Forty of the best wingsuit pilots from 18 nations have converged near Phoenix for the third edition of Red Bull Aces, the race that introduced wingsuit four-cross to the world. Their total lifetime experience: more than 361,000 jumps.
The video above, filmed Thursday, shows event organizer Luke Aikins leading pilots through a preview of the aerial slalom course.
In the innovative Red Bull Aces format, wingsuit pilots jump in four-person heats from a Bell "Huey" helicopter to slalom through a series of airborne gates suspended by additional choppers. The athletes attain speeds of 160 mph by managing the forces of wind and gravity with nothing more than the fabric of their wingsuits — and, of course, their sheer skill. Cutting-edge technology makes judging instantaneous and also puts a priority on safety.
By Saturday night, the world will know if American Andy Farrington, who made history by winning the first two Aces events in California, can pull off the hat trick. Among those aiming to break his streak is fellow countryman Noah Bahnson, who was runner-up on both occasions and is clearly tired of playing the bridesmaid. But with top athletes from five continents, including 16 wildcards (eight of whom are new to the event), the results are impossible to predict.
Chris Geiler, who was recently crowned the first World Champion in a very different discipline — the individual, non-slalom format of the FAI World Championships of Performance Wingsuit Flying — is one of those wildcard invitees.
"I’ve always wanted to do Red Bull Aces," Geiler says. "It’s such a crazy-exciting format. Getting to carve around helicopters in the sky with your friends — it doesn’t get any better than that."
As a wildcard, he must battle in a qualifier for one of only eight available slots in the brackets of the Red Bull Aces Finals, where 24 pre-seeded contenders await. Despite his recent triumph, the Australian is full of nervous excitement.
"For me right now, the qualifier is as big as the final," he says. "You could say that until I make it through, for me, the qualifier is the final."
Norway’s Espen Fadnes, who joined Geiler on the world championship podium, is a Red Bull Aces veteran who finished fifth in 2015.
"In Red Bull Aces you have to be aware not only of your flying performance, but of people around you," he explains. "You’re flying in all kinds of directions and have to change your plan in the air at any moment. This is a serious proving ground for the best in the world."
Stay tuned for more action from the event in the coming days.