Navigating through the skies at speed was once the preserve of superheroes. But thanks to the wingsuit, anyone with enough skydiving experience can swoop and dive like a bird at speeds of up to 360kph.
A wingsuit is a high-tech jumpsuit with fabric slung between the legs and under the arms to increase lift, and anyone with 200 jumps under their belt can freefall in a whole new way after half a day’s instruction at Skydive City in Zephyrhills, Florida. The basics of controlling the suit are taught on the ground in training drills. After three hours, you’re lead onto a Twin Otter plane for a drop from 3,660m with an instructor communicating tips with sign language.
“Before the flight, there’s a lot of muscle memory training to help get the body position right, and practice exits and deployments,” says instructor Travis Mickle. “When that starts to feel natural, you can focus on all the amazing aerobatic possibilities.” After two assisted drops, the next one’s solo.
“You need to process, react and adjust a lot faster than when skydiving,” says Jonathan Francis, a 25-year-old advertising strategist from London, who took his first wingsuit flight in 2010. “In a split second you can put hundreds of metres between yourself and another flyer, I can make a sharp, banking 90-degree turn with just a tweak of the head, swooping to build up speed. The feeling is just incredible.”
Advice from the inside
Head for heights: “If you maintain the right body position, it’s not physically strenuous,” says Tony Uragallo, the godfather of wingsuit flying who tests his designs at Skydive City’s drop zone. “Mental stress, fighting the concern that ‘this is dangerous’, is the biggest problem for the first-timer. Learning to relax is key.”
Florida Plus: After the wingsuit comes more adventure!