Best American Adventures: Learn to Fly a Wingsuit

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By Doug Schnitzspahn; Photograph by Jimmy Halliday, Aurora Photos

Learning how to jump out of an airplane wearing
something that looks like a superhero costume—and then, well, fly like
one—sounds like the most impossible, extreme thing a person could try.
Really, it’s not. Modern wingsuits, which consist of extra fabric under
the arms and between the legs to provide enough lift for flight, are
popular and allow parachutists to enjoy freefall longer.

That’s
not to say wingsuits are not dangerous and don’t require a lot of
training to use, just that they aren’t some impossible dream. You do
need to be an accomplished skydiver—200 jumps are required before you
can begin to wingsuit—but you can commit to the goal of flying even if
you have never jumped out of a plane before.

Brook
Shinsky, 33, who works at The North Face, did just that, spending
several years accumulating her 200 jumps and flying a wingsuit on jump
number 201. “Wingsuiting was my goal from the start,” she says. “It’s
something I never thought I'd be doing, but now I can't imagine ever
not doing it. If I can do it, anyone can do it. You just need to have a
little faith.”

A handful of skydiving
operations across the country offer wingsuit classes and make special
accommodations for wingsuits on jumps. Get good at it and you become
part of a select community of fliers. Shinsky participated in her first
Bigway event, flying with 23 other wingsuiters, this
year. “It’s a way to work through anxiety on a weekly basis—way more
fun than therapy,” she says. “I learn how to trust myself, my
equipment, other people, and let go of the things that I cannot
control.”

Need to Know: There
are many qualified wingsuit instructors across the country, with first
flight courses starting at $100. Options include Texas Wingsuit Academy
in Texas (www.texaswingsuitacademy.com), Z-Hills in Florida (www.z-flock.com), WestCoast Wingsuits in California (www.westcoastwingsuits.com), Flock University in Massachusetts (www.flockuniversity.org) or Brothers Gray Wingsuit Academy in Maryland (www.myspace.com/thebrothersgray).

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