Wingsuit Rodeos

As wingsuiting has grown in popularity, so have wingsuit rodeos. YouTube and Facebook contain lots of footage of scary wingsuit rodeos performed by inexperienced—and sometimes experienced—wingsuit pilots (aka “horses”) and riders. Even jumpers with extensive wingsuit experience need to learn new exit positions, spotting techniques and instability recovery skills to perform rodeos safely.

Many drop zones have instituted minimum standards for both wingsuit riders and horses, with 100 wingsuit jumps a standard minimum for wingsuit pilots to begin taking others on their backs and 100 overall skydives an accepted appropriate minimum experience level for riders. Drop zones have set such standards because of the challenges the discipline presents (which many new participants may not anticipate), such as:

  • Non-standard exits. Exiting pairs frequently become unstable and occasionally spin violently.
  • Different navigation methods to avoid collisions with other groups
  • Complicated separation and deployment procedures
  • Increased possibility of landing off
SAFETYCHECK20137The photos above show problems caused by an off-the-back deployment. As the rider deployed, his pilot chute bridle wrapped around his neck and camera. After it released from the rider’s neck on its own, it entangled with the wingsuit pilot’s rear-facing camera. The bridle then again wrapped around the rider’s neck until he manually removed it, cleared the pilot chute from the wingsuit burble and separated from the wingsuit pilot’s back. The pair could have avoided all of these dangers by having the rider dismount prior to deployment.

When planning a wingsuit rodeo, be sure both participants have appropriate experience, since this will reduce the risks. Then, dirt dive the jump a few times. The wingsuit pilot should take the time to get in a horizontal position during a portion of each dirt dive, and the pair should discuss how the rider will slide off the wingsuiter’s back at the end of each jump. Be sure the rider knows where the wingsuiter’s main deployment handle is located, how to avoid snagging it and what his proper grip points on the rig are. Work out a bailout signal (a commonly accepted signal for “get off now” is the wingsuiter shaking his entire body), and be sure the rider knows to immediately separate from the wingsuiter once he receives that signal. A good dirt dive—in the mockup and laid out on the ground—will help you work out potential problems before you’re in the air.

Jumpers need to exercise caution when deciding whether to jump with a camera, since rodeo jumps already present plenty of challenges, particularly to a first-time rider. Both parties should heed USPA’s camera-flying recommendations found in Skydiver’s Information Manual Section 6-8 (which includes the recommendation that camera flyers hold at least USPA C licenses).

Be sure to discuss freefall navigation, paying particular attention to the need to navigate off the line of flight to prevent flying into the same airspace as other groups. Use an overhead photo of the DZ when reviewing your exit point and line of flight.

Plan to separate for deployment no lower than 5,000 feet. This provides enough altitude for the rider to get stable and for the wingsuit pilot to leave the rider’s area before he deploys. Remind the rider that altitude awareness is paramount and that watching the wingsuiter fly away may be a distraction.

Having the rider deploy directly from the back of the wingsuiter is ill advised. While it is possible to successfully deploy this way, the risks are significantly greater than the rewards. When a rider deploys off the wingsuiter’s back, it may cause pilot-chute hesitation, a wild pilot chute (when the pilot chute is caught in the wingsuit’s burble), a hard opening for the rider and instability for the wingsuit pilot. The burble created by any wingsuit is large and turbulent. Riders, as well as anyone flying near the wingsuit rodeo pair, should be aware of this.

Wingsuit rodeos are a lot of fun, but they require planning by participants experienced enough to carry out the plan safely.

—Douglas Spotted Eagle | D-29060
USPA AFF Instructor and Coach Examiner
Phoenix-Fly Wingsuit Instructor

Stockton, Utah

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