altitude, takes time and encourages asymmetries, so deploy from a flying position. 
Developing this habit will get you from formation breakoff to canopy flight at a higher altitude.

Full-Flight Deployment, Now and Later
If you plan to progress in wingsuit flying, then developing a dependence on wing collapse for deployment is not the best plan. Five years ago, most wingsuits would collapse for deployment with only moderate effort. Today that is not the case. Modern performance suits have more internal pressure, higher trim speeds and more leading-edge structure. All these things suggest a full-flight or near-full-flight deployment. However, you can use a full-flight deployment with any suit. Learning it early (although maybe not in your very first month of training) is a good idea for pilots who intend to advance their abilities.

The factors that form the basis of a full-flight deployment are:
Pitch and Angle-of-Attack Control: Reduce your sink rate and increase your glide to a reasonable airspeed to minimize wake turbulence (burble).
Airspeed Control: Don’t deploy in a stall or at a high speed and low angle of attack.
Reach Technique: Reach around your wings, don’t “squeeze” them. The path to your PC is not through the wing. The path to your PC is around the top surface of the wing. Practice this on the ground with a blower inflating your suit and do dozens of practice touches in the air. The muscle memory needed to rotate your wrist properly and reach around the top surface of your arm wing with your hand going directly to your PC requires training. You should improve any pull technique that involves squeezing or collapsing your arm wings or touching anything other than your PC handle.
The entire process from thought initiation to PC release should take about one second. Practice this movement. Your hand should pass over the top surface of your wingsuit and go directly to your PC, and your PC should release well to your side into the clean airstream before one second is up.

Airspeed: Not Too Fast, Not Too Slow
The beauty of wingsuit parachute deployments is that you have a lot of control over your airspeed. If you want to have a more aggressive parachute opening, then you can fly faster. If you want to tow your PC for a while, then you can slow down. Happiness is a speed somewhere in the middle, and you must also deploy into the cleanest air possible. To do this, you need to manage your burble.

Burble management is secondary to airspeed management. First, adjust your airspeed. You will learn very quickly what makes you fly quickly or slowly in your wingsuit and what airspeed works best for deployment. Next, you need to arrive at that airspeed with the correct angle of attack, which provides a clean airflow over the top surface of your suit.

The process is: From fast or normal full flight, slow down (increase your angle of attack), then level off (decrease your angle of attack slightly) until you feel air flowing cleanly over the top surface of your suit, then deploy symmetrically.

Parachutes and Other Equipment
When choosing your parachute, go lightweight, low bulk, F-111 and docile. Low-porosity (F-111) fabric yields better openings than zero-porosity fabric because its permeability delivers more consistent and predictable inflation. However, zero-porosity fabric is more durable. While it would be nice if our equipment lasted for eternity, safety should mean more to you than getting a few extra jumps out of your parachute. Wingsuit-specific F-111 canopies have proven to open better and lead to fewer cutaways.

Some jumpers complain that lightweight parachutes—which are generally good for about 1,000 jumps with normal care—don’t last long enough. However, during that time, you’ll spend about $30,000 in jump tickets and other skydiving expenses. Does it make sense to complain about the equivalent of a few hundred dollars of canopy lifespan when you will probably pay more than that in reserve repacks as a result of using a zero-porosity main? Not to mention safety: Wingsuit cutaways are a big deal, and you’re more likely to get injured during one than on a regular cutaway.
You should consider a docile, seven-cell, low-aspect-ratio canopy mandatory for wingsuiting. A lightly loaded, larger-than-you’d-normally-fly size is best. Some speculate that sizes smaller than about 120 square feet may have line sets that are short enough for the parachute to be sucked back into the burble during deployment. If you think it sucks to have that happen to your PC, wait until your parachute does it. At the Red Bull ACES wingsuit event one year, a jumper streamed head down under his 109-square-foot, zero-porosity canopy, his lines tangled in a smoke bracket on his left foot. He cleared them by hand and didn’t die, which was awesome. That was the last wingsuit jump he put on that canopy.

Other equipment topics could make up an entire article on their own, but here are some basics:
Bridle length: Longer is not better. Around eight feet from pin to PC is adequate.
PC size: For skydiving (as opposed to BASE), a zero-porosity pilot chute in the 28- to 30-inch range is the norm.
Deployment bags: Many jumpers feel that stowless deployment bags yield smoother openings. However, it’s best to steer clear of magnet-closed stowless bags due to the weight of the magnets. Tucktabs or “party bags” are superior.

Pull High! Don’t Let a Docile Parachute Make You Overconfident
Once you have a docile, F-111, lightweight wingsuit parachute, you’ll probably get used to it very quickly. The comparatively wonderful openings will give you confidence and make you happy. But the best way to ruin your happiness is to start pulling lower.

All parachutes—regardless of their design and track records, your packing technique or your skill—can and will eventually malfunction. Line twists are practically unavoidable when flying wingsuits, and the probability of other malfunctions is also higher. Give yourself time and altitude to deal with the drama.

Packing
During a typical skydive deployment without a wingsuit, your PC, bridle, deployment bag and parachute lines extend above you in a vertical chain. The chain of deployment occurs vertically. When you are flying a wingsuit, the deployment chain spreads out more horizontally. This more-horizontal deployment chain is sensitive to many factors: your burble, the efficacy of your PC, how you stow your lines, your d-bag design and how you pack your parachute.

The more time that your parachute system is elongated in this horizontal configuration, the more opportunity it has to get weird. Often, at the stage where your parachute lines are extended and your PC is killed but your parachute has not yet begun to inflate, line twists occur. The more time you allow your parachute to dance and twist in this position, the more line twists you will have.

The solution is simple: Minimize the amount of time that your parachute spends uninflated and dancing around at line stretch. One way to do this is to refrain from rolling the tail (trailing edge) of your parachute tightly around your lines. The technique of rolling the tail tightly around the lines was not developed for and should probably not be used for wingsuit flying.

Leaving an open channel and rolling the folds together lightly just two to three times will encourage earlier parachute expansion once your pack job reaches line stretch. The sooner it expands, the less time it has to twist and twirl, and the fewer line twists you will have.

What’s that you say? If you pack like this, you’ll get slammed? When you are jumping a wingsuit, you control your airspeed destiny. Pack for the type of jump that you are doing. Fly for the type of opening you want.

What’s that you say? If you collapse all your wings and drop like a stone, it eliminates the horizontal nature of the deployment? The problem with this is that most intermediate to advanced wingsuit designs will not easily or effectively collapse before deployment, at least not without a huge flare and associated reduction of airspeed and therefore internal pressure.

Twists: Why They Happen, How to Avoid Them, How to Get Out of Them
There are two types of twists: line twists and body twists.
Line Twists: These occur during extraction of your packjob, behind you and out of sight. You will know you have them only once your parachute begins to inflate and you feel your risers too close together, angling in above your head. (To feel this, you must have your hands on the risers.) These twists are the result of packing and the asymmetries discussed above. To prevent them, work on your packing and wing symmetry at deployment.
Body Twists: This type of twist is the most common, and you cause it by rotating underneath an inflating or flying parachute. This situation is extra-stressful because it can be hard to stop and often results in the highest number of rotations.

The best way to end up with body twists is to deploy in a slight turn by loading your inside riser because you’re dipping that shoulder. You’ll then have a hard or violent opening. As your parachute inflates, you are inputting a turn with your shoulder. There is no harness design that can prevent this shoulder input. As the turn continues during the opening, your body rotates on the single axis point of one riser.

Once the rotation begins, it can be difficult to stop. An abrupt or violent opening can aggravate this, and the worst body twists invariably occur during harder openings.
You can prevent or at least discourage body twists with riser control. The moment that your parachute loads and begins to sit you upright, your hands should be on your risers. You should steer your parachute via the risers, maintain your forward-facing body position via the risers and hold the risers apart, if necessary. All of this will help to keep you facing forward, on heading.

To reach your risers wearing a wingsuit:
• Deploy your PC
• Immediately punch your fists straight forward
• Then reach up and grab your risers
Holding your risers apart will help stop body rotation and allow you to control your canopy.

Note that it is possible to overdo this: If you reach up and crank your risers apart early and hard, and there are pack-job-induced line twists occurring, then you may cause the twists to move higher up your lines, exacerbating the situation. Moderation and sensitivity are key.

Jumping a wingsuit that allows you to manipulate at least the bottom section of your risers without unzipping or cutting away is important.

Once you’re in twists (and it happens to us all), there are several ways to solve them. It goes without saying that cutaway decisions are always best when not made late. Your decision altitude for wingsuit flying should be higher than normal.

Remember that your priority is heading control. First, control heading for canopy traffic. If you need to climb above the twists to change heading, give weight shift input or even release a brake to prevent a collision, do it. Then deal with the twists.

Here are some options, although there are other techniques that may work, as well:
1. Grab your risers or lines and twist yourself out. Look up, see which way you need to untwist, and manually turn your body under the parachute like you’re wringing out a towel with a friend. Some people say to push risers together and do this, some say pull them apart. Next Level Flight generally recommends the push-together-and-twist method.
2. Stick one arm wing out into the airflow, and use it to windmill your way around. You must do it on the correct side, and you need an arm wing big enough to catch air and influence the turn. If you are sabotaging yourself with an asymmetric leg wing in the opposite direction, this will be less effective! Your leg wing will also provide resistance in the right or wrong direction.
3. Kick and scream. Some say this works. The kicking part may be most effective.
Remember, the key way to prevent body twists is to maintain a symmetrical body position. Also remember that hard openings tend to deliver the most violent body twists but that you can choose your airspeed in a wingsuit. Find what airspeed works best for you and then consciously choose it. Do not just pitch your PC without thinking about what airspeed and angle you want to have for deployment.

Here are some additional notes on twists:
• It is a bad idea to unzip your leg wing while in twists. If you do that, the leg wing will trail behind you like a weather vane. This weather vane will make it more difficult for you to rotate under your canopy and untwist. If you then cut away and your reserve opens in line twists (as they sometimes do), you will once again be dealing with the same weather-vane problem. This situation has resulted in serious injuries. Consider keeping your leg wing zipped up until you’re under a good parachute.
• Think about snag hazards: Do you have a smoke bracket that should be jettisoned? Camera helmet? Frequently, wingsuit cutaways from twists occur in head-high, back-first positions thanks to leg-wing drag. If you cut away and end up head-high and on your back, what might your reserve bridle snag on? Before you attach a snag hazard to yourself, make it part of your emergency procedure plan.
Fly efficiently before and during pull time, maintain awareness through the deployment process and fly your body symmetrically. Know how to reach your PC cleanly and quickly, control your risers and use the right equipment. Have fun out there!

This article appeared in its original form on skydivemag.com.

Jumpers who would like information on wingsuit coaching and training, from beginner to advanced, can contact Next Level Flight at nextlevel.ws.

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