Wingsuit Deployments Part 2

Deploying in a wingsuit is perhaps one of the most complicated tasks in skydiving. The current trend in wingsuit design—toward more efficient and powerful designs that are capable of higher forward speeds than previous suits—translates to higher risk for pilots who are not practicing proper technique when deploying their main canopies. 

One of the most prevalent issues is deploying at too high of an airspeed, which can damage equipment (and the pilot) and encourage violent off-heading openings that lead to severe line and body twists. However, certain deployment procedures and other actions are proving successful at helping jumpers increase their chances of having safe, on-heading openings.

Becoming Deployment Ready

Wingsuit flare (increasing the angle of attack much as a canopy pilot increases the angle of attack during a canopy flare) is a topic of much conversation among jumpers, but many seem to misunderstand how they can use it to improve their wingsuit openings.

First, you must understand that forward speed increases when you initiate a flare in a high-performance wingsuit. Jumpers commonly use this technique in wingsuit performance competitions to get a final slingshot of speed at the end of the competition window. A high-performance wingsuit wants to convert this retained energy,

and the jumper needs to bleed it off before initiating deployment. Fortunately, the process of reducing your speed also involves an increase in glide (or even an altitude gain). This is beneficial in almost every realistic scenario: It gives you more time to deploy, more options at breakoff and more freedom to choose the location and altitude of your deployment.

Jumpers can use two common techniques to transition to a deployment-ready flight configuration:

  1. Intentional flare
  2. Relax/reduce (relax body configuration, reduce airspeed)

Using Intentional Flare

For an intentional flare, keep these points in mind:

1. The best (highest) flare emerges from level flight not a steep dive. What this means is that you must smoothly transition from a low-angle-of-attack, high-speed flight configuration to a horizontal glide path before gradually increasing your angle of attack.

To state this less technically: You dive, you level out and only then do you kick it upward and go head-high. If you level out before going aggressively head-high, you will avoid scenarios that can lead to a high-speed stall.

2. As you’re climbing in your flare, your airspeed slows and the angle of attack you will need to continue to climb increases. This means that as you are ascending in the flare, you are configuring yourself to be more head-high, and at the apex of your flare you will be at the highest angle of attack (most head-high).

3. While deploying at the apex of a flare at a high angle of attack means deploying into a large burble, keep in mind that it also means deploying at a low airspeed. The low-airspeed deployment is an effective and manageable method, as long as your pilot chute and bridle are the correct length. (An 8- to 9-foot-long bridle and a 30-inch diameter pilot chute are ideal for wingsuit skydiving).

4. If you wait until after the apex of your flare, beware: You will tend to deploy in a head-low configuration, which increases the risk of complications and twists, as you are more likely to be flung as your deploying parachute rapidly corrects your angle.

Relax/Reduce

For the relax/reduce technique, keep these points in mind:

1. Plan ahead to relax your body configuration. Take a breath, and let yourself sink into the suit instead of maintaining a firm frame. This de-powers the suit and begins to bring you back into the realm of friendly deployment speeds. From this configuration, an initiated flare will not result in as much of a slingshot horizontal-speed increase. Nor should it have the stored energy to allow an altitude gain. If you’re still feeling a lot of G-force in your flare, then you haven’t slowed yourself down enough before initiating the flare.

2. This technique is better suited to pilots who wish to deploy at an angle of attack that allows more airflow over the top surface of their wingsuits. That is to say, instead of deploying at a very high angle of attack (cobra position) and low airspeed, you deploy in a more level configuration at moderately reduced speed.

3. In this technique, the concept behind flaring before deployment is to lower your forward speed and change your flight path angle and the airflow over your suit to encourage clean extraction of your parachute. The idea is to not gain altitude or deploy head-high at a very low airspeed.

Deploying your pilot chute too early in a flare means that you risk deploying at too high of an airspeed and too low of an angle of attack. Ideally, you should aim to throw your pilot chute either:

  1. just prior to the apex of your flare to allow you to be slightly head high and lose sufficient speed or
  2. after the relax/reduce deceleration technique and at a more level glide path.

Reducing airspeed reduces the internal pressure in your wingsuit, making the reach for the pilot chute easier, which also helps you have a cleaner and more symmetrical deployment.

Symmetry in your aerodynamics is paramount. Without symmetrical lift, weight and drag, your wing will rotate on its longitudinal axis (roll axis). This means you should make the same movement with your left and right limbs. Remember that extending one leg more than the other will cause an asymmetrical driving force; if you extend the left leg and bend the right leg, you will turn slightly. Even a slight turn will make line twists more likely.

Canopy Choice for Advanced Flyers

When you’re flying a powerful, advanced, high-speed suit, canopy choice is a very important consideration. If you’re flying a smaller wingsuit, it can be reasonable to use a non-wingsuit-specific canopy. However, you should invest in a wingsuit-specific canopy before you begin flying a high-performance suit. The peace of mind that results from more consistent openings makes a wingsuit-specific canopy more than worth the investment.

Several companies have spent time and money producing canopies specifically for wingsuiting, and these products have become very popular among leading wingsuit pilots for good reason. In the U.S. in the last six months alone, three wingsuit fatalities were the result of deployment and main-parachute complications. In each of these cases, the incident would have been less likely if the jumper had been using a wingsuit-specific canopy. If that isn’t motivation enough (maybe you believe you’re invincible), then think about the money you’ll save on reserve repacks, which will offset the cost of a more reliable wingsuit canopy.

Whatever you fly, when you pack your wingsuit canopy, consider following the advice described in Part 1 of this series. Those techniques work well.

Next Level Flight instructors provide one-on-one coaching, teach at camps and provide DZ seminars for all levels of wingsuiting. Jumpers who would like more information or have questions or comments about this article can reach out to the instructors at nextlevel.ws. 

 

About the Author
Matt Gerdes, D-32437, is the founder of Squirrel, a manufacturer of wingsuits and equipment; and Next Level Flight, an organization that works to further the education of wingsuit pilots and BASE jumpers. He is also the author of “The Great Book of BASE” and has made more than 1,200 safe BASE jumps (the majority wingsuit flights from alpine cliffs) in addition to a couple thousand skydives.

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