What is a wingsuit?
When looking at wingsuits, there are a lot of manufacturers and design variations.
Bigger or smaller wings, and different air inlet and airfoil shapes.
But the basic principle is always the same: a suit, with three wings between arms and legs.
These wings inflate due to the relative wind, and form an airfoil.
Shaped just like an airplane wing, it provides lift and enables the pilot to glide vast distances across the skies.
How far can you fly?
When looking at how well a wingsuit flies, we generally speak about the glide-ratio (or Lift vs Drag).
This is a number that indicates the forward distance flown for every meter of altitude that is lost.
A wingsuit flown really well, has a glide ratio of about 2.5:1 (so 2.5 meters forward, for every meter you drop).
When we skydive, we typically jump from 12.000 ft (4km) and open our main parachute at 3000 ft (1km).
So we have a freefall of about 9000 ft (3km). At a glide-ratio of 2.5:1, this means we can cover about 7.5 km of distance.
This distance can be even further if we are flying with the wind (downwind).
Stamina is also a great factor, as it takes quite a bit of muscle strength to fly a wingsuit to its full capacity.
That’s why in general, the performance tends to be a bit lower on a full altitude skydive.
People tend get better results on lower jumps, such as those performed within the sport of BASE jumping.
How fast can you fly forward?
The average forward speed of a wingsuit is around 160 km/h (100 mph).
But the direction flown with regards to the wind has a big influence in the resulting ground speed.
If there are 100 km/h upper winds, flying into the wind, the wingsuit will only fly at a ground speed of (160-100) 60 km/h.
If the wind is in the back during flight, the wind speed actually ads to the speed of the wingsuit.
Which means the wingsuit can actually end up flying at (160+100) 260 km/h relative to the ground,
just because of the push the wind is giving.
This is similar to a boat in a river, going slower upstream and faster downstream.
How slow can you get the suit to fly?
A wingsuit has two distinct modes of flying.
A slight diving position aimed at flying the biggest horizontal distance possible.
Or a more flat position, where most of the lift is used to keep the suit flying as slow vertical as possible.
This results in long freefall times, but the performance in terms of distance does tend to suffer in this mode of flying.
A normal skydiver falls down at around 200 km/h (120 mph).
In a wingsuit we can easily slow this down to about 65 km/h (40 mph).
Obviously resulting in a freefall that’s 3 times longer than a normal freefall.
If you fly a wingsuit really steep and quickly flatten out the dive,
its possible to slow down to speeds close to 0 km/h (0 mph) vertical or even brief minimal climbs.
This is often referred to as a swoop, flare or plane-out.
Can I try this?
A wingsuit is rigged around normal skydiving gear.
Compared to normal freefall, the distances you fly and movements you make are
much more sensitive due to the larger surface area the wings give you.
And as you can imagine, these wings also restrict the movement quite a bit. You can’t reach upwards, for example.
So it’s required to have a good basis in terms of knowledge and skills in skydiving to safely be able to fly a wingsuit.
Though every person is different, 200 skydives is widely seen as the bare minimum experience level at which
a person could have learnt enough to be able to safely fly a wingsuit.
In some countries regulations even specify having at least 500 jumps before you are allowed to fly a wingsuit.
A minimum of 200 skydives is also the norm we use when it comes to teaching people to fly.
When it comes to experience, more is always better. And in this case, also a lot safer.
What can I do to prepare for wingsuit flight?
A lot of people ask this question.
Quite often a lot of jumps and money are spent on solo tracking dives and expensive tracking suits.
Though this is great fun, it doesn’t actually teach you a whole lot.
The best advice to anyone wanting to fly a wingsuit would be, jump and have fun!
There are many other disciplines within skydiving, such as freefly, atmonauti and RW.
These disciplines teach you more about levels, fallrates, relative flight, exit, (group)separation and
general body control and skills than any solo skydive can ever do.
- RW/FS teaches you stuff about levels, proximity, exits, approach and separation.
- Freefly teaches you a lot on flying more than one body position.
- Tracking teaches you dealing with forward speed and levels (when done in groups) and solo it teaches you a bit on performance (which is the least important aspect when it comes to learning wingsuit flying, yet the ONLY thing most people new to the sport focus on)
- Making A LOT of skydives in general teaches you about body and heading control during opening, and dealing with off-heading openings etc.
- CRW teaches you a lot of the flying strategy you need when it comes to flying a wingsuit (not backing into formations backwards or diving into them by collapsing wings, but FLYING every single thing you do, in full controll) as well as important packing and canopy deployment and landing skills that come in handy for wingsuit flight.
Learning to fly your body is the most important thing to do.
Though flying a wingsuit might be your only goal, you don’t have to feel bad for actually enjoying some of the other great disciplines within this sport.
Like any other sport, a good physical fitness does help.
Especially when it comes to formation flying with wingsuits, weight can be a limiting factor.
So if wingsuit flying is one of your long term goals when you start skydiving, also try and make your health and fitness part of that planning.
The gear used for a wingsuit jump is not much different than the one used for normal skydiving.
The only thing to pay attention to is having a BOC (throw out) opening system and choosing the right canopy.
Parachutes all have different opening characteristics.
Some fly a bit more aggressive then others, and quite often the opening of a parachute is related to how it flies.
For wingsuit flight, it’s recommended to fly a canopy that performs well on openings, and doesn’t have a tendency to quickly spin or dive.
For those who dive deeper into wingsuit flying, more gear specific modifications are possible, though not always necessary.
Check the safety and training section for more in-depth information on the subject.
Who can teach me?
There is no worldwide standard when it comes to instruction and coach ratings for wingsuit flight.
But several manufacturers have their own training systems, and subsequent ratings.
In general, looking for an experienced flyer that has a good reputation and experience in teaching is more than recommendable.
With the wingsuit community being a close one, just asking around is usually enough to find out how good a teacher someone is.
Depending if it’s a full time skydiver or someone only flying as a hobby, instruction and coaching
might come at the price of a slot and a drink at the bar, or paying a full coaching fee.
Regardless if it’s just a slot or more you are paying for your instructor or coach, if he or she is a good capable flyer and coach,
that single jump and (video)debrief will teach you more than a dozen jumps made by yourself can ever.
All members from Fly Like Brick are official coaches, and train, coach and educate according to
the Phoenix-Fly Coaching program (PFC). A further list of international, well trained coaches can be found here.