Swooping to speed flying

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Swooping to speed flying

Submitted by mrslaton on February 27, 2007 - 12:15am.

Swooping to speed flying…By Jim Slaton

After a decade of organizing high performance swoop competitions and among other things getting canopy piloting accepted into the IPC World Cup in 2003. I was on the lookout for a new and exciting way to bring swooping to the masses. It had become apparent to me that as appealing as swooping can be our sport has many things against it. The sport needs to be cheaper, it needs to be easier to learn it needs greater market appeal and attract both young and old. Think about it for a second, kids can watch the EXPN X games and get all pumped up. They can go right out and have mom and dad by them a skateboard and even though they can’t go right out and pull a 900 on a skateboard like Tony Hawk or bust a back flip on a motorcycle Like Mike Metzger they can easily participate. In addition, most of these sports have good sponsorship opportunities with a variety of different kinds of impressions. Let’s face it, sponsors don’t have a lot of product placement opportunities with a skydiver falling through the sky. The major networks tried this before with skysurfing in the X Games. If the sponsors of the games couldn’t get their logo on the jumper’s flight suit or on the sky board there was little product placement opportunity. This is one of the many reasons that skysurfing like all other skydiving disciplines before failed.

All this as evidence it has become obvious to many that skydiving’s last chance to go mainstream most likely rests with the success of swooping (A.K.A. Canopy Piloting). Since 1999 I have pushed the sport hard in an attempt to get that same opportunity that skysurfing once got. Through my own experience with the networks and associated agencies we need a new format and a new look. I created the Pro Swooping Tour for a variety of reasons but the main reason was to prepare us for those 15 minutes of fame (if it was ever to come). Over the years I have had many discussions with Network producers, head of marketing departments, fortune 500 companies and more. I learned much along the way and most of the feedback that I got about swooping I used to shape the sport into what it is today. I got a chance to present swooping to a few networks in which they heard the whole proposal and watched swooping videos. The comments I got was feedback like “Do you have a ranking system”? “How old do you have to be to do this”? “How large is your community”?

“What type of safety gear and guidelines does your organization have”? “Who sanctions your events”? “How long does it take to get to this level”? From this information I formed the Pro Swooping Tour, made a ranking system, made safety requirements and more.

Basically these guys would sit me down and go “Hey, you have an exciting sport here” but there are some important changes we would like to see before we could even consider this. You guys are moving at the speeds of motocross riders but you don’t have the proper helmet protection if protection at all. Some of your competitors are wearing shorts instead of protective clothing. If we took your sport for TV next week and told you we wanted the top 20 pilots, how would you choose those pilots?

There is another important consideration that shouldn’t be overlooked. Most extreme sports in the X Games race against each other in “Heats” which is exciting for the spectators and viewers at home. As swoopers we are racing the clock. Yes, there are other sports that race the clock too but we are trying to compete with the other extreme sports in our market for exposure….right? The people I had talked with were correct, our sport needed changes and we were unprepared to say the least. We shouldn’t feel too bad though. Take a look at our governing body. The International Parachuting Committee which is sanctioned by the FAI has not had a ranking system for the past 55 years!

So, after much consideration I came to a simple conclusion. We need to be better organized, we need a better format and we need to be able to bring it to the people. In 2004 I decided to give swooping a new and exciting extension to the sport. A new sport that almost anyone could try. A sport that was easier to get involved with and didn’t require an aircraft. A sport that doesn’t have an age limit. Among other things a sport with a bigger market and greater market appeal. I believed and still believe that ground launching is the closest thing we have to meeting all that necessary criteria. Even though skydivers have been foot launching skydiving canopies for decades it was time to reinvent a sleeping giant. That same year I went to work searching for good ground launching locations while putting together a training program. Among other things the training program would teach canopy flight to non skydivers. It took me a better part of two years to get people onto the idea of ground launching especially paragliders and non skydivers. At first paragliders dismissed ground launching as something called "sled riding" they used to do in the old days with big and old docile skydiving parachutes. It took me a long time to show them that swooping canopies are not your average skydiving parachute....not even close. We have been designing high performance parachutes for ground launching since before it was called "speed flying".

Most people don't realize it but I flew a hybrid (ground launching/swooping) canopy during the FAI's 1st IPC World Cup of Canopy Piloting in 2003! If you go back and look at video from this event you'll see that the black and yellow canopy I was flying has a hybrid nose, X-bracing only in the center three cells and ram air stabilizers. We have been working on Daedalus wings like these speed flying canopies since 2003. It became obvious at the Speed Flying School in California during the early days that it was much easier for a swooper (experienced skydivers) to learn to paragliding than it was for a paraglider to learn to swoop with these parachutes. The launching part was kind of the same but the flight totally different. I had already begun to paraglide myself and bought all new paragliding gear including a new reserve, a top of the line harness and wing. At the time, I was using and selling a small paragliding harness for ground launching called the "Radical". Even though it was not made specifically for the type of flying (swooping) we were doing it got the job done. I soon began sending edited videos to these paragliding companies in an attempt to get a sponsorship or discounted products. I sent all types of exciting footage of us Blade running down hills with all sorts of different camera angles. This was around the time we were finishing production on "Gravity Pilots" the movie.

The videos I sent them became popular among paragliders and before soon many of the top pilots were trying to do it. They all came to the realization that they needed a special wing to fly like us which was easier to learn than the modern "swoop" parachutes the top skydivers were using. I gave them as much feedback as I could and before long the first "speed flying" wings emerged. "Speed Flying", the new swooping sport was low and super fast compared to what paragliders were used to so the term "speed flying" caught on quick. For now speed flying is mostly done on snow with a pair of skis. Most pilots find it easier to launch with a pair of skis since smaller wings take more speed for the launch and additional considerations. We seldom use skis even though we have before and have learned all the different control inputs and special considerations to do so.

Keep in mind we are speed flying with the smallest parachutes in the world. I mean this truely since "Team Extreme" (the High Performance Parachute Team) has been around since 1999 and has the world record for flying and landing the world's smallest ram air parachute the Icarus VX 39 (39sqft, not meters). The team also performed parachute expeditions all over the world including the 1st to swoop and land on top of mountains like the Eiger and Mont Blanc. They produced several movies during that time including "Out of the Blue" which features them speed flying and landing parachutes on top of Mont Blanc in 2001. They also produced the movie "Gravity Pilots" which set the speed flying sport into motion in 2004. These and other videos are available for download at http://www.canopypiloting.com/videostore.htm

Speed Flyers will becaome less dependant on skis and snow as they gain more knowledge about the sport and the art of swooping.There are at least four or more paragliding companies that I know of making wings for speed flying right now. Compared to normal paragliding wings these wings are much faster. They are no swoop parachute like the Daedalus GLX but they do have features that skydiving canopies do not yet have. We are steadily closing the gap between swooping wings and speed flying wings. The speed flying canopies have one major design parameter that separates them from all the rest....they are fully elliptical. The latest versions have trims closer to swooping wings.

When the modern speed flying wings meet the future swooping designs like the Daedalus GLX it will be a site to see and feel. These new parachutes for the new sport of speed flying will carve the direction for the next generation of swooping canopies. It is funny how even the word swooping will become unclear after a while. Considering that as skydivers we view swooping as hook turning a high performance parachute and ripping across the ground during the landing. Now you can swoop with a high performance canopy after jumping out of an aircraft or after a ground launch. With all that being said I would like to point out that one of the latest speed flying wings built by a paragliding company is also called the "swoop". For more info about swooping and our sport check out...

Speed Flying forums www.canopypiloting.com
Gravity Pilots www.gravitypilots.com
Blade running www.bladerunning.com
Pro Swooping Tour www.proswoopingtour.tv
World Swooping Association www.worldswooping.com

Jim Slaton

CEO Higher Entertainment

Contact Skype "HigherEntertainment"

jim at higherentertainment dot com

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