Winging It: Brian

Brian "Lurch" Caldwell of Hudson likes to spread his wings from time to time.

Caldwell has been skydiving for a decade but what he really wanted to do wasn't fall, but fly. Thanks to a special outfit that allows him to glide while in free fall, he's come about as close to flying as a human being can without piloting an airplane. And in the nine years he's been jumping out of planes in his wingsuit, he's pushed the boundaries so much that in August he traveled to Hungary for the largest wingsuit competition in the world. There he won first place, traveling 3,878 meters with a 1 kilometer descent rate – the second longest recorded flight in history.

What's your secret to long glide?

Vision. Systematic training. You look with your eyes but you see with your mind. Live in the wind long enough and you spot waves and repeating patterns spanning hundreds of miles and weeks of time that you can hook up with and ride. I saw one coming and caught it.

Training got me performance consistency. When you really, really love to fly you learn everything you possibly can about how to do it better – how to turn a vague feeling into a practical, measurable result. I was ready for anything.

Have you always been a daredevil?

I wouldn't call myself that – I'm a physical movement artist. The idea is to discover ways to move in directions that don't even exist yet and not get hurt in the process. That means being fantastically obsessive about identifying possible threats and coming up with ways to deal with them before the conditions ever even come up. Observe. Learn. Predict. Survive. I enjoy precarious situations because they're challenging and nothing focuses the mind quite like having some skin in the game. Live and learn, or die and teach by example. I'm in this game for the long haul and if I do this right, then I'll still be at it thirty years from now.

Do you fly in dreams?

Yeah. Doesn't everyone?

People have dreamed of flying like this for 50,000 years. It's only become possible for it to be a practical reality and way of life in the last 10. I'm making the most of it. You only get to be part of the first generation to inhabit the sky once. The big difference between my flying dreams and other people's flying dreams is my flying dreams really happen. Takes a lot of work to make them real, but they happen.

What was it like first time?

Unforgettable – One of those life-changing moments. My timing was off on the exit. Too excited. I figured I'd either be scared to death at skydiving with my arms and legs tied and fall out of the sky like an idiot, or it'd be exactly the experience I'd dreamed a thousand times before and there I'd find that magic I was looking for in life.

I decided I really liked the second outcome and focused on that. Jumped out of the plane. Opened my wings, and just stopped falling. Or close enough as to make no difference. The feeling was there.

Impossible become real. Worth every risk it took to get there. I've lived it ever since. Gets better every time.

Is it still fun?

You're totally kidding me with that question, right? This is the most awesome way I can think of to spend my one shot at existence. I want to leave behind a burst of light so bright the gods will notice I was here. A life dedicated to being abnormally happy and showing others that its possible to do the same. Like Ma Teresa with a mohawk, a wingsuit and too much coffee. So far, so good. But I haven't got the mohawk yet.

Is it ever scary?

All the time. I've learned to see scary things as opportunities to grow and excel, and so most people's idea of scary is my idea of fun. It's brought me the strangest collection of hats.

I cope with scary by learning everything I can about the situation and building in three times the margin for error I think I'll need. It's amazing how thorough you learn to be when there are lives riding on your judgment.

Close calls?

A few, mostly wind related. Taught me to read the wind better and to wait.

Pick up lines?

I got nothin'. I'm not what you'd call much of a pickup-line-using sort of guy. I make awkward the new cool. The ability to fly isn't as much use socially as you'd think, it's too hard to explain… "Hi, I'm Brian, and I can fly" just doesn't work. Worst case, I'll find a way to make her laugh.

Categories: Q&A