Wing Flight It is the name chosen by Sector to illustrate Patrick de Gayardon's exploits with his "birdman" wings. Sector has now widely broadcast, on TV and other media around the world, the images of his re-entry in a flying plane, of his hedgehopping flight over mountains and of his jumping into an abyss. Is "our Deug" becoming part of the new legend of the birdmen of the 21st century.

Text by Bruno Passe- Photos by Sector No Limits 
A few months ago, Patrick de Gayardon explained us in details how he had managed to get back into a flying plane (see ParaMag n° 124) but there was no image since his sponsor Sector kept them. They can be seen now and we present them in this month issue, together with a new interview of the birdman of the 21st century. "It is not a stunt" Patrick de Gayardon said, talking about his re-entry in a Porter over Chambéry (France) although he was already planning hedgehopping jumps over the mountains: at the end of October, he passed in freefall only a dozen metres from a terrace on the Aiguille du Midi (French Alps) where Italian journalists where gathered (one headline was: "Superman beaten!"). A month later, he did it again over the Grand Canyon, 50 metres away from Sector cameramen and photographers. A few metres from the ground... It was a stunt alright and this is maybe what makes Patrick de Gayardon a bit like the first birdmen, most of them had to pull low to make their audience happy since their flying performances were not very spectacular. Except of course for Léo Valentin who had obtained with his big rigid wings performances similar to Patrick de Gayardon with his supple wings. Unfortunately, the rigidity of his wings was fatal since it prevented him from controlling a downwards spiral to the ground caused by the malfunction of one of the wings just after leaving the plane. Jumping with additional wingspan is not a new idea, René Roy had told us the detailed history of these first birdmen (see ParaMag numbers 66 to 72). Their names were (for example) Clem Sohn, Léo Valentin, Salvator Canarrozzo or more recently Gil Delamare. However, even with the evolution of the freefall technique and of parachutes, one wonders how Patrick de Gayardon could develop so successfully and so safely this new skydiving way. We try to answer that with the following interview.
  • Could you imagine this exploits when you started jumping with your wings, a few years ago?
  • II always liked tracking and I would explain to people that, for tracking, one has to put his body in a wing shape in order to try to create a lift. One day, an idea hit me: why not design a ram air wing, with an extrados and an intrados, that would fit the body? And it worked! Then in Courchevel, while looking at old pictures showing Air Alpes Porters diving in the mountains, I told myself I could do the same with wings: long trackings over the relief. Following the plane and climbing back in, came later and all the rest followed step by step.
  • The Grand Canyon is wider and thus would be considered easier than the Drus or the Aiguille du Midi. What was your motivation for going there ?
  • Sector wanted an exceptional spot for its ads. We went on location in September and found places where the canyon was narrow enough to pass close to the rocks. There was a place 1800 m long and 700 m deep where I could hedgehop the canyon and then leave by a break and pull over water (the Colorado River). The plan was as follows : I started on the side of the canyon at an horizontal distance of 4 or 5 km and 300 m above the entry point on the plateau. From here, I entered the canyon and flew for a 900 m distance less than 200 m above ground level. The exit was over a small cliff that gave me some extra altitude before pulling over the river.
  • It must be hot! How far away are you from the rocks?
  • Sometimes I was only 50 m from the ground but there was always room on the side where I could go in order to open my parachute in case of a wing problem or of a false manoeuvre.
  • How did you steer?
  • When in freefall, I only flew visually thanks to vertical marks on the ground (rocks, cameramen...), looking at an instrument was out of question. Everything is based on the preparation. Before a flight, a lot of measurements are done on site with an helicopter. I used a surveyor device that measures angles in order to get an estimate of slopes and help me choose my path. I also used a barograph, an airspeed indicator and a GPS. For the first jumps, I stayed rather high and, jump after jump, I got closer to the ground. There were many cameras on the rocks and I saluted them as I went past!
  • Did you open your chute over water for safety reasons?
  • No, it was because it is often where the break is deeper. Moreover, There were sandbanks for landing.
  • Let's go back to the jump over the Aiguille du Midi in October. It is hard to believe that you went in freefall just a dozen metres from the journalists!
  • I have the digital camera footage though! One can clearly see that I was one storey over the roof and that there was room for 3 storeys on the side, it adds up to 3 to 4 storeys from the ground... It was a press conference but the only photographer present couldn't take a picture!
  • What were the sensations?
  • People look big! A little before that, you feel it is getting more narrow, you become more aware of the environment, rocks and altitude! There is no room for mistake.

    Trajectory of the birdman, after passing the Aiguille du Midi, the flight ends safely in the Chamonix valley.

  • It is a big gamble then?
  • There was still some space left on the side and I could go to the left to get some more altitude but you don't want to be stuck on a rock mass without speed or room reserve. I was 30 or 40 kph over the normal speed so that I could easily slow my fallrate down to get more altitude.
  • Opening the chute is then out of question...
  • For 3 or 4 seconds, you can only fly and steer, if your speed makes it possible. Or you can get away on the side, but that's all. For the ones who would like to try, it is only possible using the right suit with wings liberators and a throwout. You can't play so close to the ground if you can't pull instantaneously (without delay on opening!) and catch the commands immediately.
  • Do you feel close to the first generation of "birdmen"?
  • Yes, I think of them and tell myself "don't do what they did!". Many of them used rigid parts when from my first jumps on my instructors would forbid them because they said they were dangerous. I kept this in mind. Mot of their wings were monosurface but a canopy must have both an intrados and an extrados in order to fly correctly. I used this concept for my suit. The only one who thought of bisurface wings was Léo Valentin but they were rigid and it was unfortunately fatal for him.
  • What do the wings bring to BASE jump?
  • It becomes a bit like hand-gliding, the increase in finesse gives access to new spots. In Italy, I could make a 32 second delay. The wings offered me 1100 m of altitude. There is a kind of talus in the middle of the cliff to avoid and if you do you get 450 m more at once. However, a lot of planning with instruments was needed and I slowly increased the delay from 12 s, then 28 s, then 30 s and finally 32 s. I did the last jumps with a stiletto 135, no more need for a BASE jump rig!
  • What is the next step ?
  • I have already made some BASE jumps starts with a snowboard (see ParaMag n° 123), but it was still more a jump than a take-off because more speed is necessary. To take-off, one must reach a 160 kph speed on the snow. At the moment, we are working together with a motorbike suit manufacturer to design a covering allowing me to stand the friction. The goal is to take off from a snow slope on the belly and with the wings.
    Interview by Bruno Passe

    Patrick de Gayardon in short...

    500 jumps with wings including: - 7 BASE jumps, - 75 jumps in several places of the Grand Canyon (50 of them very close to the rocks). Vector BASE jump parachute with a static between the main canopy and the reserve. They are both big canopies from Performance Designs: 252 sq. feet for the main and 200 sq. feet for the reserve. The last suits were made with the collaboration of ToutAzimut and Katerina Ollikainen. Freefall pictures in this paper are credited to Sector - No Limits and were taken by Charles Boons (who made a total of about 100 jumps with wings) or Adrian Nicholas (about 40 jumps with wings). Some pictures were taken under canopy by Gus Wing, aimed by the "birdman"..., others by Philippe Fragnol from the ground or the plane.

    Carpe Diem
    Appel du ciel
    Mort d'un guide
    Cérémonie à Tallard : français / english
    Wing suit : français
    Dernier vol : français / english
    Livre d'or : signer / lire