When it comes to unconventional vocations, Udit Thapar seems to be somewhat of an expert. He dons multiple hats — that of a commercial airline pilot, hot air balloon pilot, microlight pilot and a paragliding pilot, all with equal elan. But prod him on what gives him his biggest high, he answers unequivocally, “My rush is wingsuit flying. Flying wingsuits is a perfect balance between falling and flying. It is also the closest form of human flight. Unlike any other form of flying, after wearing a wingsuit, the body transforms into an aerofoil.” He reveals, “The ability to glide and cover large distances is my favourite part of wingsuit diving. This is not possible in the conventional skydiving.”
Meet the man — Udit Thapar, who is one of India’s most prolific skydivers and amongst the nation’s only known wingsuit pilots. His journey started young. Udit remembers, “I was exposed to the sport of parachuting at a very young age. My father was a military parachutist. I used to spend numerous days on the airfields, watching my father and his colleagues plunge out of choppers and fly.” This was when his newfound interest started taking a shape of its own. “I did my schooling in Russia where there was no age limit to perform parachuting. So I made my first solo jump in the eleventh grade.” This jump would change everything. “After that jump, I knew that skydiving and wingsuit flying is something I would pursue all my life.”
But even when your hobby is such a deep-rooted passion, it still doesn’t come that easy. “Things really only happen if we want them to. I was 18-years-old and in the US for my flight training. I used to save money and do odd jobs and used all my cash to become a trained skydiver, accumulating more jumps and building my skills. Once I started working, I used all my savings and put it into the sport.”
Ten years later, Udit can boast of having improved tremendously and now competes at world-level events. He ranked 19th at the World Cup 2017. “Coming from a military background has served me well and my family is my support system. They have always motivated me although they get a bit anxious sometimes, yet are always there to help me continue on this journey,” he gushes.
But isn’t the sport dangerous? Thapar scoffs the remark and clarifies, “Statistically, it is safer to skydive than to ride a motorbike in Delhi. Another myth is that it’s scary, to be honest, it is not scary at all, it just looks the part. It’s a thrill.”
He compares the rush of the sport to driving a Mercedes-AMG G 63. Udit says, “The G 63 is a beast. The acceleration in that car is much better than the jet I fly. Always in control with great handling and super nice breaks. The cabin is so comfortable and it cruises through sand dunes and broken roads.” His car has serves him well as he goes gazes at the clear skies of Rajasthan.
Reminiscing about his most memorable and challenging jumps, Udit reveals the jump at Jurien Bay in Australia to be the one for books. “We exited the aeroplane over the shark-infested Indian Ocean, and then flew our wingsuits across the shoreline to land on the beach.” A close second was the wingsuit over the Palm Island in Dubai he adds, “Dubai has one of the only skydive centres in the middle of urban settlements. To fly a parachute right next to tall skyscrapers is one of the most breathtaking experiences.”
One has to be an experienced skydiver before performing wingsuit flying. Most operators need participants to have a minimum of 200 skydives and a good skill set and body awareness. These are a broad set of requirements for running the Wingsuit First Flight Course. He says, “The right gear and even more importantly the right attitude is a wingsuit pilot’s must-have. Since wingsuits are aerofoils, they also restrict body movements, this adds a whole new level of challenge to conventional skydives. In case of any malfunction or abnormality, a wingsuiter must first unzip his arm and leg wings before he/she can deal with that problem.”
Thapar adds, “Make sure to be mentally alert, not too tense, and always fly in good weather conditions — these are the three clear stipulations before you make the jump.”
Talking about the bright future ahead for the sport here in India, he says, “There are more Indians taking to the sport with every passing year. Last year at the World Cup, we had three people from India and the number is set to rise to 5 this year.”
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