Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A few 'Wingsuit Words With...'

In the first of many of these, World Wide Wingsuit News will be having a few 'Wingsuit Words With...' (yes, we like the letter W) some of the icons and pioneers in our great sport.

First up in the hot seat is the designer, founder and owner of Phoenix Fly - Robert Pecnik.

We caught up with the man who's normally hiding away designing new wingsuits, or providing us with jaw dropping terrain flying videos, and asked him a few questions..



So, to start off, who introduced you to skydiving, and do you still remember making your first jump?

I started jumping when I was 15 years old. My first jump was on the 4th of July 1982 and was a static line round from 1000m from an AN-2 biplane in Zagreb, Croatia.

I’d been dreaming of jumping since I was 10, but couldn’t start because I was so young. I experimented with parachutes to see how they flew, throwing objects through my window, including my hamster.


What is it that attracts you to wingsuit BASE jumping?

After being an active competitor in 4-way (numerous times national champ in 4-way) and a very active skydiver in general (300 way record and several European challenges), I got bored and wanted to do something new.
My friend Stane Krajnc from Atair canopies in Slovenia introduced me to BASE. It’s something I am very grateful to him for as it really gave me a new lease of life.

We enjoyed starting out in the sport - both very afraid and both funny students. Me with thousands of skydives and he with tons of air time, but little skydiving experience.



Wingsuiting came as a natural progression to BASE as I had already started the company Bird Man with Jari Kuosma.


When you first started out, you had a small company that made RW jumpsuits. You then changed your attention to wingsuit development. What or who was it that sparked your interest?

I had been making RW suits since I started skydiving, as I knew how to make templates for them, and how to sew. In October 1998 Jari and I were in Italy BASE jumping and we agreed it would be great to make a wingsuit to fly longer, and further away from the cliffs.

There the idea was born! :-) I knew I could make something good, I had seen a small picture of Patrick's wingsuit and decided to make one.

In November 1998 I made my first suit called the ‘red bird’ and did 4 jumps from 4000m. It was very nice and super easy to fly! The biggest difference from my suit and the one Partick was jumping was the wing cutaway that I designed.


What would you say has been the most important development in wingsuit design over the years?

It’s been a long journey designing wingsuits and I’ve learned a lot along the way. The first suit I designed was the first commercially available wingsuit ever. At the time, the biggest development was to address the safety issues with the suit Patrick was jumping. He was the only person who would jump his suit, so for the market to accept this new form of skydiving, things had to be changed.

My suit introduced the wing cutaway, along with having better wing pressurization and a better build quality.

In addition to building the suit, we wrote a manual to help educate skydivers in how to use this new technology.


Can you give us a bit of an insight into how you typically design a new wingsuit model...

The development process of wingsuit design is not that much different to any other industry, with the biggest driving force for new development being market demands.

Currently most new suits are still based on the previous generations, that much is clear from the visual design.

Nowadays, high expectancy from the market is making it harder and harder to design new suits. In the early days it was easy to increase the performance from generation to generation and it wouldn’t be uncommon to see performance increases of up to 30%. Nowadays though, new suits may only see performance improvements of 5 – 15% max.

That being said though, there are other areas where wingsuits are progressing, namely in quality, useability and safety.

New generations of wingsuits are a lot like new generations of cars. Every new model is getting more complex than the last, and the customer expects more and more features for the same price.



We always start with the design, then build a prototype suit to test for ergonomics and functionality. James and I then take the prototype and jump it from a cliff to see how it flies. If it works, we’ll then test it in a skydiving environment checking for flight characteristics, safety and durability – all the time making subtle tweaks to the design that you can only do through thorough testing in the real world.

I'm working on several new designs at the moment which are totally new and very different concepts to the current style of wingsuit. They're a long way off production yet, but R&D is very important in this sport.


What advice would you give people who want to get into wingsuit BASE jumping?

That’s a difficult question. BASE is one of those activities where rules do not enter into everyones minds.

There is only one real barrier that I think stops people from just starting, and that’s a love of life and not wanting to die in a stupid way.

Wingsuit BASE is fantastic. It truly is flying and is the closest we will ever get to human flight. If it is done right, with the right equipment, it’s also relatively safe. To survive, you must be mature enough to respect yourself and others, and listen a lot.

Start off slow. Become a good skydiver first. Learn RW and work really hard on your canopy control. Learn to wingsuit in a skydiving environment before trying to combine it with BASE. Further, learn how to BASE before starting out with a small wingsuit, from safe objects. The most important piece of advice I have is... DO NOT RUSH!


You've just finished work on a new DVD project 'Fly The Line 2'. How did the production come about?

I like to record every jump I make! I love experimenting with camera angles and jumping new locations. Add in wingsuit flying and you have Fly The Line!

There’s no real story behind the DVD. I use the video’s as a tool to see how the wingsuits fly and usually attach two cameras to my body – sometimes 3.

It can be hard and mentally demanding, but I like to see how the jump goes and I really enjoy watching it back a year or so later.



One of the important aspects for Fly The Line 2 was shooting in HD, as well as filming at some amazing new locations. We’re learning all the time, and I’m already really looking forward to starting on Fly The Line 3!


BASE jumping as a sport could be described as 'Risk Management'. The risks can be minimized, but even then things can, and do, go wrong. What's the scariest thing that's ever happened to you? Also, what's your most memorable jump?

I once misjudged the flight line. I was flying to low and almost hit the rock. You could say it was an interesting experience…

As I was flying, I realized that I was not in the optimal position, but I kept my head cool and calm. I figured my head will be ok, as will my body, but I wasn’t convinced my legs wouldn’t hit the terrain.

I had slid a bit more than I was expecting when I made a turn over the terrain and found myself over a pile of rocks I wasn’t expecting. It was certainly scary, but that’s just part of terrain flying.
The main thing is to know how the suit has to be flown, and to understand the rules of flying of it.

As for my most memorable jump, it'd have to be a wingsuit BASE jump made from a big wall in the CH valley back in August 2008. It's probably the nicest wingsuit cliff in the world, offering a nice long terrain and great lines to fly.


You've achieved a lot in your career. What things are you most proud of?

Better to ask someone else that question!

Being part of the 4-way team for Croatia. We started the team when there was no real training possible. We were weekend jumpers and we achieved a lot! I would dare to say we were recognized by the very good times, our persistency and quality.

Willing to fly - participation in N. Kent movie 1996.

300-way

Coaching of many good skydivers and BASE jumpers

I am proud for getting the Cold Steel award-Sweden for development of the new discipline, as WS BASE and safety in both BASE and skydiving.


Thanks for answering our questions. Who should we speak to next?

Mirko Schmidt. Team member of BBC (Berlin BASE Connection) He is the leader of that small gang who provide a new outlook to BASE and skydiving in Germany! He also runs the very well organized DZ Grandsee near Berlin. A fantastic friend, a great jumper and photographer.



Our thanks to Robert Pecnik of Phoenix Fly. Make sure you check back soon as we talk to more great people from our sport and have a few more 'Wingsuit Words With...'

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