Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Flying suit that enabled landing without a parachute was made in Zephyrhills

ZEPHYRHILLS

When Tony Uragallo's friend told him he wanted to fall 2,400 feet from a helicopter and not use a parachute, Uragallo was one of the few people who didn't think he was insane. Uragallo, owner of TonySuit Wingsuits in Zephyrhills, finished Gary Connery's flight suit four months ago. On Wednesday, he watched Connery, a British stunt diver, become the first person to make a successful wingsuit landing without using a parachute. The occasion called for champagne.

• • •

Jumping out of a plane in a wingsuit is a little boring, Uragallo said. A wingsuit has extra fabric under the arms and between the legs, creating a glide rather than a drop. It's a slow, easy flight, unlike the heart-stopping plunge of skydiving. It's only when you careen past clouds or mountains that you realize how fast you're tumbling toward the earth.

Uragallo, now 58, began skydiving 40 years ago, and in 1976 he began sewing suits. At the time, skydivers used World War II flight suits and track suits, Uragallo said. During an outing one weekend in London, Uragallo saw a man from Arizona in a white suit with a rainbow design. Uragallo wanted it, but he couldn't afford it. He dragged out an old sewing machine his mother had taught him to use for basic fixes, and he taught himself to sew a suit worthy of flying.

Back then, Uragallo was a bricklayer living in East London. He biked across the city with fabric rolled into a quiver and sewed in his bedroom after work.

He hated bricklaying, and he didn't like London much. The weather was soggy and uncomfortable, severely limiting the weekends he could skydive. He spent most weekends stuck in pubs with friends, which didn't appeal to him.

Moving to Florida, where the weather shone perfect for falling thousands of feet, became a dream. In 1979, he came to Zephyrhills, a skydiving mecca. He scraped together the money for the move by selling his diving suits, and soon he made as much sewing as he did bricklaying. He announced he was quitting his other job. His father was shocked his son wanted to sew for a living.

• • •

Six months ago, Uragallo and Connery sat in Los Chico's in Zephyrhills, eating chimichangas and hashing out ways to make Connery's plan plausible. Uragallo had been making wingsuits in addition to smaller diving suits for six years. But the landing always included a parachute.

For Connery to land without deploying a parachute, he would need a new suit. Connery wanted to use the Apache, Uragallo's fastest suit. Uragallo insisted he would land too fast. They worked on five prototypes, and he experimented until he had a suit that was easy to slow, lift and glide. The final product still contained a parachute. Just in case.

• • •

Uragallo started watching Sky News, a United Kingdom station, at 7 a.m. Wednesday, when Connery was scheduled to make the jump in Henley-on-Thames, England. The fall wouldn't be broadcast live. He waited.

He had reason to be nervous. A man wearing one of his suits died after landing on his back during a jump in Switzerland last month. Before that, another man, Jhonathan Florez, set several world records after a jump in a TonySuit in Colombia. Anything could happen.

Uragallo trusted Connery, a professional stuntman who had planned the jump carefully. Still, if Connery were hurt or killed, Uragallo wouldn't just grieve that someone died in one of his suits. He would mourn the loss of a dear friend.

"I do this for a living. What could go wrong?" Connery had said with a laugh.

Connery's jump time was pushed back to 11 a.m. Uragallo searched Zephyrhills for champagne and plastic glasses for his 22-person staff. He finally found the goods in Walmart, sped to his office and the staff waited.

Connery made the jump. He survived. No one told Uragallo, but he knew as soon as the news broadcasts showed Connery preparing for the jump. They wouldn't show that if Connery had died, Uragallo thought. Uragallo and his staff watched Connery's plunge and his landing on a cushion of more than 18,000 cardboard boxes. Uragallo couldn't stop smiling, and he cracked the Walmart bubbly.

Very little sewing was accomplished in Uragallo's shop Wednesday. It didn't matter. A little insanity deserves a lot of champagne.

Mary Kenney can be reached at mkenney@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6247.

Flying suit that enabled landing without a parachute was made in Zephyrhills 05/24/12 [Last modified: Friday, May 25, 2012 7:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Erasmo Ramirez shuts down his old Rays teammates

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kiermaier returned. The problem is, so did Erasmo Ramirez.

    Seattle Mariners first baseman Yonder Alonso (10) scores on the double by Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.
  2. 'Road to Nowhere' is back: Next phase of Suncoast Parkway coming

    Roads

    Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as "Suncoast 2" is expected to start in early 2018.

    The Suncoast Parkway ends at U.S. 98 just south of Citrus County. For years residents have opposed extending the toll road, a project dubbed the "Suncoast 2" into Citrus County. But state officials recently announced that the Suncoast 2 should start construction in early 2018. [Stephen J. Coddington  |  TIMES]
  3. Jameis Winston's hardest lesson: He can't always save the day

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Ever wonder what in the world goes through Jameis Winston's mind when he tries to fit the ball in a keyhole as he is being dragged to the turf like he was during Thursday night's 12-8 preseason win over the Jaguars?

    Jameis Winston, left, tries to hang on to the ball as Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler tries to strip it from him.
  4. Despite pain, woman in court faces ex-boyfriend who lit her on fire

    Criminal

    PORT RICHEY

    Sheron Pasco sat in the wheelchair as her mother pushed it toward the man in the orange jail suit.

    Sheron Pasco, 39, relies on the help of her mother, Tranda Webb, 62, as she recovers from the burns covering her body.
  5. Florida starter under center still under wraps

    College

    GAINESVILLE — With two weeks before Florida opens its season against Michigan, the Gators' three-way quarterback battle remains wide open.

    Luke Del Rio, right, is in the mix to start against Michigan in the season opener … as is Malik Zaire and Feleipe Franks.