Phoenix, Arizona, REUTERS (USA) – Screaming through the Arizona skies at 258kmh/160mph, Noah Bahnson of the United States got a monkey off his back on Saturday, clinching his first-ever win in the Red Bull Aces wingsuit four-cross championship.
In the competition to find the world’s best overall wingsuit pilot, 40 athletes from 18 countries jumped in four-person heats from a helicopter at 2,440m/8,000ft above the Phoenix desert, slaloming head-to-head through the sport’s only mid-air gates.
After finishing as the runner-up two years in a row, in Saturday’s final heat a determined Bahnson took the lead early and wouldn’t let it go, passing the finish gate more than half a second ahead of fellow American Will Kitto of the USA.
Andy Farrington, the double Red Bull Aces champion who had edged out Bahnson in the previous editions of the race, completed the US sweep in third, while Chile’s Sebastian Alvarez was fourth.
The wingsuit world had been eagerly anticipating the highlight of the competitive calendar, with the greatest in the sport training specifically for Red Bull Aces year-round.
Wearing cutting-edge wingsuits specially developed for the blinding speed, aggressive turns and steep dives of the unique format, the pilots pushed to the limit, with the tightest heats in the history of the race delivering frequent lead changes and photo finishes.
Advanced technology GPS enabled the ground-based judging panel to determine results in real time, even with pilots from multiple countries, such as Austria, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Sweden and Venezuela, as well as the USA, far surpassing 200kmh/125mph in the world’s fastest non-motorized aerial sport.
Bahnson said, “I didn’t expect this. I thought I had a chance, but after losing twice to Andy I thought it might happen again. I’m super happy with the results.
“The quality of the competition here overall – not just in the final round – was high, very high, and I hope this event just keeps growing because it’s a beautiful sport full of beautiful people.”
About Red Bull Aces
The first-ever wingsuit four-cross competition, as well as the first with air gates, Red Bull Aces was introduced in 2014 and made its Arizona debut this year after two previous editions in California. Athletes jump four at a time from a civilian Bell Huey helicopter and reach speeds up to 160mph/260kmh as they simultaneously fly through an aerial slalom course of 100-foot/30-meter gates. The goal of the race is to find the world’s best all-around wingsuit pilot.
Final Ranking Top 8, Red Bull Aces 2016: 1. Noah Bahnson (USA), 2. Will Kitto (USA), 3. Andy Farrington (USA), 4. Sebastian Alvarez (CHI), 5. Matt Gerdes (USA), 6. Chris Geiler (AUS), 7. Todd Davis (USA), 8. Mike Steen (USA)
Red Bull Aces Course Facts
Approximately 4,300ft/1,310m in length, the Red Bull Aces slalom course for 2016 is created by four 100-foot-long/30-meter-long air gates made from the type of fabric used in high-performance parachutes, each of which is suspended by a helicopter. On race day, the athletes jump four at a time from a civilian Bell Huey helicopter at an altitude of 8,000ft/2,440m above ground level. The gates are positioned at descending levels between 6,500ft/1,980m and 3,500ft/1,065m. All the gates are equipped with GPS positioning, and the competitors wear GPS transmitters to determine whether they pass through the gates properly. Computer systems on the ground receive the information in real time, making the judging immediate. The winner is based on not only how quickly the finish gate is passed, but also on how many gates he/she correctly passes through. The athletes make a parachute landing back at the take-off area after finishing their heat.