Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Goat Goes Base Jumping Above Park City

This Adventure Report comes from Baxter Gillespie, a customer of Backcountry.com

What would be more fun on a hot summer day than a hot air balloon ride over beautiful Park City, Utah? Well, how about jumping out of a hot air balloon over Park City?!?Nope, this is not Park City. Baxter Gillespie over the Snake River in Idaho

Last Thursday that is just what a bunch of experienced skydivers did and some of the jumpers even added a little extra excitement using highly advanced ‘wingsuits’ and parachute systems specially designed to open at very low altitudes.

Modern wingsuits have been around since the mid-1990s when a Frenchmen, Patrick DeGayardon, started working with modern fabrics and skydiving gear to develop a system that would allow jumpers to significantly decrease their fall rate and increase their forward speed.

In April of 1998, Patrick was killed while jumping his wingsuit and a Croatian named Robert Pecnik picked up the development torch. Pecnik’s company Phoenix-Fly (www.phoenix-fly.com) manufactures several models of wingsuits each designed for a particular purpose. The highest performance suit, the Vampire, is capable of lowering an experienced wingsuit pilot’s fall rate to around 30mph (vs. 120mph for a normal skydiver) and increasing the forward speed of the wingsuit pilot to over 100mph!

On a very basic level, this performance is accomplished by placing material between the legs and arms which is aerodynamically designed to move the pilot forward and decrease the vertical speed. Obviously, to fly with such a suit you need to be a highly experienced skydiver and have special training as errors made flying the suit can be tragic.

Our goal last week was to jump from a balloon with the suits and also use specially designed parachute systems to let us open our parachutes around 500’ AGL (vs. the usual 3000’ opening altitude by normal skydivers)Nope, not Park City either.  No clue where this is but it could be close to Park City.

The weather on Thursday was great and the ride to altitude was quite fun. Several other balloons were taking off and the visuals were sweet on such a clear morning. The exit required us to climb on the rail of the basket and to not push off as we exited since pushing off would cause the basket to rock significantly unnerving the non-parachute wearing passengers.

Once we jumped from the balloon there was a period of several seconds before the vertical speed increases enough to allow the suit to start to fly. Once the suit began to accelerate, and the fall rate was decreased, we were able to plot our course back over the neighborhoods and into the landing area.

Needless to say, the visuals were spectacular! Video Link: http://www.para-noid.com/balloon.mov

All Photos by Jason Cade; Video by Kevin Steen

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