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What is the Difference Between Base Jumping and Wingsuit Flying?

BASE Jumping

Base jumping is the extreme sport of parachuting from the tops of very tall natural objects or constructions such as cliffs, towers, or buildings.

Correctly spelled, base jumping should be BASE jumping, with the ‘BASE’ being capitalized. It is an acronym for Buildings, Antennae, Spans, and Earth, in other words the sort of things one can jump from via parachute. ‘Earth’ replaces cliffs because BASC jumping doesn’t have the same panache does it? In French it is ‘le base jump’ – which has more panache than ‘saut d’un point fixe’!

The margin for error in BASE jumping as compared to wingsuit flying or skydiving is much narrower. Once they jump, they have only a few seconds to deploy parachutes packed specially to fill with air quickly.

The Perrine Bridge over Snake River, Twin Falls, USA is the only manmade location in the United States where so-called BASE jumpers aren’t required to get a special permit for year-round jumps. Here you have a 3-second freefall before pulling the ‘chute during a 486ft descent. Here is a video of Perrine Bridge.

Just like any other extreme sport, BASE jumping can result in injuries or even death. Even if you’ve had extensive training, the best gear, perfect weather conditions, and you’re smarter than the rest of the jumpers in your group, you can be injured or killed.

In most of the United States, jumpers often face arrest. The National Park Service doesn’t permit BASE jumping anywhere, including from the monoliths of Yosemite National Park, where six people had died, one of these being a woman who was protesting the ban. An 876-foot bridge over West Virginia’s New River Gorge is open just once a year.

Wingsuit Flying

Wingsuit flying, on the other hand, is the art of flying the human body through the air using a special jumpsuit, called a wingsuit (or squirrel suit), that shapes the human body into an airfoil which can create lift. The wingsuit creates the airfoil shape with fabric sewn between the legs and under the arms.

A wingsuit can be flown from any point that provides sufficient altitude to glide through the air, such as skydiving aircraft or BASE jumping exit points. The flier will deploy a parachute at a planned altitude and unzip the arm wins to they can reach up to the parachute control toggles and fly to a normal skydiving or BASE jumping landing.

A Cautionary Tale

Since 1981, there have been at least 400 BASE jump and wingsuit fatalities around the world, according to the World BASE Fatality List, a Web site maintained by a BASE jumper. Those risks haven’t kept about 1,500 BASE jumpers/wingsuit flyers around the world from making an estimated 40,000 jumps annually, said Martin Tilley, owner of Asylum Designs, an Auburn, Calif. company that makes equipment for BASE jumping. “BASE jumping (and wingsuit flying) is never going to go away,” he said. “You’re never going to eliminate the desire for people to thrust themselves off fixed objects and float safely to earth with the aid of a parachute.”

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