The Future of Wingsuiting:By Taya Weiss on 2009-02-01
In November 2008, 71 wingsuit pilots flew in a stealth-bomber-shaped formation over Skydive Elsinore.
It was the largest slot-specific formation in the short history of this emerging discipline. But how did the event, which was billed as a “Wingsuit World Record,” change the future of wingsuit flying (if at all)? In a discipline still unrecognized by the FAI and the Guinness Book of World Records, what does it mean to try setting new standards?
71: Achievement and Frustration
The idea of a big-way wingsuit record was not new. The most notable previous event was in Cochstedt, Germany in July 2006. Organizers there sought Guinness recognition for the largest number of wingsuits exiting on a single jump run, out of an Antonov 72.
In contrast, the 2008 71-way at Skydive Elsinore was a purely invitational event focused on slot-specific flying in a four-plane formation. A diverse international team reflected a worldwide growth in the discipline and a global desire to achieve something recognizable within our sport. Hailing from as far as South Africa and Russia, participants from 14 countries qualified for a chance to fly in the big-way by demonstrating their skills at official camps and through a referral system. Five were women (the few, the proud, the only gender not to have a single member axed from her slot!).
The 71-way marked significant achievements as well as frustration. In the achievements column, the team flew a new, wider spacing that reduced oscillation and movement within the unlinked formation. This led to multiple smooth and on-level jumps that looked beautiful from the ground.
The previous slot-specific record recognized within the wingsuit community was a 16-way diamond. Like that formation, most small groups had employed a “head-to-foot” spacing technique that encouraged proximity but usually resulted in trailing flyers at the back and reactive vertical motion within the flock.
The scope and level of organizing, while it left much room for improvement, was also a check in the achievements column. While there was some initial grumbling about the level of seriousness and the pushing of safety standards in communications to team members prior to the event, most participants expressed relief that the 71-way jumps would be a focused record attempt and not “just another boogie”.
Frustration arose when it came time to judge whether the group had succeeded in setting a “world record”. The initial goal was to have each wingsuit pilot flying within three-square-meter boxes arranged in a grid that would be superimposed over still photographs of the formation. The organizers’ proclamation of success was based on a photograph where all flyers were either fully within or touching at least one edge of their three-square-meter grid square. However, without an outside judging structure, heated discussions escalated the meaning of “success” and the best way of judging unlinked formations into a full-throttle debate.
Beyond R&D: 100 over Elsinore
The debate about how to judge large wingsuit formations will continue unabated until an outside governing body agrees to recognize one set of objective criteria. The 71-way was destined to be a “work in progress” since it had never been done before. With the lessons learned from the experience, an expanded organizing team is preparing for a 100-way wingsuit event at Skydive Elsinore from November 7th to November 13th, 2009.
While some ask whether trying to set records before there are established categories is futile, skydiving is not a sport that waits for mainstream approval in order to change and grow. Wingsuiting is an especially entrepreneurial and fast-growing subculture. The hope is to continue safely demonstrating what is possible. In doing so, organizers strive to create events that excite new skydivers and unite those already committed to wingsuit flight. Armed with evidence from last year’s judging attempts, big-way organizers are prepared to continue lobbying both the FAI and Guinness.
The 100-way five aircraft formation is invitational. Skills camps are planned between now and July, when official qualifying events begin. A specific Skills Checklist sets out minimum jump requirements and what exit, flying, and canopy skills potential participants need to practice and perfect in order to gain a spot on the team. For more specific information about the 2009 Wingsuit 100-way, go to www.wingsuitworldrecord.com.
Numbers and Recognition
Official recognition of wingsuit flight as a skydiving discipline will bring a clear judging regime – and therefore, is ultimately necessary for long-term growth. Competition drives our sport, and desire to achieve recognizable goals is at the heart of every team. Whether with the versatility and creativity of vertical relative work or the sheer size of the formation World Team, standards and rules (some made to be broken) compel excellence and progress.
In the current vacuum, setting new standards and claiming achievements without official rules is difficult but necessary. The 71-way, for all its imperfections, spurred the wingsuiting community to more seriously consider how it wants to be judged. It also demonstrated that such events have the potential to recruit serious sponsorship and interest from both new skydivers and experienced jumpers in other disciplines. That’s the future.
More articles in this category:
- Wingsuit Flight - A Reference Guide - by DSE (Posted: 2012-08-02)
- Getting Wet: Wingsuits In The Water - by DSE (Posted: 2010-12-20)
- Learning To Fly A Wingsuit - by dse (Posted: 2010-11-21)
- Wingsuit Gear Check - by justin shorb/Flock University (Posted: 2009-03-11)
- The Future of Wingsuiting: - by Taya Weiss (Posted: 2009-02-01)