Throwback to Soul Flyers’ performance: behind the scenes interview with Fred Fugen

Exclusive interview with wingsuit flyer and base jumper Fred Fugen, one of the Soul Flyers!

Historical, magnificent, exceptional… We can’t find enough words to describe the performance of the Soul Flyers Fred Fugen and Vince Reffet last October 13th 2017. They base jumped from the Jungfrau mountain peak (in the Bernese Alps) and flew with a wingsuit straight into a flying plane. As a result, a phenomenal buzz since late November when the video was released on the internet. This buzz is well-earned, the technical achievement is impressive.
Fred Fugen, 38, has been a skydiver since 1996 and a base jumper since 2000. He’s known his accomplice for 15 years and together they’ve already realised some crazy projects : freefly jump in the Dolomites, base jump from the highest tower in the world in Dubai, Jetman flight with the French Air Force… The Soulf Flyers are masters in their art and they pushed the bounaries even further with this incredible World First: get into a flying plane at 140 km/h from a cliff. Icarus can hold on to his wings. Adrenaline Hunter Mag’ offers you an exclusive pass to go behind the scenes of this feat with this interview of Fred Fugen!

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Fred, your last performance as a Soul Flyers passed the 150 million views on the internet and TF1 (french public tv) dedicated a 3 minutes subject to you… Did you expect such a buzz? According to you, what part of this achievement drew such a broad audience?

No we couldn’t have expected such a buzz, it’s crazy… In 24 hours we had a live broadcast on american TV, it made the news in Australia and South America… It really went round the world! I believe it’s a performance people can easily understand: two guys jump from a mountain, fly into a plane, it had never been done before. They were reminded of the James Bond stunt in Goldeneye, they could relate and they liked it! It’s definitely the most intense project we had to work on, in terms of mental challenge. It was difficult.

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How did you have the idea of such a jump?

The idea came from one of the pioneers of wingsuit flying and inventor of modern wingsuits: Patrick de Gayardon. In 1997, though he was the only one flying with a wingsuit, he had the idea of jumping from a plane and flying back into it. I had a chance to meet him when he was training for this performance, I was 18… It was super impressive! He died in an accident in 1998, Patrick leaved a trace in the skydiving history and he was one of our idols. With Vince, we used to say: “it would be fun to do it too one day, but together.” The idea stayed in a corner of our minds until then. And last year, we met Philippe Bouvier, the pilot of the Pilatus (the plane in the video) and we managed right from the first flights to fly in a formation, real close.We thought we could finally see our project through, and fly into the plane. It was the starter idea. One morning in March, Vince woke up and told me: “I had a dream, let’s enter the plane from a cliff!” And at the moment I just thought: that’s bold (laugh)! We studied the possibilities, talk to the right persons and came through with the fact we could do it.

 

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Why did you choose the top of the Jungfrau to jump in your wingsuit? Why this mountain?

To make this project happen, we needed a long wingsuit flight (the flight lasted about 3 minutes). We thought about flying from Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix but it was complicated to organise something there. We had never jumped from the Jungfrau but we had heard it was the longest wingsuit flight in the world with a 3200 metres altitude difference… Early July we went there for reconnaissance purposes and GPS analysis. The setting was breathtaking, the mountain shape was exactly what we were looking for. We had one minute to get into the plane and we knew that if we missed our chance, we had more than enough time to balance ourselves, get our flight back in hands and continue to the end of the valley. We understood Jungfrau was the perfect place!

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This performance required months of preparation in Catalonia, can you tell us more about that? How did the training take place exactly?

We really started training with Philippe Bouvier in June 2017, we had 3 months of intensive training. The objective was not only to fly into the plane but also to fly in a formation and do tricks… Then, we had to train specifically on getting into the plane. We had 2 training sessions. On the first day, our attempts failed. Then on the second day, I got into the plane twice but not Vince. We had a 2/3 weeks break and then resumed jumping in Spain and it worked fine. First day, we manage to enter the plane 7 times each and the next day, 2 times each. During this session we did 4 jumps from the plane before re-entering it, it was great! By the end of August, we were ready and we took off for Switzerland mid-september for our first tries in dreadful weather conditions. Vince got into the plane but I didn’t, the project wasn’t over. We went back on D-day and weather conditions were perfect. We both missed the plane on the first flight, but 2 hours later we were back up the summit, the plane arrived… and it happened!

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It took you weeks of work to manage the perfect move and get into the plane flying at 140 km/h. What was the most difficult?

Technically, we had to understand the trajectory. On my first 2 tries I arrived with to much horizontal speed, it wasn’t clean enough for our needs. It took us a few tries to get the trajectory right and manage the moves. We needed to be mentally fresh too, in order to make sure we wouldn’t injure ourselves as we passed through the door. With our speed, it didn’t seem that big! This performance was a mix of various challenges, small things added to each other that made the whole trick mentally and physically exhausting…

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Communication with the pilot of the plane was essential to the success of the project. You were equipped with radios to coordinate, right?

Yes, exactly, we had VHS radio systems allowing us to keep in touch with the pilot. We could talk during all the taining flights. It’s a system that was developped for the Jetman project with Yves Rossy. Radios were essential to coordinate, give the timings, everything! It really is a team work. And in this case, a team work with Philippe and Yves Rossy, the inventor of Jetman, who was the co-pilot during this jump. He gave us the “Go” to jump, whereas Philippe was more focused on the controls and piloting the engine. Yves had an outsider perspective, he gave Philippe indications on the trajectory, gave us the timing to jump, announced the times and moments when we could enter or not… We were two to enter the plane but we were 4 flying into the air. Without Philippe and Yves, it would have been much more difficult, not to say impossible.


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What special fittings had to be made to the plane in this historical jump?

First of all we had to get rid of the sliding door, detach a vertical bar that’s used as a protection for skydiving jumps, detach the steps and then protect everything. We bought matresses that we cut into the right shape, we fixed them to the vertical walls and the floor obviously, we then strapped some foam rubber over the door frame… We used tones and tones of gaffer tape! It took us at least 2 hours work to get the plane ready before the jump, with mechanics from the drop zone and pilots.

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We know it wasn’t that expensive (rumor talks about € 200 000) but who financed it?

It’s Red Bull who financed the entire project “A door in the sky”.

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You presented the idea to thm and they said okay?

Yes! In the beginning we only talked about flying with the plane, before we even had the idea of jumping from the mountain. They found it fun and when Vince had the revelation about base jumping from the cliff, they were thrilled (smile).

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It’s been a year since we last heard of Jetman, what’s happening?

The project belongs to Dubai, they bought it in 2014. Due to company management issues in Dubai, they decided to pause this project. Our last flight with Jetman was in October 2016, with the French Air Force. We hope to get back to it soon but this is not our decision to make.

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What was your impression during the video, at your third try, when you both get into the plane?

We felt a lot of joy, beause we could share that with all the people around us: the 2 pilots in the plane, the production guys who had followed us during the trainings, Red Bull guys who were with us… Again, it really was a team effort, everybody was happy, it was huge! We felt quite relieved because we had worked on this project for several months and pressure was high since the jump was technical and challenging. We had to handle this pressure and focus on important points, to realise a move that in the end, you know how to do, we had trained for it! The moment we got in, all this pressure dropped at once, it was very emotional!


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What are your next projects with Vince ? What are your dreams and expectations?

We have a lot, that’s for sure, but with the evolution of equipments and flying technics, we never know what the future has in store for us. A few years back, if someone had told us we would be flying with the French Air Force, we wouldn’t have believed them! We always have ideas and places on Earth we want to fly over,some mountains and landscapes just draw you in… There already is some filming planned for next year, that’s cool!

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Any last word?

Obviously, I thank Philippe Bouvier, without who none of this would have been possible, we’ve been teammates throughout the year and it was great to fly with him. Thanks also to Yves Rossy who invested himself so much and allowed us to reach our objective, he was a huge support and especially in the mountain flights. Thanks to the sponsors, Red Bull never force us to do anything, we are the one bringing our ideas. There were some difficult moments during this project, moments of doubts, Olivier Guiraud (ourAthletes Manager at Red Bull) always believed in us and supported us to the end… And a huge thanks to all the team, and the production team of Supersize Films, who made this project happen!

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