Wingsuit flying is nothing short of astounding – it’s personal human flight, unaided by a motor and packed with thrills for both the participant and the spectator. Pilot skill and wingsuit technology have each grown by huge margins, so much so that the next frontier in flight has arrived: wingsuit slalom racing in the sky.
Red Bull Aces features a first-ever wingsuit competition format, with four wingsuit flyers racing head-to-head through a four-gate course suspended in the air. (Watch the highlights of the event in the video player above). The flyers reach speeds of up to 160mph (256kph), passing through the start gate at 2,100m and racing each other through the slalom-style course on their descent before deploying their parachutes at approximately 1,000m.
“This is just amazing, cutting edge, and really the start of a revolution,” said competitor Andy Farrington. “This is the way to hold a competition – you’re racing the people right next to you. It’s cut and dried; 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.”
Farrington ended up taking home top honours as the winner of the first Red Bull Aces Wingsuit 4 Cross Race, beating three other competitors as he whizzed down the slalom course at 216kph (135mph). Noah Bahnson (USA) took second and Julian Boulle (South Africa) was third.
The event, spearheaded by Red Bull Air Force pilot Luke Aikins, drew 52 competitors from 16 countries to the skies over Northern California. Pilots wore a GPS system that transmitted their flying speed, position, and time taken to complete the course. In addition, they were required to pass on the correct side and altitude of each of the four gates, staggered at thousand-foot intervals from 2,000m to 1,000m. The finish line was positioned immediately after the final gate.
Everyone was begging to go up on each planeload, and that’s the best reaction I could have hoped for
With an intense and breathtaking event successfully behind him, we discussed Red Bull Aces with Aikins, who’s hoping that even the sky won’t be the limit for this groundbreaking new format.
What were the challenges of planning and executing an event like this?
Luke Aikins: People fly wingsuits by themselves all the time, but we wanted to come up with a new format. So how do we do that, and how do we do that safely? What are the parameters? What is and what isn’t safe when we’re jumping out of airplanes? 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."
How stoked were the athletes about the format when you first contacted them?
After I explained the concept, the athletes were stoked, but then apprehensive. [But at the event,] Everyone was begging to go up on each planeload, and that’s the best reaction I could have hoped for.
Did it turn out as you expected, or were there any surprises?
I would say that this is better than expected. 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.
What was the highlight of this inaugural event for you?
For me, it was the first jump of the heats where I saw the guy in third overtake the first two right at the last gate to take the win. At that moment, everything we’d worked for to this point was accomplished. At that moment, I saw a race.
What's next for Red Bull Aces?
I hope we prove a concept here. We do have athletes with the skill, and the technology and knowledge is there to take this event to the next level. I hope to have more events in the future.
Can you believe how far wingsuit flying has come?
Right now, I think the wingsuit technology and the pilots are at an equal level. And any time that the technology and the athlete are at the same level, it just pushes things to be better and better. Right now, it’s not just the suit, it’s the pilot – and that’s what makes the winner.
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