MOAB – Mother Of All Base? NOT!

Matthew 'Moab' Fleischman slaying on Supergorgeous — by Richard Webb
Matthew 'Moab' Fleischman slaying on Supergorgeous — by Richard Webb

A few of us are concerned with the recent introduction of wingsuit base jumping in Moab over the last year. We are genuinely nervous and scared for the carnage coming down the road from uninformed, excited and unqualified visiting wingsuiters. So before you grab your V4 and start throwing rocks off exit points (‘I got 7 seconds!’), we’d like to share a little of what we’re continuing to learn out here…

Matthew Moab, Calvin Hecker in MOAB — by Richard Webb
Matthew Moab, Calvin Hecker in MOAB — by Richard Webb

First off, nothing has miraculously changed in Moab. The cliffs haven’t grown taller, the boulders haven’t softened up, and the LZ’s still require currency and accuracy. 99% of the exits are slider-off. A handful CAN be jumped slider up. It’s still Moab.

Over the last year, a handful of locals and visitors have been wingsuiting very select SLIDER-OFF exits. Notice we don’t refer to them as Wingsuit Exits.

Preparation

From the locals’ side of things, we approached wingsuiting Moab with utmost caution and preparation. Let’s face it, we’re from Moab… a couple of months a year wingsuiting at dropzones and in Switzerland doesn’t train you for much out here. So we devised a more calculated method to offset our less-than-ideal wingsuit base experience.

GPS, Range-finder & Inclinometer Data

Using various GPS devices available on the market, we built a database of actual wingsuit profiles personally flown in the base environment at other exits around the world. Plotted out on a chart, these curves provide empirical data showing how conditions (sun, shade, wind, thermals, katabatic flow) and exit performance (good push, weak push, too steep, too shallow) affected the critical ‘Start Arc’ phase of a wingsuit profile, as well as overall flight duration, distance, and glide ratios. The summation of these profiles provided a low-end ‘worst-case’ curve, which we used as our baseline jump profile for Moab considerations.

Next, we used a standard range-finder laser, an inclinometer and a sighting tube to profile and plot the desired flight line from a potential exit point… nothing fancy, just using junk we found in the shed out back, but it works!

If you don’t know what wind direction and speed you personally like for sketchy low exits, don’t come here to find out

The final step was to superimpose known flights over profiled terrain. This allowed us to ‘predict’ altitude margins and determine if we were comfortable with the ‘scoop-out’ height above terrain.

We did this for months before actually jumping here. We trained elsewhere. Meanwhile, we hiked up and down from potential exits simply to check actual winds vs forecast winds to build a local forecast ‘offset’. Each exit was unique to winds required. Yes, winds required. If you don’t know what wind direction and speed (or lack of) you personally like for sketchy low exits, don’t come here to find out.

Speaking of winds… wind indicators are hard to see in the landing area 2,000 feet away. A mini-scope of some kind (we chopped a set of small binoculars) works wonders. Multiple wind indicators (LZ and mid-talus) are also useful on certain kinds of exits.

FLIGHTS

Yup, the actual flights here are all low. Pretty much all exits are in the low-500’ rock drop range, followed by an approximately 1.5GR talus, and 1200’-1600’ overall.

Aura Profiles
Aura Profiles

The above graph shows Flights vs selected Terrain Profiles we’ve mapped. For comparison, the best flight (blue) had amazing lifting air activity, and the worst flight (red) was jumping with a 3mph quartering tailwind (not flown on the terrain profiles shown!) The dashed red line is a 45° reference line from the exit point that we use to compare one flight to another (the numerical equivalent of defining a start… stole that idea from Matt Gerdes) DISCLAIMER: Most profiles on this chart have NOT been jumped (yet!)

NO PULL ZONES

Pretty much every jump has a No Pull Zone (NPZ) here. Some are really small windows, others are huge by comparison. Some NPZs start as soon as your feet leave the exit. Others don’t show up for 3-4 seconds and may last up to 8 seconds.

Don’t understand NPZs?

Don’t know what an NPZ is? Don’t know how to predict one prior to exit or recognize one in flight? Do your homework elsewhere at less committing exits… the knowledge is out there. Wrap your head around the mindset, commitment and mental discipline required to:

  1. knowingly jump/fly into a no-pull-zone at slow airspeed
  2. wait for the flight arc to kick in
  3. capture max glide efficiently to out-fly the NPZ as soon as possible.
Selfie with Matthew  — by Richard Webb
Selfie with Matthew  — by Richard Webb

WINGSUIT CHOICE

The majority of Moab wingsuit jumps to date have been flown by Auras. Followed by X2s, then X1s. There are a handful of other suits that have flown here once or twice. I don’t want to say you need a BIG suit (that can be misleading for various reasons), but whatever suit you bring needs to have a FAST START ARC CURVE (minimal altitude loss) dialed in. I’ll leave the suit choice up to you.

CANOPIES

Plan on low openings (300’-ish), sub-30 sec canopy flights (some routinely 20 sec, some unexpectedly less) and minimal time to correct for any opening issues you don’t like. Throw in standard Moab Landing Zone hazards of ankle-breaking rocks, boulders, cactus, creek washes, 3D terrain and the Colorado River and you can get busy really fast. So… do you really want to jump your Trango, Seven or Feather?

Think about ALL aspects of your gear choice, and tailor it to the profile being required

PILOT CHUTE SIZE

PC size – the perfect conversation for your next round of beers! Do you go with a smaller PC and pitch in full flight? Or do you upsize your PC and plan on flaring out your flight prior to pitch? Which scenario reduces your chances of off-headings or line twists?

Standard flight profiles here don’t really allow for anything other than max-glide angle of attack. So, is a flare from max-glide really effective or even desirable at low altitude? All questions to be considered… there is no single complete correct answer. At least one of us out here routinely jumps a Blackjack ZP with a 42” PC for all Moab wingsuit flights. Snappy openings, but hey, it’s still Moab on the ground. Think about ALL aspects of your gear choice, and tailor it to the profile being required.

Nothing to see here  — by Matthew Fleischman
Nothing to see here  — by Matthew Fleischman

RECOMMENDATIONS

So with all that being said, we have some recommendations and requests:-

1. Wingsuit preparation

Run wingsuit laps off of Courthouse down in AZ until you are bored. It’s low, but not Moab low. Get so comfortable and cocky that you start letting your wind requirements lapse and jump in less-than-ideal conditions. Wanna get scared? See what happens to your awesome dialed-in quick start when you decide to jump in just a bit of a slight tailwind (1-3mph off the back… shouldn’t be an issue, right?). Think again.

 2. Jump an exit in different conditions

Jump a wingsuit exit that is in shade in the morning, then jump it again in the afternoon with sun on the line. Compare and contrast the feel and the numbers… it will surprise you.

3. Make smart equipment choices

Tailor your pre-pitch flight profile (‘to flare or not to flare’), as well as canopy and PC choices, to max-glide flight at low altitude into risk-of-injury terrain.

Richard Webb exits Supergorgeous — by Matthew Fleischman
Richard Webb exits Supergorgeous — by Matthew Fleischman
Moab Wingsuit BASE... it's extremely dangerous, but with the right information, training, and skills, definitely repeatable. Thank you Richard Webb for laying it all on the table.

REQUESTS

1. Understand MOAB has no wingsuit exits

Please do not show up to Moab with your brand new whatever suit and ask us to ‘Take us to your wingsuit exits!’ There are NO wingsuit exits. There are only slider-off exits that MAY be wingsuited with the proper conditions, time of day, currency and proficiency.

2. Do your homework

Know the numbers on what you can do on your suit. What is a good start for you? What is a bad start? WHY was it a bad start? If you know YOUR numbers, then we’ll be happy to show you the terrain profiles of exits we have mapped out here, and let you make an informed decision.

3. Don’t trust rock drops

It seems like most advanced wingsuit jumpers like to throw out a rock-drop-value that they’re comfortable with like, ‘My minimum is 6 seconds’. Ok, that’s all good but when exit height DOUBLES from 5-sec (~400’) to 7-sec (~800’), where exactly does your patented 6-sec mental count fall in that range? Also, somebody PLEASE show me a legitimate 7-sec rock drop in Moab!

Some great information about Wingsuit flying. IT is written for Moab but should be used for all wingsuit jumps and jumpers. Nice work Richard Webb

4. Don’t assume an exit is ok because it's been done

Just because something has been jumped out here and publicized, doesn’t mean it should be repeated. At least one exit in Moab is on our personal black list. Yes, it was jumped by very talented, current and proficient friends. We profiled it some weeks later and determined that WE would scoop out at under 100 feet. Yes, it’s been jumped. Should it be repeated? Not necessarily.

And Finally

Please take this onboard from a couple of guys who are overcoming only moderate wingsuit base experience with months of recon, scouting, profiling and commitment. More experienced wingsuiters may differ in their opinions or knowledge, and their conversation is welcome.

Bottom line: Have fun, be safe-ish, don’t die.

Richard & Matthew going to Base – MOAB's not for sissies! — by Matthew Fleischman
Richard & Matthew going to Base – MOAB's not for sissies! — by Matthew Fleischman
This article was originally published on skydivemag

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