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Landing while wingsuit flying without injuring yourself requires you to greatly slow your speed. Learn all about wingsuit parachutes and how they’re used here.
Wingsuits are designed to slow your fall and let you glide through the air, right? So why in the world do they have parachutes? This is a common misconception for the majority of people who see wingsuits flying on TV or in some videos on YouTube. Even though wingsuits give the person wearing them the appearance and ability to soar through the air, they are not designed to help you land.
Wingsuits have parachutes because wingsuit jumpers have to use a parachute to land just the same way a skydiver would. Wingsuit jumpers travel way too fast — horizontally and vertically — to safely land without a parachute. Many even have a reserve chute in case the first one fails.
A lot of people are curious about why wingsuits have parachutes. After all, the whole point of wearing a wingsuit is that it's supposed to help you fly through the air like a bird or a flying squirrel. So why do they need parachutes? The answer is pretty simple and it all comes down to the speeds at which you're flying and safety. In this article, you'll learn everything you want to know about wingsuits and why they have parachutes.
FlightNotch is a website that was created by air sports enthusiasts, for air sports enthusiasts. This model allows us to be passionate about everything we write, and speak from personal experience on top of all of the research we put into each topic. So rest assured knowing that everything you read below about wingsuit parachutes is accurate and has been vetted!
What is a Wingsuit?
Before we get into the details of why wingsuits have parachutes, let's start with the basics and spend a little bit of time discussing what a wingsuit actually is. A wingsuit is a type of jumpsuit that helps you fly through the air by adding fabric between your legs and under your arms. This extra fabric gives you more surface area to catch the wind and slow your fall. Wingsuits are typically made out of nylon or other materials that are light but strong.
When you're wingsuit flying, the added surface area acts similarly to the wing of an airplane and generates lift. This lift helps you fly through the air and control your speed and direction. In addition to the fabric, wingsuits also have zippers or other closures that help you seal the suit around your body so that you can get the most aerodynamic effect possible. This is important because you want as little wind resistance as possible when you're flying.
But now that we're talking about aerodynamics and the importance of having as little wind resistance as possible, you might be thinking that adding a parachute to your back will just slow you down. And you're right, it does. But the fact is, even with a parachute, you're still going to be flying at high speeds. And at these high speeds, you're really going to want a parachute. But why?
Do You Need a Parachute For Wingsuit Jumping?
We've established the fact that you absolutely do want a parachute while flying, and the reason why is actually pretty simple. The short answer is that you need a parachute in order to land without killing yourself. I know that sounds harsh and maybe a bit morbid, but we're all about safety here at FlightNotch so we're just going to give it to you straight. If you don't have a parachute while wingsuit flying, there is a very slim chance of survival upon landing.
This is because even though a wingsuit is designed to slow your fall, you're still going to be falling at high speeds. And when you factor in the fact that you're typically flying forward much faster than you're falling, your total speed is still about just as fast as it would be if you were in a complete free fall. And when we're talking about the heights at which you're flying from and the speeds you’re moving, your forward momentum is just as important (and potentially detrimental) as your vertical speed toward the ground.
So in short, wingsuit jumpers have a parachute for the exact same reason that skydivers do. They are still falling at high speeds and need a way to safely land. Many people that are just getting into wingsuit flying seem to be under the impression that parachutes are not needed and you can just use the wingsuit to slow your fall and land safely, but that simply is not true! We touched on one very special case later in a different article on the site, but you should never jump without a parachute!
When Do Wingsuit Jumpers Pull Their Parachute?
Now that we've answered the question of why wingsuit jumpers have parachutes, you might be wondering when they actually use them. The answer is that it depends on the situation, most importantly, the height at which you're jumping from. Wingsuit jumping is in a kind of gray area in the air sports world, being somewhat of a mixture between skydiving and BASE jumping.
When you're skydiving, you typically jump out of the plane somewhere between 14,000 and 18,000 feet above the ground. This gives you (and your instructor if tandem diving) plenty of time to freefall and then pull the parachute somewhere around 3,000 to 5,500 feet above the ground. This same process can be followed by wingsuit jumpers who start by jumping from an airplane or other type of aircraft.
But on the other end of the spectrum, wingsuit jumpers that mimic the actions of BASE jumpers might jump from an altitude of just 3,000 feet or less. This greatly reduces the altitude at which the parachute can be pulled, and wingsuit jumpers flying this way will typically deploy it at around 1,000 to 2,000 feet at the lowest. Anything below 1,000 feet and you're really pushing the parachute to its limits as it might not have enough time to fully deploy and slow your descent to a safe speed.
Do Wingsuits Have Reserve Parachutes?
If you've ever been skydiving, you probably know that most skydivers will have a main parachute and a reserve parachute. The main parachute is the one that you plan to use for the entire skydive, but the reserve is there as a backup in case something goes wrong with the main. The thought process is that if the main chute fails to deploy, gets tangled in itself, or has any other issue, you can cut it free and deploy the reserve chute and safely land.
The same concept applies to wingsuit flying, although it's not quite as common for wingsuit jumpers to have a second parachute, even though I would never fly without one. Any wingsuit jumper that is jumping out of an airplane or other aircraft is required by the FAA to have a reserve parachute just like skydivers. If they jump from an aircraft with only one parachute and are caught, the jumper themselves and the pilot could face disciplinary action.
These rules are enforceable because, in these instances, wingsuit jumpers are effectively skydivers, and that is heavily regulated. Unfortunately, BASE jumping is not regulated in the same way, and most BASE jumpers (and wingsuit jumpers acting as BASE jumpers) will not carry a reserve parachute. This is simply because, at the low altitudes at which BASE jumping occurs, there is almost certainly not going to be enough time to fix an issue with your main parachute and deploy a reserve one anyways. So these jumpers are entirely reliant on the main parachute.
That's why the old adage exists that if you have an issue with your parachute, you have the rest of your life to figure it out. At the end of the day, never fly without a parachute and always carry a reserve one, and only jump from safe heights!