The sky is *literally* the limit for the Soul Flyers
BASE jumpers Fred Fugen and Vince Reffet are no strangers to pushing boundaries. Their latest challenge is flying up into the sky at 270kph in their wingsuits and sailing past a lighthouse.
Jumping from the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in the middle of the night and entering a plane in mid-flight clearly haven't satisfied BASE jumpers Fred Fugen and Vince Reffet, aka the Soul Flyers, in their pursuit of creative wingsuit challenges. The pair performed a filmed first of flying over a flat surface at 270kph and using the speed and their wingsuit flare to shoot up 80m into the sky, fly past an iconic landmark (the 64m-high La Coubre Lighthouse in Charente-Maritime, France), then parachute to land on the adjacent beach.
First, 50 practice sessions were required to calculate speed and trajectory using 15m pylons as markers on the ski slope of La Clusaz in southeastern France, followed by drop-practice with a helicopter at a nearby golf course. The feat itself, which was actually their second attempt, involved being dropped from a helicopter at 1,000m above sea level and 1.8m from the lighthouse, in line with the lighthouse at 40m before flaring and doubling their height.
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It’s a mental battle between what you want to do and what your brain doesn’t want to do
Their first attempt took three days, but the wind was too strong, so the pair returned for another four-day filming stint. In all, they did 12 jumps by the lighthouse, all of it captured by a drone, three camera operators and GoPros on their heads, plus a solitary cameraman in the sky.
They knew the challenge wasn’t without risk: “At this speed, the timing and angle have to be perfect because the margin of error is extremely small – we’re talking about hundredths of a second,” they said. “We realised we can go high enough and the parachute can open quickly enough so that we could be closer to the ground.
"We have no other escape than going up to actually open the parachute safely. If you don’t flare, you have too much horizontal speed and the opening is not good. It can break your back. The moment when you have to start the flare, it needs to be anticipated, because if you wait to pass the pylon the inertia means you're going to hit the ground. It's a very fine point that we had to work out.”
The margin of error is extremely small – we’re talking about hundredths of a second
Reffet admitted that, while it was both a physical and technical challenge, it was also a mental undertaking. He said: “It’s a mental battle between what you want to do and what your brain doesn’t want to do. And this battle begins when you see the ground getting closer and closer. During training, we felt like we were recharging our batteries in the pylons when we were 15m above it.”