Equipment

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By Taya Weiss of the Lightning Flight wingsuit, freefly and angle-flight school at Skydive Perris in California.

The airflow created by wingsuits allows jumpers to achieve long horizontal flights but also creates specific needs when it comes to gear. When transitioning to wingsuit skydiving from other disciplines, jumpers should carefully choose gear that can handle a wingsuit’s large burble and the need for symmetry on deployment. Check with a parachute rigger or the manufacturer before making any modifications to or swapping components of your parachute system to be sure the changes are safe and maintain the system’s airworthiness.

Appropriate gear includes:

1. A docile, lightly loaded main parachute.

The extra surface area of a wingsuit and the angle of deployment may cause asymmetry on opening, so to reduce the chance of a cutaway, a wingsuit flyer should choose a docile main parachute that opens on heading and can fly straight even with a few line twists. Many professional wingsuit skydivers choose to jump 7-cell main canopies because of their predictable opening characteristics. Especially as a beginner wingsuit flyer, keep your wing loading to 1.3:1. It’s also best to choose a larger canopy regardless of wing loading, since smaller canopies have shorter line sets that make it more difficult for them to clear wingsuit burbles.

2. A longer bridle.

To help the pilot chute clear the wingsuit’s burble, a 9-foot-long bridle is the wingsuit skydiving standard. For beginners jumping smaller suits, a 7-foot bridle (at minimum) will work. The shorter a pilot chute is, the higher the risk of a pilot chute hesitation or pilot chute in tow. The longer bridle does not have any effect on freefall skydives, so even if wingsuiting is only one of your disciplines, there is no downside to this gear change. Some wingsuit skydivers jumping very large, advanced suits have experimented with bridles up to 12 feet in length. However, there is a point of diminishing return, and a too-long bridle can entangle with a pilot chute or dance in the burble. While jumpers may have a different ideal bridle lengths based on their size, weight and suit’s surface area, the 9-foot standard works for most and is available from all major manufacturers.

3. A large pilot chute with a lightweight handle.

Choose a 28- to 30-inch-diameter pilot chute, which, combined with a long bridle, will generate the snatch force necessary for a clean opening. Pilot chutes larger than 30 inches are not suitable for non-wingsuit jumps because the openings they cause at faster freefall speeds can be too hard.
Use a lightweight deployment handle since in the wingsuit’s burble a heavy handle may fall through the openings on the mesh side of the pilot chute and cause a pilot chute in tow. You may want to use a rigid handle made from PVC pipe or carbon fiber since you’ll be able to feel it through any extra fabric that may be in the way and distinguish it more easily from a wingsuit gripper. Additionally, taping over or filling in a hollow handle will help reduce uneven airflow and lower the risk of getting a thumb or finger stuck.

4. Open corners on the main packing tray.

The main deployment bag almost always leaves the container at a trailing angle during a wingsuit jump because of the jumper’s forward movement at deployment time. That angle varies based on the size of the jumper’s wingsuit and deployment technique, but it is consistently more angled than during an average skydive, where the bag deploys more vertically off the jumper’s back. Having a master rigger or the container manufacturer remove the stitching from the bottom corners of the main packing tray allows the bottom flap of the container to open completely and creates more space for the deployment bag to come out at an angle. This reduces the chance that the bag will catch on a corner of the pack tray and cause an uneven deployment. There is no downside for freefall deployments.

5. Audible and visual altimeters.

Mount your visual altimeter on your harness, chest strap or hand since your wings will obscure your view of a wrist-mounted altimeter. It’s also wise to use an audible altimeter in case of instability, distraction or unfamiliarity with slower freefall speeds.

6. Automatic activation device.

Although there are some unresolved questions as to how well AADs function during the flight of a fully inflated wingsuit or in the burble of an unstable one, AADs have made many documented saves of wingsuit flyers. There is no downside to using an AAD for wingsuit skydiving.

Happy flights!

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