Master of Flight: Mountains to Metropolis

Master of Flight: Mountains to Metropolis

What do you get when you pair unwavering dedication with unbound creativity? Tomic Kluzniak.

His dynamic proximity lines in the mountains are the stuff dreams are made of, and he’s quickly establishing himself as one of the most technically skilled and imaginative wingsuit BASE pilots in the world.

He has won several medals at the Australian Nationals in Wingsuit Performance, recently placed 8th overall at the 4th FAI World Wingsuit Flying Championships, went home with a silver medal for the team event, and is a committed coach and mentor to many.

In a world full of short attention spans and instant gratification, it’s rare to find those who dedicate their life to their craft. Why is it that someone with such limitless freedom would choose to fly in a box? We caught up with Kluzniak to find out all about his newest endeavour.

As someone who has a high skill level in wingsuit skydiving and wingsuit BASE, what made you want to pursue a job flying in the tunnel?

I have this idea of what it means to me to become a complete wingsuit pilot: The idea consists of four equal quadrants, each necessary, and in the center of that is my personal version of a complete wingsuit pilot.

Wingsuit Performance

The first quadrant is skydiving skills and wingsuit performance competitions; where I collect the skills of energy management and inertia, approaching groups, high speed acceleration and braking, diving and flaring, dynamic flight, formation and relative work skills, and learning all the possible ranges of all my suits by use of repetition and training in the competition environment. Also, the skills from other skydiving disciplines which transfer over to a better understanding of the air.

BASE jumping

The second quadrant is mountain and BASE environment; where I can learn skills related to glide and power management over terrain, developing a sight picture combined with the feelings of the ranges within flight – to know exactly when I can and can’t make it to certain parts of the mountain, and being able to make those decisions much faster, giving me more time to fly to safety. Within the mountain environment is knowledge of the mountains, how the weather works and how to move within them.

Freefly Fundamentals

The third quadrant is the freefly element; combining no-suit freefly skills, from both outside and in the vertical tunnel. These skills give me a more three-dimensional access to flying my body and my suit on its head, give me confidence, and the advantage that no position I find myself in the sky will be unfamiliar to me.

Tunnel Precision

The fourth quadrant is the Indoor Wingsuit Tunnel; The skills learned in the tunnel are specific to the very fine details of the most efficient methods for movement. The time spent flying and repetitive training solidifies those skills into a muscle memory that cannot be learnt in the sky. At least not for me. I am a slow learner, and it would take me years of jumping to learn the same skills I’ll be able to unlock in a fraction of the time.

What is the process to becoming a Flight Master at the Indoor Skydiving Tunnel?

The process to becoming a Flight Master is quite a rigorous and detailed training and certification program. The first step is becoming an “Operator” – Communicating with the instructors in the tunnel and being responsible for setting the RPM (speed) and angle of the tunnel and keeping track of flying time. The next step is to qualify as a “Flight Instructor” – Learning the skills to safely take first timers and non-experienced people through the flying experience available at the tunnel. As soon as this qualification is attained, it’s straight into the final step - the “Flight Master” program. This is the most intense and longest part of the training. By this stage my flying skills must be good enough to have full comfort in the tunnel in all situations. My role as a Flight Master will be to coach anyone and everyone from never-touched-a-wingsuit to pro athlete and take them from hanging in the safety ropes system to full blown tunnel ninja. This process is limited to my own flying skills and personal progression. The more time I spend in the tunnel the more details I see, and the more skills seem to stick. It’s like one of those Russian Matryoshka dolls that every time you open one a smaller finer detail is waiting inside.

Can you tell us about some of the training you've been put through?

The first step is becoming familiar with your new environment, the tunnel. Included in this is the day-to-day operations of the wingsuit tunnel, from paperwork to the engine room. A full Indoor Wingsuit Stockholm Rescue and First Aid course is to be undertaken and completed plus some theoretical examinations on the legal and business side of the tunnel. Within this time, I’ve had tunnel time allocated to me to begin the process of learning how to fly. This flying/training time is an ongoing requirement for the development of myself as a coach and my ability to be able to fly what I teach and understand how to teach it.

How many hours have you flown so far? Can you seen a difference in your skydiving skills?

I’ve flown close to 40hrs so far. The difference in my flying is drastically noticeable. One of the most important and biggest adjustments in skill I’ve made, came from flying in a small suit and choosing not to move up into the bigger suit. This decision was made from the realization that in the small suit, the wings do almost nothing, which made me have to fly my core at 95%. So, I’ve learned new ways to gain lift without relying on my wings and it has forced me to create a new, more efficient, neutral core configuration. With this new configuration, the ability to move around the tunnel and transition has become much cleaner and fine-tuned. Just adding to the movement-input toolbox! This helped me progress more quickly and safely once I decided to move on to the bigger suits. It’s like building a foundation before putting up a skyscraper. I’ve jumped at Skydive Stockholm a few times and I feel all the new “tunnel-tweaked” skills I am learning are quite naturally transferring over to my skydiving. I am FROTHING to see how I feel later in my progression.

My own flying, is only a part of the reason I committed to this job. I love being able to pass on the knowledge and skills I unlock to whoever is interested. Coaching and helping people to achieve their flying goals is something I love.

This is why I am here.

Did you go there with any expectations of what it would be like? Is it what you thought it would be?

I came here with only one expectation, and that was to learn as much as I could. I had already known I would suck in the beginning, just like everyone does, whether you have years of experience flying wingsuits or never touched one. The playing field is almost even. My thoughts were that bringing any expectations to a completely new world would only slow down my progression and my enjoyment of the process. I think focusing on the process of flying instead of achieving goals is a way I can dive into the details of my progression and create longevity in my pursuit of how I want to fly. It’s only been about two months and it has already far exceeded what I thought it would be. Just sitting and watching people learn and make mistakes hours on end is an information gold mine, let alone getting to combine it with the flying and constant practice. I’m super stoked I made the cut-away from Australia to make this dream a reality.

As philosopher Will Durant said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”.

Katelyn is an accomplished wingsuit BASE pilot and professional performance competitor. She is passionate about education and is an active skydive coach and course facilitator.

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