WS 2021: plenty of new exits, new suits and new ways to look at the flight data. Perhaps the best way to compare flights is the beta version of Skyderby’s flight profiles. It graphically shows multiple flights over gnarly terrain on the same screen, and is suitable even for those numerically challenged. Pick your favourite exit laser profiles and filter the tracks from multiple pilots any way you see fit:
There's now a huge database of BASE flights on various suits. You can also clearly see how conditions affect the flights and make some statistical conclusions:
Looking at the exits, try to notice the updraft (thermals and dynamic lift). A good pilot in a big suit will typically get 200/200m exits in neutral conditions, anything beyond that is a helping hand of mother Nature. Those tracks with amazing 200/300 starts (in Feather terms) are awesome to look at, however they say nothing of the suit performance - all you see is an updraft. Many pilots tend to upload only their "best" flights in good conditions, which might stroke the ego but is meaningless for performance data analysis. Aside from updraft, you can usually see the head/tail/crosswind on the longer flights as well - notice when the vertical and horizontal speed changes are out of synch.
Average glide ratio numbers are the easiest to see and use as a measure of the wing efficiency in BASE context (i.e. can i reach the LZ?), if you manage to exclude conditions and compare flights of similar height. Another way to look at the wing efficiency, indirect but easy to objectively measure, is its flare power. Many pilots love speed and flare as opposed to chilled-out flat cruises - and surprisingly these opposite ends of the flying envelope end up with the same best gliding wing.
That's the end of the objective part ;) The following is my subjective take on flying a number of suits over the course of the last 12 months, and observing lots of others side by side on the same loads:
1. The sustained max glide, as applicable to a human frame clad in fabric, did top out 5 years ago with Jedei 3 release. There has been nothing for a while that could match its performance in BASE environment. The goal of creating a better BASE suit has turned into a real challenge, perhaps some gene engineering to stretch a human wingspan would have been a better approach :)
2. However, some joy did come out of it: the new line of Squirrel prototypes (#3, #4 and #5 on Skyderby tracks) flew well this year, matching J3 exits and glide, and exceeding it in the fun aspect. These suits ended up to be exactly what i wanted (to jump gnarly technical exits and arrive at a remote LZ with a good margin to spare, while enjoying the ride in between). For these design goals, there's simply nothing currently in production that can match the protos, and i've already put them to good use in Brazil and at home this summer, having a blast at technical sites and opening a few new exits. I am not sure what SQRL will do with these designs - probably incorporate them into the next Corvid line, but there's no harm asking for one if that's what you need right now.
3. The only other suit on the market that matches and possibly exceeds the sustained glide of J3 is CR+. I have waited a year to finally try one off a cliff, and that was a year wasted! Unexpectedly, the base-friendly version of CR+ (bigger inlets, roomier arms, tuned-down airlocks) proved a very easy and safe suit to handle in the mountains - i flew it off Brento straight out of the box with zero skydives, was comfortable on the likes of Spartacus after 10 jumps, and opening new exits with it 2 weeks later. It has more speed, dive and flare range over the prototypes (or anything ever made, period), at the expense of a slightly steeper start arch and more attention at pull time (both natural consequences of the higher arm sweep, i.e. lower arm position).
4. I believe many BASE jumpers would actually prefer CR+ over a base-specific suit for it's glide, speed, agility, and absolutely unmatched flare power - if only they knew how comfortable it feels in the mountains. Once you try a base-friendly CR+ (or see others in it), you can't forget or unsee! Like those who fly it way better than me: Tomic going up 58m from The Chief (for LB jumpers: The Chief is 100m lower than Via Ferrata, only 566m high). Or Chris going up 94m at Pordoi (exit to LZ is 1085m vertical). Few pilots ever got close to this flare on a skydive:
Or look at Jonny on a glide & soaring end of the flight envelope:
5. I have looked closely at Alpine 20/21 suits (and their tracks), and jumped alongside a few of them flown by better pilots then me. They are an improvement on 2019 versions I’ve tested earlier, but i could not find a reason to try one this year: the start arch is steeper (arm sweep basics…) and the glide is just a touch below the protos. Alpines would be more comparable with CR+ line, but the speed and especially the flare are well below CR+ results. There's plenty of data on Skyderby to see it very clearly. If anyone has tracks to alter this opinion: please upload them! Don’t be like Trump who won the election but cannot prove it ????