If you were lucky enough to meet Chris Byrnes AKA The Green Flying Dude, you’d know that his positivity was infectious. His recent passing was sad news for the skydiving community, but we know that when he crossed over, he was doing what he called ‘frothin’ to the coffin’ and yes, those were his exact words! In a recent video tribute, Chris described his flying experiences as ‘pure joy, being in the mountains, being with my friends and being able to perform at the cutting edge of the discipline I am completely and utterly passionate about.’
Chris collaborated with Manufactory a few months ago when he was recently introduced to the Indoor Wingsuit Tunnel and whether this will be as progressive for the disciplines as Tunnel has been for Freeflying and Flatflying. At the time, the accomplished International Champion and World Record Holder had just finished training in Sweden with Espen Fadnes, Amber Forte and Dani Roman.
We hope you enjoy these special insights from the late Chris Byrnes who will forever be a source of total inspiration and beautiful energy.
Q: Have you done Tunnel before freeflying or flatflying?
A: Yes I have done around 10 hours in the vertical tunnel over the past few years in Australia. Just working on freeflying with a fair bit of head up and getting a little progress with head down.
Q: What are the intervals like in a wingsuit tunnel – are they still 2min at a time?
A: In the wingsuit tunnel it is usually 2, 10 minute blocks of flying each half hour. Each 10 minutes is usually split into 4, 2.5 minute intervals. Swapping with the other person who has the other 10 minute block. So 2.5 minutes flying then 2.5 minutes rest and then back in. After 10 minutes flying it can be quite a workout. I would recommend a maximum of 1 hour flying per day. But 40 minutes spread out over the day I think is the best for maximising your learning without getting too tired.
Q: Did it help having as much wingsuit experience as you have? Could you do it with less?
A: For me it felt like learning to fly a wingsuit all over again. You start off in a small wingsuit wearing a harness underneath and are connected to a system of ropes and pulleys to stop you from flying into the walls. An instructor stands in the tunnel in a freefly suit giving instructions and helping to master the basics of safety in the tunnel and basic movements before coming off the ropes. After the ropes you wear a climbing harness under the wingsuit attached to a leash so that the instructor can help stop you from flying into the walls but you have more freedom and control. Then you are set free and can progress flying solo or with the instructor flying beside you in their wingsuit.
You can learn to fly in the wingsuit tunnel with no prior experience at all. For myself, going in the tunnel for the first time, but with over 2000 wingsuit flights between skydiving and BASE, it felt like learning to fly a wingsuit all over again. Flying in a confined space and without a rig it really helps you tune in fine movements and control. I really unlocked my shoulders and felt like I learned to fly my body within the wingsuit a lot better. Having the reference with the tunnel walls gives you direct feedback as to what movements work or don’t work to achieve what you are trying. It really helped me to quieten my body movements and fly a lot smoother and more controlled.
The wingsuit tunnel is an amazing machine. The whole flight chamber is on a big hydraulic ram so the angle of the tunnel can be changed from a glide ratio of 1.6 in small increments all the way to a flatter glide of 2.4. Also the rpm of the fan can be adjusted so you can fly at lower or higher windspeeds. This gives an amazing opportunity to really dial in your wingsuit flying by learning to fly at different speeds and angles.
Q: What is the tunnel time going to help you most with? Wingsuit efficiency? Performance?
A: Any time in the wingsuit tunnel is going to help with all aspects of wingsuit flight. I mainly worked on acrobatic flying and flying 2 ways with the instructors. I also did a few flights on lower airspeed and higher glide ratios to work on performance flying. But all of the flying I did helped me to fly smoother, with more control, better technique and to feel the air better. This has helped with my performance flying greatly, as smoother flying with less inputs means less drag which equals higher speeds.
Since my time in the tunnel I have set a new wingsuit BASE flare World Record of 105.5m altitude gain. My old WR was 94.6m. A 10% increase is insane and really is proof of the difference that the wingsuit tunnel time has made to my flying. I really feel I have much more control and less speed wobbles at very high speeds. This has given me much more confidence with my flying and is helping me to fly terrain better. Also I have just finished up load organising at Ekstremsportsveko in Norway. I did a lot of filming for XRW skydives through this event and I really feel like I have more range flying my wingsuit at lower speeds as well.
Q: Is there much wear and tear on your own gear if you fly your own wingsuit?
A: I would say the amount of wear and tear on my wingsuit was to be expected. I did about 6 hours in my Freak 4 and haven’t noticed any level of degradation to its performance. However it has helped me to learn and maintain my wingsuit better. For example taking good care of the zippers and making small adjustments to the wingsuit to reduce snag and drag points. And to look after the zippers correctly to prevent them coming undone in the air. So it has been really useful to get to know my wingsuit better.
Q: Do you think wingsuit tunnels could be as popular as vertical wind tunnels? Could we be seeing a new indoor Wingsuiting discipline starting?
A: For sure. The wingsuit tunnel in Stockholm is currently the only one in the world. But it has been a big success and there are plans to build more wingsuit tunnels across the World. For first time flyers, it is an amazing experience to be able to walk in off the street with no prior skydiving or tunnel experience and be able to fly a wingsuit. The system with the harness and ropes provides excellent safety, while still giving a feeling of freedom and control. Similar to the vertical tunnel, you can do VR experiences flying with a VR headset which is a truly special and immersive experience for those that try it. I feel that the tunnel has already changed the game for wingsuit flying. More and more experienced wingsuit pilots are realising this, getting amongst it and taking their flying to the next level. Even without flying outdoors, the wingsuit tunnel is so much fun on its own and has competitions. So I could see it growing similar to vertical wind tunnels and making a similar impact on the sport.
Q: What about R&D of Wingsuits – are manufacturers testing and pushing new technologies by using this tunnel as a resource?
A: The wingsuit tunnel is such an amazing tool for manufacturers to test their wingsuits. From what I have seen, all wingsuit manufacturers are using the wingsuit tunnel to some extent to help them test and design wingsuits. It reduces subjective opinion and gives them a controlled space to notice small improvements. I feel that the wingsuit tunnel is already helping and will continue to assist the progress of wingsuit performance and ease of use.
Q: Finally, what is the translating of the new skills like into the sky – can you estimate how many jumps it will take you to implement all you learned?
A: The big difference of flying in the wingsuit tunnel is that you are not wearing a rig. This allows you to feel the air on your back and for me really helped me to unlock my shoulders and use them to fly better. Flying in the sky after this has helped me to feel the angles better and use my shoulders even with the rig on. And despite the difference, the extra time in the air has helped me to feel the air and my body with much more awareness and sensitivity. So it has helped my sky flying immensely straight off the bat.
Chris held countless records including World Record BASE Flare 105.5 metres and the World Record for Speed Wingsuiting. He is an inspiration for all up-and-coming Wingsuit Pilots all around Australia. To say he was a top bloke was an understatement.