Thursday, July 1, 2010

All American Wingsuit Flyby

By Brian Drake
Alternate Team Member

On Saturday, April 24; at the Parachute Center in Lodi, CA; Team Ill Vision, collaborating with a team of local skydivers, planned and executed a wingsuit formation flyby of a 1000 square foot American flag (suspended under canopy); a feat requiring precision timing, group coordination, and flying ability.

The massive American flag was flown by Rex Pemberton, who was jumping at the Parachute Center to prepare for an upcoming public exhibition. While watching Pemberton's practice flag jumps throughout the day, the idea for a wingsuit formation flyby was hatched. A three person wingsuit formation consisting of Brian Drake, Jhonathan Florez and Ed Pawlowski would attempt to fly by the flag while being filmed by wingsuit camera flyer Jade Tatum. Chase Bradshaw volunteered to provide canopy-to-canopy footage.

After designing the flight plan, the safety considerations, and the camera angles, the team boarded the Twin Otter for the sunset load. Due to the fall rate and ground speed disparity between a canopy trailing a 1000 square foot flag and a wingsuit still in freefall, the setup, approach, and flyby offered a very small window of opportunity. With the additional factor of the desired sunset lighting and Pemberton's travel schedule, this was truly a one-take shot.

The canopy pilots (Pemberton and Bradshaw) exited the Twin Otter at 10,000 ft before the plane resumed climbing to normal exit altitude of 13.000 ft AGL. While still in the plane, the wingsuit team watched the canopy team deploy and begin to navigate the agreed flight pattern. Quick thinking and flexibility were brought into play when it was realized that due to the change in wind conditions, the canopy team had reversed their flight direction to maintain landing distance to the dropzone. Wingsuit team leader Ed Pawloski adapted the flight plan to compensate and communicated the revised strategy to the canopy team via one-way air-to-air radio. Confident in Pawloski's leadership, the wingsuit team exited the plane, wearing the signature red and purple Phoenix-Fly wingsuits of Team Ill Vision. Pawlowski led the formation with Florez and Drake flying in slot offset behind him while Tatum flew outside camera.

As the formation completed its setup and began final approach on the flag, all flight skills were brought into play as Pawlowski ably varied fall rate and forward speed to maintain the desired interception angle. With timing the crucial element, the team waited until just the right moment before "punching it out", transitioning their wingsuits into full flight performance as the flag loomed ahead. The 3-person formation rocketed past the Stars and Stripes at a distance that caught each person's breath as the enormity of the flag was appreciated up close and at very high closing speed. As the wingsuits cleared the flag, shouts of exhilaration were heard as each pilot pealed off from the formation to seek their own airspace for safe canopy deployment, while those jumpers watching from the ground exhaled in relief breaths held in nervous anticipation. The energy and excitement was palpable as the team landed, congratulating each other on a job well done. Another vision accomplished for Team Ill Vision.

Team ILL Vision flies by flag
Team ILL Vision flies by flag
Team ILL Vision flies by flag


Anonymous said...

Very impressive flying and timing. I have an extensive aviation background in fixed wing military and civilian aircraft, skydiving, smokejumping para rescue and currently paragliding. there was a time in my life I would have enjoyed the challenge. Now I can only be awed by the dedication and precision it took to pull this off. (how about a little luck!) Larry H USAF(ret)

Harry Parker said...

Larry! So good to hear from you. We are proud of those who went before us, served our country, freedom or just pushed the boundaries for all. Bridges are for the ones after. As time moves forward, even as a team we watch the new move forward even further. Thanks for taking the ride with us!