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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).