Brandon Johnson is an Air Force veteran and a professional skydiver living and working in the United Arab Emirates. He enjoys canopy piloting, free-flying, and angle flying in Dubai and around the world.
Name: Brandon Johnson
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Occupation: Professional Skydiver, Tandem Instructor, Videographer and Accelerated Free Fall Instructor
Sport: Skydiving, Wing-suiting, B.A.S.E. jumping
How long have you been been skydiving and how did you get started? Growing up, I always had an obsession with the sky and with flying which led me to explore the many ways I could experience flight. While I started out with an extreme interest in aviation, that all changed from the moment I saw a wingsuit in proximity flight. I knew right then that my world was about to change. I started skydiving in 2013 after watching YouTube videos of Jeb Corliss’ wingsuit BASE jumping. I began researching what I needed to do to get to that point. After I found out that I needed to learn how to skydive first I was a bit hesitant and almost didn’t go through with it. Then once I got to the drop-zone I just committed to it and did my first jump. After that I instantly fell in love with it and it was the best decision I ever made. I feel like I am finally on the right track and working towards my goal of becoming a world class athlete and one day competing in the World Wingsuit League. I’ve also been inspired by other Black B.A.S.E. jumpers and skydivers along the way. I want to do my part to break down cultural barriers and encourage African Americans to try sports like wing-suiting.
Is anyone in your family into adventure sports the way you are? What do they think of your decision to skydive professionally? Not that I’m aware of. I’m the only one that enjoys getting out of my comfort zone and pushing the limits. As far as my choice to skydive professionally, my mom is happy that I’m happy and that I found something that I enjoy as a profession. My dad on the other hand still thinks I’m crazy I think haha.
When did you start wing-suiting and why? I started wing-suiting right when I got to 200 jumps in early 2015. I did it here and there but only did about 30 wing-suit jumps until the beginning of 2017. Then I got back into it once I got back out to Dubai with my good friend and mentor Micah. Did my First Flight Course (FFC) with Darren Burke but learned how to really fly from the legend himself, Micah Couch.
What has your progression been with wing-suiting? What suit are you currently flying and what do you like about it? I went from a Phoenix Fly Phantom 3 for about 40-50 jumps and then to a Freak by Squirrel. I'm currently flying a Freak 2 by Squirrel. I chose this suit because it’s a great all around suit and gives me the flexibility to do whatever I want from flocking in big ways to acro to even some free flying. It’s just an all around amazing suit; super easy and low stress to fly.
How many cutaways have you had? I’ve had 3 cutaways total. Two on my sport rig and one on a tandem. My first cutaway was around 100 jumps and the 2nd was at almost 3000. A cutaway occurs when you jettison your main canopy due to a malfunction.
Do you ever get pre-jump jitters? If so how do you handle them? I do. Mainly when we have a staff load big way or something where there are multiple points and it’s slot specific and 80% of the jumpers are better than me so I’m worried about messing it up. I usually deal with it by mentally walking through it in my head and reminding myself to just relax and take my time with everything. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast
What are your goals in the next five years with skydiving? My goals in the next five years are to be one of the big names within the sport and to pave a path for African Americans within the sport. I plan on competing in canopy piloting, Red Bull Aces and competing on a Vertical Formation Skydiving (VFS) team in the future. I also want to become an organizer and continue to share my love and passion for the sport with others.
Who are your mentors within the sport?
My mentors in the sport are Rob Jones and Micah Couch. Rob is a professional skydiver who works at Skydive Dubai. He's also my tunnel coach! Micah was a skilled B.A.S.E. jumper, wingsuiter and all around ninja who passed away in 2017.
Where did you learn how to B.A.S.E. jump?
I “learned” to B.A.S.E jump at Brento in Italy with a couple of friends that were pretty experienced in the community. It was pretty much a crash course.
Your wingsuit is beautiful! Can you tell us a little about the design? And are those pockets?
Thanks! I’ve got a bit of a fascination with space and decided that I wanted my wingsuit to reflect that. Once I found out about the super customized option from Squirrel I started thinking of what design I wanted. I ended up going with 2 different images (one on the front and one on the back). The cool thing about the design is that they are actual images from the Hubble Telescope. Most people think it’s just a random graphic design that I found on the internet when in reality it’s real images of a galaxy printed on a wingsuit! The small pocket looking things on the wingsuit are actually inlets. They are what allow the air to flow into the suit and inflate it.
What canopy and container do you use? How do you decide which helmet, parachute and reserve to purchase?
I currently fly a 84 sq ft Leia from NZAerosports as my main canopy. The container that I use is a Vector 306.
As far as the gear goes, I made my choice of canopy based on using different brands and manufacturers to narrow down what it was that I wanted out of a canopy. For me I started with all Performance Designs canopies. Then as I gained more experience and started trying different manufacturers, I found that I really like NZAerosport's opening characteristics and performance.
Some of my gear choices came from what I was exposed to as a newbie when I first started. Most students and newer jumpers tend to make their gear choices based off of what they see their instructors using or what they come across at their home drop-zone, it all just depends on the person.
What's the difference between free-flying, wingsuiting and B.A.S.E. jumping?
Free-flying is basically flying your body in any orientation other than on your belly. We use terms like "head down," "head up" or "sit-flying" to refer to different free-flying techniques.
Wingsuiting is what most non skydivers would call “the squirrel suit.” It’s a suit that becomes pressurized when it fills up with air; enabling you to slow down your vertical descent and increase your forward air speed. It allows you to cover and larger distances and gives you the feeling of actually flying as you can see the amount of ground you’re covering.
B.A.S.E. jumping is a sport which involves jumping from a fixed object. The acronym stands for Building, Antenna, Span, Earth: the four main objects that B.A.S.E. jumpers parachute from. Your gear for BASE jumping is different from skydiving as the rig is configured differently, packs differently and you only have one parachute in a base rig. There are no back-ups so the risk is a lot higher!
What's your advice for someone who wants to get into B.A.S.E. jumping?
Take your time. The mountains and bridges aren’t going anywhere so there is no need to rush into it at 300 skydives. Take time to learn the essential skills, build your situational awareness and get comfortable with all aspects of canopy flight. Also, take a proper course for it. You will be setting yourself up for success with proper instruction and having a good mentor.
What are the top three most scenic drop-zones you've ever jumped at?
Skydive Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Skydive Diani in Kenya and Skydive Empuriabrava in Spain
Do you have any advice for first time tandem students?
Eat before you jump and remember to breathe.
P.S. your stomach doesn’t drop when you jump, there is no roller coaster feeling.
Would you rather do a high-pull at sunset or swoop the peas?
I would rather do a high pull at sunset and then swoop the peas!
What's your favorite skydiving movie: Point Break, Drop-zone or Cutaway?
I would have to say Cutaway. Mostly because of the cheesiness haha