Leaping from mountains with little more than fabric to control your descent is an easy way to die. That is, unless you're an experienced wingsuit pilot and you're competing to be crowned champion in the World Wingsuit League, a head-to-head wingsuit race that is being held this week in China.
What was once seen as a past time undertaken by seemingly insane adrenaline fuelled risk takers, is now a professional sport as wingsuit flying is taking the next leap. For a number of years both the ProBASE World Cup and the World BASE Race has run a series of competitions. The World Wingsuit League has added to this and, this year, a trial event by Red Bull, The Red Bull Aces, was held.
These events offer prizes and cash purses enticing the best of the best to compete as they pilot their wingsuits at speeds in excess of 130 mph. To be flying a wingsuit at this level requires skills similar to that of a fighter pilot; split-second judgement, detailed planning, incredible coordination and the ability to immediately process vast quantities of information. Death defying thrill seeker is not on this list. These pilots mitigate risks and finds ways to reduce them. They train hard - just look at the posts on the Facebook pages of some of the athletes over the last week to see images and commentary on their training regimes.
Of course, flying wingsuits in demanding environments is not without its risk. All events have to take this seriously and, as the sport and wingsuit technology advances, so does the competitive landscape. Red Bull Aces is a novel concept and, instead of leaping from mountains, competitors exit a plane. They then fly head-to-head through a slalom course with gates suspended below hovering helicopters.
In China, at the World Wingsuit League, the competitors fly against each other in a race to cross a finish line, similar to an athletic sprint. The athlete with the fastest time wins the heat and moves through to the next round. This simple-to-watch concept makes it easy for the spectators and these events are attracting large sponsors and international media attention. This new sport is breaking out of its infancy. It is proving to the public that human flight really has arrived and can be done in a a relatively safe and competitive format.
However, wingsuit flying is certainly not for everyone. In a similar way to sports such as motorcycle racing or Formula One, racing wingsuits competitively in demanding environments is only for a small percentage of those that have tasted human flight. For the rest, just making their once in a lifetime leap from a plane might well be enough. In the mean time follow along this week at www.worldwingsuitleague.com and support these talented athletes.
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