Adrian Nicholas

October 1998


People in the Sport

Adrian Nicholas 

Adrian spent six months of last year on the road as cameraflyer with Patrick DeGayardon. He did three commercials, a couple of movies and plenty of TV.

Adrian competed at the World Games and the World Air Games with Olav Zipser where he won bronze for the UK. He won a Gold and a Silver on the two rounds of the Pro tour that he could make. Now he has a Guinness World Record for the furthest human flight.

He spent the winter in Sebastian running a freefly school with Olav.

Photo by Simon Ward

How many jumps did you make last year Adrian?
I was lucky, it was a good year. More than two and a half thousand, in 14 countries.

How many in England?

You like to fly on your head with formation skydivers, don't you?
Very much. It's fun to follow people and film them in their specialty. I flew camera on the Swedish 107 record. It was a real treat. Two Hercules. The military look after you better than an airline. A hundred people diving to take their place in the jigsaw. Its fun to fly amongst the swarm and see it become this huge piece. I want to film more FS.

You've held three seminars in Sweden now.
Yes. I love to jump in Sweden. The seminars were a great success. People with different goals and different strengths. They listen and they learn very fast. The clubs have some great ideas. They have a good way of keeping people under their wing when they are low time, or supporting people low time in a particular discipline.

Why does freeflying please you so much?
It means that I can do whatever I want, while you do whatever you like. I like the control, it's a powerful way to fly. Its much easier to move and change the speed. You have so many choices. It's a blend of discipline and imagination. There's always another way that you can be where you want to be. Now people are learning to track more strongly the game can become more three dimensional. You can end up with more time than FS.

Should freeflyers exit first or last?
Be flexible. Common sense will always work better than something set in stone. First, middle, last, it can all work. Be flexible so everyone lands on the drop zone and we don't have unnecessary go-arounds. Some people on a load may need to be looked after more than others. Its simple enough, there has to be an appropriate gap between groups. Some people can safely be put out more quickly than others. Efficiency and safety will both come from some flexibility.

What would you ban?
It's easier to make recommendations than ban everything. I hate leg-strap throwaway pilot chutes. If you have a leg pocket and fly other than belly to earth, it puts you and anyone near you at great risk. When I make this point it has been suggested that it's more dangerous to retrain people to deploy a different system. This gives me little confidence that they would be suitably aware to distinguish between malfunctions.

Photo by Olav Zipser

You are known for having a different approach to safety, tell us about that
Our students all check their own gear. They can check their reserve pin in the door if they have to. It would make more sense to me if the person waiting to check off jumpers in England watched them check their own gear, rather than did it for them. It tells you a lot about the jumper. Just turning your back towards whoever happens to be sat next to you in the plane while you make complicated handshakes with the assembled group seems bizarre to me. For freeflying it's not acceptable. 

Don't forget that your Cypres will fire at a different altitude dependant on your body position. Short closing loops are vital. It sounds so boring and obvious but most people could tune their rigs up a bit. 

We like people to do barrel rolls while they track away, without burning altitude, to help them check before they pull. If you want to learn to freefly, learn to read your altimeter from any body position. It will make you much stronger in the air, forcing a lack of symmetry.

What's your advice for new freeflyers?
Learn to skydive first. You should be able to pass your Cat 10, whether you have to or not. Learn to be capable on your belly. Skydive U will teach you a lot about how to learn. Get someone who is very good at CF to take you up, one to one, and teach you about canopies. Shorten your loop. Learn to lock the bridle when you pack your pilot chute. Learn to fly on your feet before trying on your head.

Do you find the UK different from the rest of the world?
I think the rest of the world perceive us differently too. Britain, land of the eccentric, is still often nervous of innovation and change. We can spend more time chasing rules than reason. Couldn't we concentrate on distributing information? Education is a better way to increase safety than regulation. Who knows, one day we might get even parts of England dragged into the 70's. Sebastian XL, Spotty Bowles, Playstation, Darryl's Another Planet, they are all working so hard and achieving so much. I hope they get the support they deserve. 

What was the Guinness show about?
It worked out well. A Guinness World Record for the furthest human flight. The record will read 'Adrian for Patrick DeGayardon' in the book. They have agreed to put in a tribute talking about his other records. I got one attempt, using a Garmin GPS to measure my track. Joe Jennings organised the filming, jumping with me to get the exit shot and using a helicopter to film the run. Katarina changed my wings in Hawaii. I got two minutes twenty for a freefall of twelve thousand feet, and covered eight kilometres. The show was a tribute to Patrick.

You've written a book about Patrick?
It's his life, in his words. We videotaped conversations while we travelled. He led the most extraordinary life. I learnt a lot writing the book. We finished checking the text the night before the accident in Hawaii. We hope that the Italian publishers can get it out this year.

Some people say he paid the price for pushing the limits too far, what would you say?
Patrick lived outside what other people thought was possible. His death in Hawaii was an accident, a tragic accident. He had imagination and the insatiable drive to discover what might be possible. He got things done. I think people around the world salute a pioneer, unique in the history of the sport. Patrick always did what anyone, who still has life left in them, must applaud. You have to admire a man who always reached for the stars.

Adrian Nicholas was talking to Lesley Gale

Go to Adrian's tribute to Patrick de Gayardon

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