Performing a Wingsuit Gear Check
With the rise of popularity of wingsuiting, even if you’ve never flown a wingsuit, you may be in the position to give a gear check to someone wearing one. Although many of the techniques go back to the basics of skydiving, others are particular to the discipline. Adding to the confusion is that wingsuit design varies by brand and model, and suits can be rigged differently depending on how the container is designed or due to jumper preference. So if there is ever any doubt as you go through the following steps, consult the manufacturer.
When it comes to wingsuiting, the straps are often obscured by the wingsuit material, so it is particularly important to check both leg straps and the chest strap frequently. At least one death and one close-call have resulted from wingsuiters neglecting to put on their leg straps. Make checking them a part of your routine. Check them visually at least once; sometimes the fit of the suit can make it feel as if your leg straps are on even when they are not. When the wingsuit is on and fully zipped (such as when you’re in the plane), you can still check the leg straps by lifting each of your shoulders. You should feel tightness from the leg straps and if you don’t or you are unsure—double check!
Check the location and availability of your three handles. Be aware that, depending on the wingsuit, the main handle may be tougher than usual to reach if the wing is large. However, your cutaway and reserve handles should be readily accessible and visible no matter what type of suit you are flying. A suit that is not properly attached to the rig or is improperly sized runs the risk of obscuring the cutaway and reserve handles. Skydivers should be as familiar with the proper assembly of their suit as they are with the operation of their rig. At least one wingsuiting fatality has been attributed to unfamiliar gear and an inability to reach the emergency handles.
Cables and Zippers
Modern suits use either zippers, cables or a combination of both to attach the wingsuit to the rig or secure the jumper in the suit. When fully assembled, every zipper should be zipped and every cable should be routed. If something is unzipped or there’s a cable dangling, then the suit is almost certainly improperly attached. Check with a wingsuit instructor and check the user’s manual for your suit. If you’re in doubt, then don’t jump!
RSLs, AADs and Pilot Chutes
Make sure that you know how your reserve static line (RSL), automatic activation device (AAD) and pilot chute work with your wingsuit. If you decide to disconnect your RSL for wingsuit jumps, consult with your local rigger to decide the best place to leave the RSL clasp since it can pose a threat to your three-ring release system if left dangling or connected to any part of the three-ring assembly. If you jump with an AAD, be aware that most AADs will not fire at even modest wingsuit speeds (but may save your life should you lose consciousness); If you use one, make sure it’s on. Because large wing sizes may make a bottom-of-container-mounted pilot chutes difficult to reach, some advanced suits require pilot chutes to be stored in a “BASE pouch” located on the upper leg area. No matter how experienced you are, familiarize yourself with any new location of the pilot chute; realizing at pull time that you can’t find it is not a good experience for anyone.
Remember to check the rest of your skydiving accessories including shoes, gloves, goggles, helmet, audible altimeter and visual altimeter. In particular, make sure that you can see your visual altimeter while you are in the tracking position—for ease of use, many wingsuiters prefer to mount it on their chest straps.
Range of Motion, Comfort and Look
Your range of motion, comfort and the “look” of the suit all serve as good indicators of whether or not it has been properly assembled. If something doesn’t look or feel right, check it until you’re certain it is.
Develop a System
As with your regular gear check, it’s best to develop a system that you use every time. The routine should definitely include checking a fellow wingsuiter if there are others on the load. And always have someone check you, even if they are not a wingsuiter. The key to giving and receiving a good gear check is to know your gear—its design, operation and function. If you’re checking your buddy and you’re not familiar with his particular gear, ask. The worst that can happen is you’ll learn something.
Wingsuiting can add hazards to the already dangerous sport of skydiving. Doing one gear check reduces that risk, and doing three is three times as good. Check yourself in the hangar, before loading and before getting out. If you’re flocking, you can easily do three checks for your buddy and he can do three checks for you. If not, then ask for someone else to check you at least once—another set of eyes always helps, whether they are familiar with your specific gear or not. And always offer to check someone else—your eyes could be the ones that save someone from having a malfunction on his wingsuit jump.
Because some wingsuit designs make bottom-of-container pilot chutes difficult to reach, some suits are built with a pilot-chute pouch located on the upper leg area. Photo by Niklas Daniel.
—Alan Martinez | D-29572
AFF Instructor, Coach Examiner and Phoenix-Fly Wingsuit Instructor