Wingsuit Rules and Recommendations
Wingsuiting continues to gain in popularity every year. And why not? Sailing through the skies like a glider is a lot of fun! The discipline is attracting lots of jumpers, with a continual influx of new wingsuit flyers joining the ranks. However, not all news related to wingsuiting has been good news, and those who participate in the discipline continue to struggle in some areas, including:
- Adhering to rules and regulations for cloud clearances
- Exit procedures
- Flying safe patterns that avoid aircraft and allow for landing at the drop zone landing area
Some drop zones have elected to ban wingsuiting altogether, usually after drop zone management had to deal with the aftermath of such problems. Wingsuiters themselves can address many of these issues, but drop zones also play a role in helping wingsuit flyers play it safe. More consistent initial wingsuit flight training would go a long way toward improving the knowledge and skill level of wingsuit jumpers.
Wingsuit flyers who “chase clouds”—not an unusual occurrence—can cause many problems. These jumpers exit in clear airspace only to fly toward tall cumulous clouds with the intent of flying near their edges or through them, both of which violate Federal Aviation Administration cloud-clearance regulations. Some wingsuiters have even come close to colliding with their jump planes after chasing clouds and flying into the planes’ descent patterns.
Every year, each drop zone notifies the FAA about skydiving operations at the airport, which includes the radial distances for jump operations (usually a two-mile radius). Wingsuiters who fly outside of the stated radiuses for their drop zones (to chase clouds or otherwise) may create issues with the FAA for themselves and the drop zone’s management, not to mention increase the chances of striking a passing airplane whose pilot thinks he is at a safe distance from the drop zone.
Exit problems are another cause for concern. Douglas Spotted Eagle, a longtime wingsuit instructor and proponent of improving wingsuit training, has seen his fair share of poorly trained wingsuiters with exit problems. Many of these jumpers learned to wingsuit on their own or with a friend who tried to teach it in some random fashion. Lack of proper initial wingsuit training has led to jumpers striking the tail after using incorrect exit techniques, as well as routine problems with group exits. One example is the gainer (backward flip) exit, which causes the jumper to fly down the line of flight of the aircraft. Spotted Eagle states, “Wingsuiters aren’t being trained in wingsuit basics such as how to exit. If there are multiple wingsuit flyers, either everyone should perform a gainer exit or only the first people should. Non-gainer exits need to go last. If the last person does a gainer while no one in front of him does a gainer, the last person is now flying straight toward those who previously exited.” This is the type of important safety information that wingsuit jumpers should learn through structured training, since learning through trial and error has caused serious accidents.
Based on drop zone reporting, wingsuit flyers also seem to have a lot of navigation problems. In some cases, the wingsuiters knew where the drop zone was but failed to fly a pattern that allowed them to land in the main landing area. In other cases, the wingsuiters exited the airplane with absolutely no clue as to where the drop zone was or how to fly a designated flight path. Certainly wingsuiters have a responsibility to plan and adhere to a designated flight plan, but drop zone management can also help reduce off-field landings by developing an established flight pattern and educating the wingsuiters on it. Spotted Eagle notes, “One of the most obvious challenges is that DZs frequently don’t have a pre-determined pathway for pilots and wingsuiters. This not only creates [potential collision] issues when wingsuiters fly down jump run but also creates issues of wingsuiters choosing flight paths that result in off-landings.” Spotted Eagle recommends that DZs create and post a map with clearly marked waypoints for wingsuiters to reduce the off-landing issue, as well as provide a wingsuit briefing and written policy so the jumper knows the DZ’s rules. He said, “ This was the primary success at Skydive Elsinore [in California]: having a separate wingsuit waiver and written briefing that every new or visiting wingsuiter signed and observed.”
Wingsuit design and flying is advancing rapidly. Drop zones can help the sport advance by providing specific guidelines for their jumpers. In addition, the wingsuiting community needs to work together to make sure each wingsuit flyer is properly trained and masters the basic skills required for every flight.
Jim Crouch | D-16979 | USPA Director of Safety and Training