TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A Zephyrhills man took home gold for the second year in a row earlier this month in an extremely athletic, intense sport known as “acrobatic wingsuit flying.”
Travis Mickle got his start in the skydiving world while working at Skydive City in high school.
He explained more about the sport and the wingsuit itself to 8 On Your Side after returning to the Bay area following his team’s big win at the 2019 U.S. Parachute Association’s National Skydiving Championships in North Carolina.
Before a skydiver gets into a wingsuit, they must complete at least 200 freefall skydives by themselves.
“I average about 850 [jumps] a year now. Initially, when I started, it’s very expensive, so it took me a couple years. Two or three,” Mickle said.
He explained competition height is 12,500 feet. It takes a diver in a wingsuit anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes to complete a jump. The first parachute is pulled around 3,000 to 4,000 feet up.
“So the suit is essentially kind of like a pressurized wing. Very similar to thinking about an airplane where you have wings that come out and you have a tail that creates a lot of the moment,” Mickle explained of the suit itself. “It’s the same kind of idea. Instead of having a rigid wing like an airplane, we’re actually using the air as you’re moving forward, will go into the suit and actually pressurize it. Very similar to an air mattress. You just kind of fly that air mattress around the sky.”
There are two disciplines for the wingsuit in competitions: acrobatic and performance. Mickle is the national champion in acrobatic.
“One jump they’ll tell you what to do, where you might be doing basic docking maneuvers and on the other jumps you kind of build your own routine and you try to do something that looks pretty artistic, almost kind of like a ballet dance,” he said.
Mickle and his partner have been jumping together for around four years. He said that’s the harder part of the sport, as a diver’s partner needs to be reliable, and also live in the same area so partners can jump a lot together.
“The charisma that it takes jumping together, coordinating all that is important. It takes a while to build that,” he said.
He used to get nervous but after diving out of a plane so many times, he’s pretty used to it.
“It did take me quite a while to get over that. But once I did, no, I fall asleep most of the time in the airplane,” Mickle laughed.
He doesn’t know the actual number of jumps he has under his belt. He estimates it’s somewhere around 5,600.
This month’s win earns Mickle a spot on the U.S. parachute team, which will compete next year among all disciplines of skydiving in Siberia.
In addition to the championship win, Mickle placed fifth in the performance competition.
He’ll be competing in both competitions in 2020.
“I’m definitely looking forward to going and seeing it. I think it’ll be really cool.”
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