Wingsuit Gear CheckBy justin shorb/Flock University on 2009-03-11
Whether you jump at a large dropzone or a small one, you’ve probably shared a ride to altitude with a wingsuiter. Like all skydivers, wingsuiters should receive a thorough gear check, but a wingsuit also creates unique concerns that a watchful eye can catch. Regardless of experience level, it’s possible to make a mistake while gearing up with a wingsuit – in the same way that its possible for any of us to make a mistake while gearing up for a traditional skydive. This is a situation where your vigilance can save a fellow skydiver’s life. Here are a few recommendations that Flock U has for gear checks:
A wingsuit skydiver is a skydiver first and a wingsuiter second – you will need to check his or her rig, chest strap, altimeter, goggles, etc. in the same way that you would with any other skydiver. Make sure that the jumper’s AAD is on (if he or she is jumping with one). Pay particular attention to the jumper’s cutaway and reserve handles. While a wingsuiter’s emergency procedures aren’t any different than a traditional skydiver’s, in some suits, handles can become pulled into or obstructed by the fabric of the suit. That can result in a dangerous surprise if a cutaway or reserve pull becomes necessary.
After inspecting the rig, examine the wingsuiter’s arm wings – and in particular, examine the connection between the wing and the jumper’s torso. There’s unfortunately no “one size fits all” rule for arm wing inspection, as different wingsuit designs have different wing configurations. That being the case, there are several general categories of wing/torso connections that each raise their own concerns:
Cable Thread Systems. Cable Thread Systems consist of a cutaway-style cable that runs through alternating torso and wing tabs, which keep the wing attached to the torso. By pulling on the cutaway cables, the wingsuiter can release the arms of the suit in an emergency. This design can generally be found in BirdMan brand suits, among others. For a Cable Thread Systesm, look to see if the cables are threaded correctly through the tabs, all the way up. In some cases, they will alternate evenly between wing and torso, but often the cable will intentionally be threaded to skip one or more tabs. Don’t hesitate to ask the wingsuiter if you’re not sure – even experienced wingsuiters may not know the proper configuration for suits that they haven’t flown before, and some wingsuiters have preferences for arranging these tabs that differ from the standard. Make sure the wing cutaway handles are properly secured in a Velcro or tuck-tab housing. Note that there’s often both a front and a rear cable on these systems - so check both, on both wings.
Zipper Attachment Systems. Zipper Attachment Systems are found primarily on Tonysuit, Phoenix Fly and S-fly brand suits, though there are many different suit designs on the market that use one form or another of the Zipper Attachment System. These systems generally come in two types: “over the shoulder zippers” and “bottom of wing” zipper attachments.
“Over the shoulder zippers” are what their name implies – a zipper that runs over the wingsuiter’s shoulder, which connects the wing to the torso. Generally, in this design, the wing isn’t detached from the torso even in an emergency, and the “over the shoulder” zipper is usually only unzipped if the wingsuiter is removing the suit from his or her rig while on the ground. In these models, there’s generally a Velcro breakaway or other cutaway system or a safety sleeve (described below). Look to see if the zipper is attached properly and zipped all the way down. Some wingsuiters will intentionally leave several inches of the zipper unzipped in the back, so ask before correcting a slightly unzipped wing! If the over the shoulder zipper design includes a Velcro breakaway system, check to make sure the Velcro “sandwich” is holding the top and bottom of the wing together and that the Velcro isn’t bunched or pinched – these gaps can widen when the wing encounters the relative wind.
Newer Tonysuits brand model have a “safety sleeve” – a ZP liner – that allows the armwing to silde up the jumper’s arm, permitting the wingsuiter to reach canopy controls in an emergency. As a result, there’s no arm wing cutaway system to inspect. When looking at these suits, make sure that the arm zipper – the zipper that runs from the jumper’s shoulder to his or her wrist – is fully zipped. There will generally be a snap or tuck tab on the bottom of the wing; check to see if they are properly stowed.
While inspecting the arm wing, check the wingsuiter’s wrist-mount altimeter (if he or she is jumping with one). Make sure that the jumper can release his or her wings without undoing the wrist-mount (which can happen, for example, if the wrist-mount is put on after the arm wing is zipped up in wingsuit designs with a thumb loop). This is a dangerous and easily avoidable method of losing a wrist-mount altimeter!
Check to make sure the wingsuiter’s legstraps are on. Leg straps can be missed by wingsuiters while gearing up, as the suits tends to restrict motion and prevent the jumper from seeing his or her legstraps. Even highly experienced wingsuiters have admitted to momentarily forgetting leg straps while gearing up. When using a wingsuit, visual inspection is insufficient to make sure that the leg straps are on – the wingsuit can deceptively pull the strap against the leg, making it appear that the strap is on. Ask the wingsuiter to shrug – the jumper should feel the resistance in the harness created by tightly worn leg straps. Alternately, you can lift the bottom of the wingsuiter’s rig (in other words, under the pilot chute). If the rig moves more than a couple of inches, it’s not secure enough.
Each leg of a Tonysuits brand wingsuits also has a leg zipper pull up system, which is basically a bridle that connects to the leg wing zipper. The bridle is stowed against the leg by Velcro or tuck tabs. Also incorporated in this design is a pair of magnets that keep the bottom of the wing together. These magnets must go over the zip pull ups. If they are under the zip pull up, they may jam under canopy.
Are the wingsuiter’s booties on? Particularly when the wingsuiter is using a borrowed or rental suit, booties may be ill-fitting. Badly fitted and poorly positioned booties can result in a lost bootie, which can make for an incredibly difficult flight and dangerous canopy deployment. Check to make sure the bootie is on, and straight.
Help to make this year a safer year for skydiving by looking out for your fellow jumpers. Making it a habit to look at others’ gear can only result in positive results. Save someone’s life this year - it could be yours!
Thanks to Jeff Donahue and Andreea Olea for their help in this article. All photos courtesy DSE.
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)