July 23, 2014
By Jim Moore
They jumped in groups of four from 8,000 feet, and twisted and turned past a series of aerial gates suspended between helicopters. A field of 52 wingsuit pilots raced through the skies over Northern California July 17, and American Andy Farrington, 31, posted the fastest time in the first-of-its-kind competition organized by Austrian energy drink (and action sports) giant Red Bull.
“You’re racing the people right next to you,” said Farrington, in an article published online by Red Bull. “It’s cut-and-dry—you either made the gate or you didn’t. You either finished ahead of the other guy or you didn’t. And you’re doing it all thousands of feet in the air.”
The racers reached speeds up to 160 mph, negotiating gates at 1,000-foot intervals between 6,500 and 3,500 feet, deploying parachutes at 3,000 feet.
Red Bull Air Force pilot Luke Aikins came up with the idea, and said in another Red Bull article that safety was a priority.
“The biggest challenge was coming up with the safest possible way to have a true competition, one where at the end of the day I can say: This is the best wingsuit pilot,” Aikins said. Each pilot wore a GPS sytem that tracked speed, position, and time on course. “Starting after the second round, people were truly racing. You’re seeing angles. They’re not just flying wingsuits; they are legitimately racing head-to-head for the next gate.”
Wingsuit pilots have been taking their passion to new heights in recent years; Brian Drake, an American living in Europe to devote his time to wingsuit flying and filming, told AOPA in March he hopes it will be considered “less of a stunt, and more of a sport.” Aikins hopes racing will be part of that.
“I hope we prove a concept here,” Aikins told his Red Bull colleagues. “We do have athletes with the skill, and the technology and knowledge is there to take this event to the next level.”
AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.
A cannon fires after Pat Derrick makes a low pass over the grass strip in a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. Derrick is the unofficial alarm clock for hundreds of pilots, their family and friends, camping under the wings of their aircraft at the 400-plus acre Triple Tree Aerodrome in Woodruff, South Carolina.
The most popular $100 hamburger stop for Southern California pilots is probably the Airport in the Sky on Santa Catalina Island. But most pilots simply leave after lunch and miss out on unique experiences available year-round. Consider spending time at the island while you are in the area for AOPA's Chino Fly-In Sept. 20.
Two pilots will take off on Sept. 16 and fly to 49 state capitals in two weeks in an effort to promote general aviation and inspire school children.
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