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BASE Jumping: Articles: Stories: Advancement of Technology

Advancement of Technology

by Nick Di Giovanni

BASE gear technology can advance quickly, and it did, especially in the early years, because there’s no bureaucratic red tape standing in the way of new products and ideas.

BASE riggers are totally free to dream up new ideas in the afternoon and then go try those ideas off the roof of the Flat Iron Building that night. BASE jumping is the only aviation type activity that exists (and thrives) without intervention or oversight from any outside source.

You can see the negative effect oversight causes in the area of General Aviation. Newer ideas like fuel injection and electronic ignition, rather than carburetors and magnetos are still rare in small aircraft because the FAA makes manufacturers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on shake & bake testing followed by huge amounts of paperwork. Most of this documentation is worded to hold a new idea up in court, not an aircraft up in flight.

The downside for BASE jumping is anyone can open up “Joe’s BASE Factory, Inc.” and sell gear. This concept would chill spines in almost any other endeavor. However, to my knowledge, no one has ever been killed by truly catastrophic failure of this gear. This is due to the fact the sport is (still) small and the peer review is brutal. As the sport grows this may not always be the case. And I think it’s inevitable you’ll one day see BASE rigs hanging next to the Kayaks down at REI.

How the BASE gear industry came to be is a story in itself but the first BASE gear manufacturer is probably Master Rigger Jim Handbury from Southern Californian.

In the early 1980s jumpers, who traveled to Yosemite, start to realize if they give up some altitude, there are plenty of jumps right in their own backyards. This is how Phil Smith (BASE #1) started jumping a local tower in Texas. “I drove by this darn thing hundreds of times on my way to work and never paid any attention to it. The morning after I returned from the Valley that 1100-foot tower leaped out at me like I’d never seen it before.” Phil’s probably the first person to experience the long climb thinking, “Oh man, what the hell am I doing?”

Meanwhile, out in California Carl Boenish decided to tether a hot air balloon at 300-feet over Lake Elsinore and do freefalls from it. Carl went to rigger Jim Handbury and asked for a container designed for the job. Carl’s thinking is the skydiving rigs of the day are too complicated for the task at hand. Handbury builds the first rig and deliverers it to Carl a few days later. It’s a single container harness system held closed by a strip of Velcro on its bridle. Except for the shrivel flap and other further refinements it’s remarkably similar to what’s used today.

My own very first BASE rig is in the style of times. You’d spend a weekend picking the stitches out of a second hand skydiving system in order to separate the container from the harness. Then you sent the harness to one of several fledgling BASE gear providers who returned it (sooner or later) with a spanking new Velcro closed BASE container attached. Put a Pegasus, Unit, or Cruislite in the container and presto, you had the hot set-up.

Submitted by Nick Di Giovanni on 2007-06-18 | Last Modified on 2007-07-03

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