Jake “Feather” Morse is a Phoenix Fly wingsuit coach operating out of Minnesota. He has been skydiving for 5 years and has 800 jumps, 350 of those wearing a prom dress. Despite being relatively new, he’s already making an impact on the scene by having “the perfect build for wingsuiting” by being as skinny as he is tall and showing up at US Performance Cup competitions to throw down some competitive scores.
Wingsuit Performance Flying
With our new discipline now recognized by the FAI and USPA, an official intro to Wingsuit Performance Flying is in order. Have you been looking for something to do when no other wingsuiters show up? Did you recently finish your first flight and still get psyched about your extended freefall time, the added horizontal speed, and the amazing distance you just covered? Wingsuit performance flying just might be a discipline for you.
There are three categories of performance flying, all measured from a vertical gates at 3000 and 2000 meters (9840 to 6560 feet, for those of us living in the imperial system). The clock starts when you first touch the top gate and continues to tick until you reach the bottom. Time, horizontal distance covered, and average horizontal velocity are all measured on separate jumps as separate categories. Events traditionally consist of two jumps in each category, and the top score on each round sets the bar for each competitor who will earn percentage of that bar based on how their score compares. Scores are measured by competition flysights, which all have the same software installed and are not allowed to provide audio feedback. Jump run is usually adjusted so we’re all able to fly straight lines in isolated lanes. All official competition scores are published and recorded here.
- Achieving Maximum Horizontal Speed:
This category favors heavier competitors. With added mass, they can best utilize and convert their increased fall rate to increased horizontal speed. You’ll want to start by diving as steep as you can at the window and making a smooth transition from that steep dive into an angle best suited for horizontal speed. Lighter pilots have been known to pull their arms in close to their sides, collapsing their arm wing and removing as much drag as possible. To practice, I recommend chasing fast pilots, keeping them below you, and finding the tipping point where you begin slowing down horizontally and speeding up vertically. Ideally you can make it back to that tipping point without a visual cue of other wingsuiters in the air.
- Achieving Maximum Time:
This category favors lighter competitors, and is the only category not influenced by winds aloft. Although it seems counter intuitive, you’ll want to begin again by diving at the window and gathering as much airspeed as you can. As you approach, the goal is a smooth flare at the top of the window to transfer all that speed into lift, almost to the point of a stall. When that settles, you’ll want to maintain a position getting enough horizontal airspeed to still be generating lots of lift, but not accelerating vertically.
- Achieving Maximum Distance:
This category is a fine balance between the two others, and requires the most tuning. Although the round starts roughly similar to a time round, after the flare into the window each pilot needs to determine how much time they want to trade-off in favor of horizontal speed in order to achieve their maximum distance. Since winds aloft influence this, technique may also change based on wind direction and speed. A pilot with a strong tailwind may decide that they want to trade only a very little amount of time for speed and let the winds aloft push them the rest of the way. With a headwind or crosswind however, they may need to tip themselves further down to drive into the wind to achieve a greater distance.
Finally, practice practice practice. Only with practice will you get consistent scores and know how to really fly each category. A flysight really helps if you want to accurately measure yourself in distance or speed, but because these measurements are subject to winds aloft, the best methods are discovered flying next to others. These skills really help if you find yourself low on a formation, getting out on a really long spot from the dropzone, or even diving last out of an Otter after a large flock. As always, don’t forget to smile and have fun.