The Excruciating, 200-MPH World of Wingsuit Racing
Photo by TRAVIS MICKLE
JOE RIDLER HAS jumped out of an airplane nearly 700 times in his life, but when he makes the leap later today, the goal will be about more than reaching the ground safely. It will be to fly through the air faster, farther, and for longer than anyone else in the sky.
Ridler’s competing in the National Championships of Wingsuit Flying in Chicago, also known as wingsuit racing.
Ridler’s loved the idea of flying since he was a kid in northwest Minnesota, looking for a way to get away. Barred from a commercial or military flight career by eye problems, he was intrigued by BASE jumping, but abandoned the idea as too dangerous. So now he jumps out of planes and races through the sky at 200 mph.
Ridler’s first wingsuit flight was two years ago. It would have been sooner, but the US Parachute Association requires you complete 200 skydives before allowing you to exit a plane dressed like an amped up flying squirrel. “The one thing I was the most nervous about,” he says, was “strapping myself into a straight jacket and throwing myself out of a plane.”
The championships, hosted by the US Parachute Association, test competitors on three disciplines, each measured in a window between 3,000 and 2,000 meters of altitude: average speed, distance covered, and time spent aloft. Each flyer gets three jumps in each category, and is tracked via a GPS module on their helmet. They’re rated on a curve—whoever goes fastest, farthest, or stays in the window the longest gets a 100, everyone else a percentage of that—and scores are averaged to find an overall winner.