At the World Freefall Convention held at Quincy, IL August 6-15, 1999, I visited Bird-Man International's vendor tent wanting to have a chance to fly the Bird-man Wing Suit. They were giving seminars on Bird-man flying. After attaching the suit to my gear and putting my gear on, I dirt dove the "Flight Plan" with Jari Kuosma.
The procedure was...On jumprun, I was to find out if we were on "Jumprun Right" or "Jumprun Left" and plan on flying a U shaped pattern with right or left hand turns respectively. For my exit, I would hop out backwards from a tailgate aircraft with my arms crossed and legs closed for keeping my wings closed. Once in freefall, I would open my arm and leg wings to the flying position. Then, I was to make a right or left turn to "crosswind" depending if I was on Jumprun Right or Jumprun Left respectively. Next was to practice my wave off and pull sequence. 3 heel clicks to wave-off. Pulling involved closing the legs and both arms placing the right hand on the handle of my BOC. While the legs remain together and nearly straight, both arms spread again with one hand aggressively pitching the pilot chute to the relative wind. The arms are immediately retracted to the body again to keep the burble small. After a practice pull sequence, I would then get to fly the suit in relative flight with Jari continuing the right (or left) hand curve back towards the drop zone. Once down to about 4,000 feet, I would wave-off and deploy for real. Because of the horizontal vector of the flight, the pilot chute and parachute launch about 40 degrees toward the feet. During deployment, I can be unzipping my wings to free my arms and then undo my booties so my legs would be free to run out the landing if necessary.
Being overly safety conscious as I usually am, I was not content to have dirt dove my jump only on the ground. So, I decided to skydive the dirt dive in actual freefall. Being in the air would make my dirt dive more real!
So off to the airplanes I went with jump ticket in hand...I took an Otter with a side door since it is more difficult to make a stable exit from a side door with the arms and legs closed while keeping the wings collapsed. On jumprun, I asked the pilot which jumprun we have. It's Jumprun Left so I will fly a U-shaped pattern with left hand turns. Next, was to observe from the door the heading of jumprun. We were flying on the axis of runway 31. In doing this, I forgot to put my arms and legs together during exit. This is error number one and had I been wearing the Bird-man suit, I could have smacked the tail. Next in my task list was to recover stability with my arms at my sides and legs together. So I put myself unstable and pulled my arms tight to my body and legs together. The wind seemed to almost want to pull my arms off the side of my body anyway but I didn't let it. It took me, I guess, a thousand feet to recover my stability without spreading my arms and legs. I was not satisfied and repeated my instability drill and recovered more comfortably. Turning to the left to "crosswind," I assumed a Delta position as I would with the suit. I practiced the wave-off and pull sequence twice as I turned myself back towards the drop zone (but offset from the jumprun). I did it well except that I was forgetting to immediately close my arms again after pitching and then did so in reaction to forgetting. Since really opening in a track would slam me, I opened in the normal manner.
As I was making choices about my approach to jumping the Bird-man Wing Suit, I was recalling the article, "Choose Your Own Adventure. Make the Choice. Live with the Consequences." from the March 1999 issue of Parachutist (Page 37).
Not being satisfied with my actions in freefall, I decided that I needed to do another practice dive. This time, it was Jumprun Right. I exited properly with my arms and legs pulled together. Leaping from Mullins King Air, my exit went unstable. I stabilized and then assumed a Delta position turning right to my "crosswind" leg. I remembered to hold my elbows forward as well. I did 3 practice pulls remembering to immediately pull my arms back in. However, on the second practice pull, I went unstable. Not good. After another practice pull, I bent forward at the waist as I would do for clearing a burbled pilot chute. I mistakenly went too far head down and realized I would have been slammed on opening for that. I did it again but lowering the head less after another practice pull. This didn't feel like I changed the windflow over my back very much. But maybe that would be enough to clear a burbled pilot chute. By this time, I was heading back towards the DZ and opened.
|Jumping the Bird-man Wing Suit|
Feeling confident that I wouldn't repeat any of the errors I made on the previous two dives, I decided that I was ready to jump the Bird-man Wing Suit! Because of the instability on one of the practice pulls on the second jump, I decided to commit to 3 practice pulls with the suit and that if I went unstable on one of them, I would cutaway the wings for the real pull.
I geared up at the Bird-man tent with Jari and head off to the planes. A tailgate plane was not conveniently ready for us so Jari put us on an Otter. It didn't concern me since I knew I would be able to recover my stability with my arms and legs pulled together if I did blow my exit. The Otter was beginning to board so there was no time for dirt diving. We were rushed. Since we were exiting last, we boarded first. Like an AFF student recites his dive actions to his jumpmaster, I was dirt diving my dive verbally with Jari during our climb to altitude. Prior to jumprun, I put on my booties and zipped up my wings. We turn onto jumprun and the pilot tells us we have Jumprun Left. But then we have a go around. I am paranoid that we might be changed over to Jumprun Right without my knowledge, so I ask again. It was still Jumprun Left. A few jumpers around me looked at me silly for my paranoia.
I got on the door sill with my right foot in front of my left foot and my arms crossed across my chest. We were flying down runway 31. I gave my exit count to Jari with a head motion. As I exit, my leg wing catches some air and I suck my legs together real quick again as that put me unstable. I had stepped my left foot out a little bit. I need to pop off the door sill from both feet simultaneously. I recovered my stability on the heading of jumprun and opened my arms and legs to the flying position. I felt the wings inflate. It felt different. Wow! There was no effort needed to hold the wings spread out! The short pullup cords on the tabs on the arm zippers were beating on my hands. (This is not a problem since I can remove these for future Bird-man Wing Suit jumps as I feel confident in my ability to operate the zippers without the short pullup cords.) With the wings inflated, I began to feel the sensation of the flight as I gazed across the patchwork quilt of farmland beneath me. But wait! I have some drills to do. I looked back to see Jari above and slightly behind. I am putting my safety first before any over-indulgence in the fascination of the Flight. This is a discovery Flight, but unlike a flying student, I am solo, i.e., solely responsible for flying my gear safely and staying alive to experience flight again.
I turned left to "crosswind" now diverging from the jumprun. Heading control feels easy. I proceeded with my practice ripcord pulls. As I practiced my 3 heel clicks for the wave-off, I could feel myself deflate the leg wing. I could actually feel the inflation pressures inside the wings! My practice pull itself was wobbly. Yet it felt a bit more stable than just wearing my jeans and sweatshirt. I had a dip to a head low position during the 2nd practice pull. When I opened all the wings again after the practice pull, I started to buffet on my loop axis. To get rid of the buffet, I allowed more arching at my hips. I turned another 90 degrees to my left to begin paralleling the jumprun heading back towards the DZ. I did my 3rd and last practice pull. I was satisfied with the practice pulls and that I would have a safe deployment. During the debrief, I learned that while I was doing the practice pulls it was difficult for Jari to stay down with me. This makes logical sense when I think about how much I was closing my wings doing all of this.
Finally, a small time to fly! The "Free Wing" time. *giggle* I looked over to the left to find Jari coming over to fly right next to me. I adjusted my fallrate a little with the degree of arch in my hips and altered my leaning to the right or left to alter the closing rate. My adjustments were only just a little as Jari had so skillfully pulled right up to my side making splendid use of the Start Coast Stop principle. (I wish the freeflying community would use the SCS principle just as well.) And there he was with his really huge smile! Cool. While my effort in making relative movement was only small, I could feel that my balance on the roll axis was more stable and that it seemed like it is easier to avoid excessive side to side weaving from PIO (pilot induced oscillations) in the Bird-man Wing Suit. I realize that the Bird-man Wing Side provides a wider base of support for side to side balance as well as, with my arms more blown back, I also had greater stability from the dihedral wing effect. (Airplanes that have wings that angle upward tend to be more stable on the roll axis than airplanes with wings extending flat and straight out from the fuselage.) I will admit that I do take a great amusement in the unstable nature of tracking RW without a suit, especially in regard to controlling the side to side weaving motions that can be easily out of control. Because I am a light weight, I was afraid of being too floaty on Jari so I had my arms more blown back. Not enough "free wing" time. It will be a delight to play with relative tracking flight in this suit.
Jari peeled away from me quickly zipping off into the distance towards the drop zone. The horizontal separation rate was unreal. At first, I was thinking we were keeping true to our agreed upon higher opening altitude. No, it was a little silly of me that I had taken my "crosswind" leg a little bit too long. I had flown too far away from the DZ. With more Flights, I'll get a better handle on what kind of horizontal distance I can cover.
I had checked my chest mount altimeter. It was blown back by the wind flow across my body and thus I couldn't read it. A wrist altimeter would be better. My Dytter went off at 5,000 feet and I went through my pull sequence. It felt just like my practice pulls accept that I had instant canopy over my head! It was so instant that I don't even know if I had tried to reach for the risers being restricted by the suit. I, then, unzipped my arms, stowed my slider, undid my booties, and headed back to the DZ. I wasn't concerned about being open high and heading straight back to the DZ since there would be no jumprun dropping jumpers over my head at my location anyway. Oh yeah, I closed my leg wing so I can fly back from the bad spot I'd given myself.
I landed beside Jari and he told me, "Welcome to the flock!"
As we were giggling, Jari wrote my log..."Unstable exit --> Good recovery :-) 3 Dummy pulls, 2nd went little head low, 1st & 3rd Good :-) Free wing time good, bit lazy arms, great smile :-) Passed to Level II!"
Level II...I am ready for more "Flights!" There is much to play with. Along the side of safety, I can experiment with flying with one wing closed to see what control is possible, cutting away the wings, playing with the leg wing open and closed, etc. Along the side of playing solo, experimenting with following cars down the freeway, exploring contrasts between smooth flying and what causes me to buffet, diving steeply and pulling out, steep spiral turns, barrel rolling, back flying, etc. Should I lose control of any Flight maneuver, I know I can regain stability for sure by closing the wings and recovering or by pulling the arm wing cutaway handles.
I realize that I have yet to taste Bird-man Flying!