Fred Fugen is a household name in the skydiving community. Well, if you haven’t heard of him, let us introduce this incredible athlete! He has over 18,000 skydives, 1500+ BASE jumps, a handful of VFS world records, he’s a Red Bull athlete, Private Pilot, and Speed Riding, pioneer. Most notably, Fred is one of the flying “Jetmen,” and a part of the Soul Flyers project. Today, we get a rare opportunity to sit down with him, tour the JetMan facility, talk about the loss of his dear friend Vince Reffet, and talk about the future.
Fred grew up in a town near the romantic, tourist destination of Paris, France. “It was a nice little town but for me, it was not so interesting. I did whatever I could to go to the dropzone as I was excited to go skydiving every weekend. As soon as I could, I was there full time.”
What many might know about Fred is that he is a second-generation skydiver. Both of his parents were skydivers and Fred grew up on the dropzone watching skydivers. “It was natural to be there every weekend,” he said and when he was 10 years old, Fred’s dad allowed him to go on his first tandem jump with French freefly pioneer Philippe Vallaud who took a grip and wowed Fred. After about 10 tandem skydives and right before his 17th birthday in 1996, Fred started AFF. “It was just normal to go skydiving, to see skydivers, and to that, I wanted to jump. It was my life and the life of my parents,” he reiterated.
His first tandems weren’t as notable as his first AFF. “I wasn’t really nervous, I was really excited to do it. I knew what was going to happen because of all the tandems and being around the dropzone all the time,” he shared. He added that it was an amazing experience because it was something he had been waiting for a very long time to do. “I felt free in the sky, not being attached to somebody.” Fred breezed through his AFF training and his biggest takeaway? “For me, it was the door to freedom.”
“I knew what path I wanted to take in skydiving. When I was a kid I was watching videos and having done my tandems with Philippe Vallaud, my hero in skydiving. “I was attracted to something other than belly flying,” he said. “I wanted to sit fly. Then about a year later I saw this video by Patrick Passe called Anti Gravity which showcases Phillipe and it was the first time I saw freeflying. It was amazing to see this guy being able to move across the sky like this on his head and floating on his back I was just amazed! I really wanted to do that!”
When Fred began skydiving, it was just the beginning of the newest discipline at the time, what we know as freeflying. This was a time before MFS, VFS, and big way head down or upright records. “I was very lucky to learn when I did as it was the beginning of freeflying and I just got sucked into this discipline. There were no rules of freeflying, no competition, no counting points, no relative work – it was pure freedom and having fun, and I was attracted by that,” he said.
After honing his skills he was on one of the first freefly teams with Vince Reffet. “We managed to win three World Championship titles, 2 freely World Games victories and 1 freely World Cup. Wingsuiting and BASE jumping came after but freeflying was my first love and it was the root, the beginning of it all,” he said.
“Before I ever jumped the Jetman wing, I did about 60 jumps with a wing with no engine,” he started. “I was helped a lot by Vince and Yves Rossy with a lot of training, briefings, and safety procedures. The flying itself was not too hard, but it was more about the safety procedures and having good reactions if something goes wrong. I was ready to do it.”
They did a lot of preparations by briefing the pilot, reviewing the flight path, and preparing the landing area for his first jump. “The jetwing is like a small plane and it’s an incredible feeling because as soon as you turn on the power you feel the wind lifting and pushing you horizontal and then a crazy feeling is about when you look up to the sky and you lift your torso and then you feel the wind is completely pushing you up. This is the weirdest feeling as a skydiver to be able to go up instead of going down all the time! You just fly up, up, up and you see the ground going away is just one of the most amazing feelings!”
Fred tries to explain his greatest accomplishment by simply saying that it’s too hard to say. “I’ve been doing so many things with my teammate Vince and doing so many beautiful jumps that it’s impossible for me to choose one,” he said. And no doubt, Fred and Vince have been paving the way for extraordinary jumps that have inspired the skydiving community globally.
He did share a few of the biggest and coolest projects was the BASE jump that they flew back into the plane was, “because that was such an intense project, with much preparation and the mental preparation to do. Also jumping 10,000 meters above the mountain and flying down the mountain with a canopy – it was completely amazing!”
“Jumping of the Burj Khalifa was amazing!”
“Also flying the jets with the France jets display team was insane was such an amazing thing to be able to fly with our body with these planes was completely incredible. It was more than a dream because it’s something that you cannot even dream of – it’s just insane!”
“I also did many other beautiful jumps. I just love the simplicity of normal skydiving. I love jumping with my wife or some friends and having fun together without cameras, just being in the sky, enjoying the freefall is something I really enjoy. I enjoy all the jumps and all the moments!”
The skydiving community suffered one of the greatest losses with Fred’s teammate and best friend passed away in a Jetman accident in November of 2020. The world felt Fred’s pain and we grieved with him. Moving on seemed so big, but we all knew in our hearts it was the only way to move forward. Fred has done that and so much more in a big way, remembering his friend along every step and taking us with him on that journey on his social media pages.
The biggest lesson that Vince helped Fred with was, “We were able to tell each other what we had in mind, being very honest. When you come to do some very dangerous stuff, extreme BASE jumping, extreme project, it’s very important to tell to yourself what you have in your mind, what you have in your heart, and how do you feel about this, how do you feel about anything – is the most important,” he shared.
“I cannot tell you,” he simply said. “Vince and I have always been discreet about projects we were working on and I think it’s going to stay the same. But I am working on different projects that I HOPE you guys are going to enjoy!”
So I guess we’ll have to stay tuned!
How do you stay tuned and not miss all of these incredible and awe-inspiring projects? Right here!