Let me ask you this: When was the last time that you saw the pilot running down a safety checklist on the jump plane?
If you’re paying attention, you certainly have--or at least seen the clipboard stuffed somewhere in the cockpit, lookin’ official.
Metal-tube pilots have an actual checklist to run down to confirm the safety of the gear that heaves us all up into the sky. That’s a great idea -- it’s a reasonably complicated system, and a checklist ensures that nothing’s being forgotten.
Now: when have you ever seen a nylon pilot with a clipboard and a pen, spinning briskly around in front of a mirror and checking things off? Yeah--never. Even though a wingsuit has lots of little safety details that need to be confirmed before every flight, our before-takeoff checklist exists only in our heads--and it’s significantly more complicated than a standard skydiving gear check.
Let’s make that checklist a little easier to remember, hey? A gear check should be a mantra. Here’s the abbreviated checklist to add to your “standard” skydiving gear check:
The Four-Three Wingsuit Check
Here’s what it means.
This will be familiar to any skydiver, since it’s been a recommendation since the dawn of the sport: you should perform a pre-flight gear check three times. Perform one in the hangar, one before hoppin’ on the plane and one before you exit. Also: Never underestimate the value of another pair of eyeballs during this process.
Two leg straps and one chest strap are the only things that keep us skydivers from being skyfallers. All wingsuits cover up two-thirds of those vital bits of webbing; some wingsuits (in BASE mode) obscure the chest strap as well*. As you might imagine, fatalities--and many close calls--have resulted.
Check them with your eyeballs before you’re zipped in. Some suits fit snugly enough that the straps seem tightened when they’re not (gulp!), and once those straps are out of sight, they can easily slip out of mind. After you’re zipped in, you can check your legs by lifting your shoulders and feeling for the pull of the leg straps.
Make sure you know exactly where all three of your handles are, and that they’ll be available to you while you’re flying. Your cutaway and reserve handles must be readily accessible and visible to you in flight -- so make sure your suit is fitted and attached in a way that puts those handles on proud display.
Switching from BOC to leg pouch? Switching from leg pouch to BOC? Best be damn sure you know which one you’re wearing.
When you’re fully zipped in, every zipper on the suit should be zipped and every cable should be properly routed. If a zipper is down, you’re in for a rodeo.
Your wingsuit closure zippers aren’t the casual affair at the front of your pants, either, my friends. Check: Are the female and male ends mated properly so that each tooth of the zipper alternates? This is checked at the fitting end of the zipper. If that’s not done properly, you risk losing that wing in flight (or potentially shifting the zipper during deployment, which can cause jamming and possible damage).
Eminent wingsuit athlete and coach Matt Blank has additional advice. “I have my students zip their arms all the way closed,” he explains, “Then touch their handles and then open both arm zippers. This insures that the clothing they have on under their suit does not inhibit the student from reaching his or her handles--or is a risk for being caught in zippers if they need to rapidly unzip after deployment.”
Look at your pressure zippers, too. Are the pressure relief zippers in the appropriate place for the flight, and symmetrical from arm to arm? For beginner flight, we quite often unzip the pressure zippers, which naturally comes at a cost to performance. As we advance in the sport, we may zip them partially closed or closed all the way. In either case, check for symmetry. If one arm is zipped differently than the opposite, the suit will have an asymmetric inflation--causing an unbalanced flight.
Image submitted by bruno.ferrazza
Check for dangly anything: cables, webbing, half-stowed pilot chutes, camera bits, etc. As a rule, dangly bits are bad.
Oh. and another thing: Never disconnect your RSL for wingsuit jumps. Take it from Richard Webb, one of the discipline’s most experienced and respected athletes (as well as the founder of the science-forward, no-nonsense human flight information source Top Gun BASE).
“I've been saved by an RSL when my reserve pillow got sucked into my wingsuit on a spinning malfunction,” Webb explains. “It literally saved my life. I didn't have an AAD at the time. Now, I will never wingsuit without an RSL. Ever. I strongly endorse RSL use for all wingsuit ops. The data is conclusive. Even on spinning malfunctions on tiny cross-braced canopies, RSLs and Skyhooks work remarkably well at getting you under an inflated reserve safely with minimal line twists.”
Zero on Your Altitude Indicators
Make sure your AAD is on (and reads zero), as well as your other altitude indicators -- and that you can see your visual alti while you’re in flight mode.
If you wingsuit with an AAD, you need to know this: most AADs will not fire at even modest wingsuit speeds. That said, they have saved wingsuit pilots who got little-bunny-foo-food on the way down, so don’t let that dissuade you from turning yours on.
The Rest of the Recipe
A good gear check requires that you know your gear. As a wingsuit pilot, it falls on you to become intimately familiar with the design, operation and function of the suit you’re whizzing around in. If you’re checking your flocking buddy and you’re not familiar with his/her particular equipment, ask. (If your buddy doesn’t seem to know what the hell he/she is wearing, take that as a warning.)
Allow your intuition some room to breathe, here. Check for a comfortable range of motion, that the configuration makes sense to you and that you feel good in the suit. You can rest assured that if you don’t feel good in the suit, you’re not going to have a good time.
*Sound confusing? Yeah. Well. It is. Wingsuit design varies widely by brand and model--sometimes, with some manufacturers, even within the model. Wingsuits are often built to be configured differently, depending on the jump specs, the container design, pilot preference and--I dunno--current mood. You are likely going to have questions. Ask them of your mentors and the manufacturer of your suit.