Tyler Turner wants to be the world’s first bilateral amputee wingsuit pilot—and he wants you to jump out of an airplane.
“I think every amputee should try skydiving,” says Tyler Turner. Easy for him to say. A veteran of hundreds of jumps, Turner’s far removed from the terror that grips most people at the thought of leaping into thin air from 8,000 feet.
Then again, maybe he’s not completely immune to fear. Turner lost both legs below the knee because of a skydiving accident three years ago, a freak crash during an otherwise routine landing. He spent four days in a coma and months on painkillers, battling depression and addiction while he confronted the loss of his identity as a skydiver, snowboarder, rock climber, and all-around extreme-sports adventurer.
That’s what makes Turner’s return to aerial action all the more remarkable. He’s not only back to where he was before the accident, making multiple jumps a day as a skydiving instructor. Turner has actually gone above and beyond his previous heights, positioning himself to become the first bilateral amputee in history to pilot a wingsuit.
He made his first training flight three weeks ago, using a high-end tracking suit (one grade below a full-blown wingsuit) called the Mutation. Before the summer is out, Turner will take a specially designed wingsuit out for a spin. While it may look easy on YouTube—just spread your arms and fly, nothing to it—it’s actually an incredibly difficult and dangerous endeavor, one that takes advanced technical skill and exceptionally steady nerves.
Plain old skydiving, by contrast, takes almost no qualifications. Virtually anyone can do it, Turner says—and he thinks amputees absolutely should do it, for reasons he shared with us last week. Our conversation is edited for clarity and length.
How’d your flight go today?
Awesome. My buddy and I are trying to get better at flying beside each other, and we did a great job today—we got really close. So we’re progressing and getting better. It feels good.
Is wingsuit flying something you started doing since your amputation?
Yeah, mostly. I had only done about 11 wingsuit jumps before my injury. It just really wasn’t my cup of tea. It was fun and I loved it, but there weren’t many people [doing it]. I was just kind of doing it by myself, so I just kind of gave it up.
After my amputation, I talked to a lot of the manufacturers, and they said they’d never heard of a bilateral amputee being a wingsuit pilot. So I said, “Well let’s do that.” We’ve been working on it for a while, modifying some suits and different things and customizing them. Finally, about a week and a half ago, I just said, “There’s no more R&D we can do. It’s time to jump it.”
What modifications did you have make to to adapt the wingsuit for the anatomy of a bilateral amputee?
Honestly, very little. The key thing was to have it quite short and tight because I can’t point my toes. That’s kind of a big thing—to get tension in the suit, you point your toes after you start flying it. Without being able to point my toes, I had to have my suit quite small and tight, which isn’t very comfortable. But it means that when I just push my legs out, that puts enough tension in the suit to fly efficiently.
This suit I’m flying right now, the Mutation, technically isn’t a wingsuit. It’s called a tracking suit, because my arms aren’t connected. I’m using it to train for a more advanced suit that I’m getting through the High Fives Foundation. That’s the one that has the complete customization done. This one’s essentially just a standard suit that I’ve taped a bunch of things onto, and I’m just using it to train.
Initially I was supposed to go to Europe to train in an indoor wingsuit tunnel. It’s the only one in the world. They run air through it, and you can fly a wingsuit in it. But then COVID hit, so we had to come up with a different way to learn. This tracking suit is the best way to learn. The problem is it took a lot of, I guess, [guts] to jump out of the airplane with it the first time. Because no one’s ever done it [as an amputee], and I didn’t know if my prosthetics were gonna work. And actually, the legs I used on my first jump didn’t work very well. I use different legs now that are a little shorter. I’m using the Fillauer AllPro, and they fit a lot better in the suit. I don’t love how they fill out the sole, but I like the way they fill out the rest of the suit.
Now I just need to get miles on the suit and get comfortable and confident so I’m ready when the High Fives suit arrives. That’s a huge step up. Right now I’m in kind of a top-end beginner / low-end intermediate suit, and I’m going into quite an aggressive, advanced suit.
How do the capabilities of that suit compare to the tracking suit you’re flying now?
You’re flying further, faster, and flatter. Right now I’m probably flying 1.5 to 2 miles per flight. That’ll at least double in the new suit, if not triple, depending on how efficiently I’m flying it. It’s just a more high-performance, more powerful suit—although the suit that I’m flying in now, the Mutation, is a very advanced suit for its category. It’s the most powerful one-piece tracking suit you can get.
I just have a goal of flying an actual wingsuit. It’s never been done [by an amputee]. If I’m gonna do it, I’m not going to take the cheap, easy way to do it. I’m going to do it in a way that’s respected by the skydive and wingsuit community. I want to do it right.
How can a person get started in wingsuiting? If I’m a generally fit, active amputee, is there an introductory pathway for me?
There is, but you need to be pretty committed. If anyone out there wants to learn to wingsuit, send them to me and I’ll let them know what the next five years of their life look like. You’re looking at a minimum of 200 skydives before even considering a tracking suit. It’s a big commitment of time and money. That’s my full-time job, I teach skydiving. I’m jumping all day, every day. There’s not many people who can just dabble. You pretty much have to commit 100 percent.
Tandem skydives are where most people start, and for a lot of people that’s the only experience they need. Everyone’s got a different reaction, but it’s very cool to see what it does for people. It’s very freeing, especially if you’re down and out. It’s a big emotional dump, maybe the biggest of your life. For amputees, it can be a bit of a fork in the road. It can really make a positive change in people’s lives, even for able-bodied people who are having a tough time.
If an amputee wants to try a tandem jump, should they choose a particular kind of skydiving school? Are there special considerations from a safety point of view that you’d want to look into?
There are definitely some different things that would have to be considered, depending on whether your amputation is single leg, bilateral, above knee, below knee, or arm. But every one of those considerations can be sorted out. Call your local DZ, or drop zone, and let them know in advance you’re an amputee. Don’t just show up without letting them know. I would say 99.9 percent of drop zones will be able to accommodate you. A really small drop zone might not be able to handle you if you have a really high above-the-knee amputation. That would be the only thing that might require some special consideration, just because of the harness. But for most amputees, it’s really not an issue.
Do you recommend wearing your prosthesis for your first jump?
Jumping with or without prosthetics is definitely a thing. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into getting my legs to a point where I can jump with them confidently. Most tandems, we would tell them to remove their legs. I use pin locks for skydiving because I have more confidence in the pins than the suction. But there shouldn’t be a reason why anyone can’t try skydiving as an amputee.
What’s your timetable for stepping up from the tracking suit to the wingsuit?
I don’t want to put a timeline on it, just for safety reasons. I want to be at a point where I’m comfortable and confident. But I intend to get it done before the end of this season, which in Canada means like the end of September. Maybe October, but that’s pushing it because it gets pretty cold and short days. I’ve gotten in 12 or 14 flights over the last week in my Mutation. I’d like to get a minimum 30 before even considering moving up. I may even get an intermediate suit just to bridge the gap a little bit and just do 5 jumps in it. But it’s a big move.
Once you get the suit, what sort of preparation do you do before your first jump? You can’t just zip it on and jump the minute it arrives, can you?
Actually it’s going to be hard not to do that. If I don’t have enough jumps in my Mutation when the wingsuit arrives, it’s going to take a lot of self-control to not just strap it on and go. But yeah, once we’re ready—just check the fit and get flying. It’s going to be an intense show. There’s some stuff being filmed about it, so there is some pressure to get it done this season because there are certain obligations there.
Can you share any details about that project?
It’s a short documentary film, but it’s quite artistic. A snowboard company I used to ride for made it, and the goal is to get it into film festivals. They just submitted it to the Banff Mountain Film Festival. I actually just saw the rough cut last week. It’s going to be 18-ish minutes long, and they don’t even mention that I lost my legs. Obviously the images are showing that I don’t have legs, but the focus is more on depression and the mental toll of that, and how easy it is to get addicted to pain medication. And then at the end, I’m jumping out of airplanes again. So it shows you can get back on top.
That part’s a little cliched, but it’s done in a really great way. I hate the word “inspire,” but I think this is the right phrase to use it. If I can inspire an amputee to not jump out the window when they’ve lost their limb, then I think that that’s worth it. I’ve seen so many people think, “Ah I lost my leg, and now my life is going to be limited.” Well, no. Don’t tell yourself that. Don’t tell yourself that you can’t be just as good or better than you would have been before. The leg’s not the thing. It’s the mind-set. That’s what I’m hoping to prove with this, is that there isn’t actually a limit. Set yourself up for success, and there really isn’t a limit as an amputee.
Follow Turner on Instagram @tyturner14 to keep up with his quest to become the first amputee wingsuit pilot.