People of PN: BASE Catapult

A Canadian BASE jumper pushes the envelope of extreme

People of PN: 2013 A Look Back

B.A.S.E Catapult

Lonnie Bissonnette first made a splash onto mainstream social media sites in 2012 when he jumped from the nearly 900-foot New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia.

While this may seem crazy to some, it’s actually a sport known as B.A.S.E jumping, an acronym for four types of jumps off fixed objects — buildings, antennas, spans (such as a bridge) and the earth (such as the top of a cliff).

What makes Bissonnette stand out from the rest of the BASE-jumping crowd is he makes these jumps from the seat of his wheelchair. The 47-year-old Canadian extreme athlete has been skydiving for most of his life. In fact, it was this very activity that put him in his wheelchair in 2004 during his 1,100th BASE jump off a 468-foot bridge.

But that didn’t keep him from returning to the sport of sky diving and stepping it up a level to include BASE-jumping to his resume’. Bissonnette has more than 22 years of skydiving experience under his belt, once holding a skydiving certification, and made more than 1,500 jumps prior to his injury. Despite his rich history in the sport, a lot of planning, designing and wheelchair modifications had to be accounted for prior to his first wheelchair jump.

But that’s so yesterday’s news. Like so many extreme athletes, it’s about pushing the envelope and working towards new feats. For Bissonnette, a catapult seemed like a natural next step towards insanity.

Together, with Bridge Day organizer Jason Bell, Bissonnette hopes to introduce his catapult at the 2014 Bridge Day event.

“Jason first had the catapult in 2012 and when I first saw it I knew I had to give it a try,” says Bissonnette. “Despite my enthusiasm, Jason was petrified. During initial testing Jason finally let me give his catapult a try and that’s how this summer happened where I got launched out of that catapult and into a lake.”

The catapult itself is designed to sit at the edge of a bridge or other structure and allows the “user” the opportunity to be launched like an ancient projectile before deploying his or her parachute.

Unlike its medieval predecessor, Bissonnette’s catapult operates via a pneumatic air system powered off a 200-gallon tank compressor.

“It’s quite the shot,” Bissonnette says. “If you land wrong … it’s quite a smacker.”

While this may seem like complete madness, Bissonnette is already planning his next adventure of donning a wing suit. Stay tuned.

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