Image: Richard Schneider
Image: Richard Schneider
Thousands of feet above the ground, the air rushing in through the plane’s open door is bitterly cold. The wind blasts around the small cabin, making Richard Schneider’s wingsuit rustle wildly. Yet Schneider doesn’t cower in fright at what will soon happen. Not a bit of it – even if a nervous excitement fills him as he edges toward the door of the airplane.
Once at the exit, Schneider takes in the dizzying view: the wispy clouds around him, the swirling land formations and sprawling cityscape below, and nothing but air in between. He steps out of the plane’s door and, spreading his arms and legs wide – a bird on manmade wings – begins his flight over arguably the most opulent and extravagant city in the world.
That city is Dubai – a place full of ambitious architecture like the towering Burj Khalifa and the impressive Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Jumeirah developments. The two palm tree-shaped artificial archipelagoes, in particular, are quite spectacular when viewed from above, even though the Palm Jebel Ali remains incomplete. For some, however, flying over such sights in a passenger jet – or any aircraft – just isn’t enough.
Wingsuit flyer Richard Schneider traveled to the emirate in 2012 with one thrilling objective in mind: to launch himself from an aircraft thousands of feet above Dubai’s coast and in the direction of the Palm Jebel Ali while wearing gear that effectively turned him into a giant flying squirrel.
The daredevil laid the groundwork for his 2012 trip – from which most of the photos in this article are taken – half a year before heading for the Arabian skies. This meant securing permission to land at a designated drop zone and getting in as much training as possible – including rehearsing landing procedures in the desert. Then on the day of the actual jump Schneider and his companion Oscar Lozada took off prior to sunset, armed not only with their wingsuits, but also trusty GoPro Hero 2 and Contour HD action cameras.
“I think Dubai is the closest anyone can get to visiting another planet these days,” the adventurer explained on PictureCorrect.com, the photography resource website he founded. Schneider’s choice of words is certainly apt, given that arriving on a far-flung world would likely require some kind of expertly orchestrated descent from the heavens.
On the day of the 2012 flight, meanwhile, the wingsuiters donned their gear and boarded a propeller plane. Then, after the craft had reached the required height, they leapt into the air – a moment that Schneider’s foot-mounted camera captured brilliantly. In the video of the stunt, Schneider and Lozada glide thousands of feet above the coastline, taking in the incredible view as they hurtle earthward.
Schneider falls for quite some distance before engaging his parachute. Naturally, at this point his descent slows, giving him more time to enjoy the stunning sunset and cityscape views.
At one point during the drop it’s possible to see the Skydive Dubai airstrip, which is opposite the Palm Jumeirah. Incidentally, the photo above, from a separate jump, shows the as yet unfinished Palm Jebel Ali.
Plummeting toward the Palm Islands and skyscrapers of the world’s most luxurious city justifies the use of more than one camera to capture such a spectacle. And what’s more, the Contour+ action device attached to Schneider’s helmet on this particular jump was programmed to take a shot every second.
This snap-happy approach proved to be a wise one, though, even if a lot of the images didn’t turn out as planned. One photo in particular is so amazing that Schneider described it as among the “favorite images” he’s “ever captured.” The shot flawlessly shows not just cloud formations seldom seen in this part of the Middle East, but also a falling-to-Earth Lozada, with one of the Palm Islands visible in the near distance.
Schneider added an element of competition to the jump, too. After leaping from the plane, he decided to race it back to base. “Chasing the pilot back to the airport in front of the sunset and Burj Jebel Ali,” the daredevil explained on his website, “[was] a spectacular view I will never forget.”
Schneider didn’t reveal the eventual winner, but the wingsuiters would certainly have been moving fast. Indeed, wingsuit flyers tend to travel through the air at around 100 mph, and their speed can even increase to about 160 mph if the wind is blowing in the right direction. Japan’s Shinichi Ito actually holds the wingsuit flying world speed record, having reached 225.6 mph during a 2011 descent above Yolo County, California.
A sub-discipline of skydiving and BASE jumping, wingsuit flying is definitely among the more hazardous pastimes out there. And while courage is an obvious prerequisite for this kind of pursuit, so too is experience. The instructors at Skydive Dubai, for example, have made a whopping 220,000 dives between them, while other participants there are required to have 200 regular and 50 wingsuit jumps in the bag prior to arriving.
Fortunately, experience isn’t something Schneider lacks. This is a man who has made wingsuit jumps over California’s Lake Elsinore, rural Massachusetts and the “Windy City” of Chicago. He’s also taken part in the biggest-ever vertical configuration of wingsuiters, which in 2011 saw 36 “pilots” fly in a formation measuring 72 feet from top to bottom.
Interestingly, while the extreme activity may seem like a recent innovation, it actually dates back to Europe’s so-called “Birdmen” of the 1940s. The developing sport’s first four decades, however, were marred by tragic deaths.
It wasn’t until 1997 that wingsuit pioneer Patrick de Gayardon created the first fit-for-purpose suit, but even this development hasn’t made the sport risk free. In fact, from 2002 to 2014 wingsuit or close-proximity flights – the latter of which involve swooping down near to obstacles like trees and buildings – resulted in the deaths of a reported 87 people.
Such risks may explain why Schneider isn’t solely devoted to wingsuit flying. Indeed, he’s a man of many talents. Having unveiled PictureCorrect.com in 2003, today he takes care of business development for the site, as well as editing it, with the online resource offering a range of advice to camera enthusiasts of all skill levels.
And when not documenting Dubai from the sky, Schneider has also found time to capture the emirate via a series of time-lapse and long-exposure shots at ground level. “There is so much strange architecture everywhere and colliding cultures to go along with it,” he has explained. Schneider’s photos have taken in sights like the imposing Burj Khalifa and Dubai Marina as well as, more bizarrely, the set of a Flo Rida music video.
Schneider’s most spectacular photos, though, are surely those he took from the air: the sun setting on the ocean horizon, Dubai’s lofty glass-fronted skyscrapers below, and the awe-inspiring Palm Islands visible in the background.