Forums: Skydiving Disciplines: Swooping and Canopy Control:
Altitude control in the pattern


thomas.n.thomas  (A 65931)

Jun 25, 2012, 5:51 PM
Post #1 of 8 (1909 views)
Altitude control in the pattern Can't Post

Hi all, just getting back into jumping after a year off to rehab my ankle. I have a general problem with being inconsistent with altitude in my pattern. I'm usually 1000 +/- 100 at the start of downwind, and then half the time I'll be at 800 by the base leg turn instead of the desired 600. The last time I decided to extend the base leg a lot by swinging it out, I ended up in the trees, and as our pattern generally flies the base right above a treeline, I don't like crossing back over it on final, so the question is what to do to drop altitude before/on final approach?

On Sunday, I used a combination of S-turns and then when I was getting really desperate (still about 300 and past the target by 25m and approaching a fenceline about 150m distant), I used a trick one of the tandem instructors told me. I pumped the toggles in an alternating sequence (left, right, left, and so on) so stall the canopy a bit and my glide path became less horizontal as desired. I gave myself what I thought was about 50-100 feet vertical to regain normal flight, flared, and landed standing up - no issues.

My instructor later told me not to do this. He also said not to S-turn so much on final in case their were canopies behind me and I end up backing them up a good deal. the case of being way high on final, what to do? I didn't want to try a 180 and land reverse, though I think I had the altitude to do it, just too many variables there to have something go wrong.

Does anyone else do this pumping the toggles really fast in an alternating pattern? Is this a really stupid thing to do on final?

JSE  (D 28998)

Jun 25, 2012, 7:30 PM
Post #2 of 8 (1863 views)
Re: [thomas.n.thomas] Altitude control in the pattern [In reply to] Can't Post

In reply to:
Does anyone else do this pumping the toggles really fast in an alternating pattern? Is this a really stupid thing to do on final?

This is not a good idea. First, any "really fast" alternating toggle inputs can cause line twists. That is definitely something you don't want close to the ground. The "trick" is to realize you are too high (or too low) before you get to final so that you can fly final straight in with minimal input until flaring. If your current initiation point and altitude are putting you too high on a consistent basis then you need to change either where you start your pattern or the altitude you start at.

You were right not to do a 180 on final. That is a good way to die. Also if your base leg is along a tree line, don't fly down wind of the trees. You may have to fly a shorter final or turn to final lower. That is better than flying downwind of an obstacle. Try doing a hop and pop and fly your pattern up high a few times to gauge how much altitude it takes. Also filling in your profile will get you better advise here. Bottom line, talk to your local instructors or canopy coach who can actually see what you are doing.

thomas.n.thomas  (A 65931)

Jun 25, 2012, 7:50 PM
Post #3 of 8 (1859 views)
Re: [JSE] Altitude control in the pattern [In reply to] Can't Post

I feel sheepish - I never thought to fly the pattern aloft as a dry run.

Also, does it get easier to eyeball it and not rely as much on the altimeter - I never quite trust that I can read it accurately enough or that it's really giving me the straight scoop differentiating 400 vs 300 or 700 vs 600, and that seems to make a big difference in where you land. I'd say my patterns so far have been bad 3/8 times - and by that I mean off the target by more than 50m. I'm also still just on Cat D w/ 8 jumps (3 since my time off for a year), but I am always a bit afraid of running into things and want to make accuracy a priority just for the safety aspect in case I ever did have to land off the beaten path.

One other suggestion I got was S-turns on downwind and base if I know I'm too high, but doesn't this back up canopies behind me as well?

milehigheric  (C License)

Jun 26, 2012, 1:01 PM
Post #4 of 8 (1761 views)
Re: [thomas.n.thomas] Altitude control in the pattern [In reply to] Can't Post

From my first jump I realised pretty quickly that the commands I was being given by radio from the ground did not match my alti (in reference to checkpoints). It turned out the student analogs were far from accurate and if I used that as my only reference I would be in the trees every jump. I learnt to trust my eyes over my alti, even after I got a digital that 'should' be accurate. As said, you shouldn't be on final if your too high, this starts back at base and even your where you start your downwind.

Remember you can adjust your square pattern to give you more or less decent before you turn final, it doesn't have to be 'square'. If you start downwind and think damn im high, turn slightly away from your target to move your approach legs out abit, if your too low tighten them all up. Obviously nailing your start of downwind height will help alot, but that will come with time. You should be flying straight however...people flying straight are much easier to avoid then those S turning all over the place.

Learning a real life skill over the internet is impossible however. There is a ton of variables that go into approach and your instructor is best suited to give you the advice you need. Radio assist can help alot to get the visual cues in your head, or if your dropzone doesn't have radio in student helmets the same thing can be done with the arrow. Talk to your instructors im sure they will get you on the right track.

Just so you know, I came from an aviation background and Ive done more square approach patterns in a fixed wing then I can remember....with that said my first few approaches under canopy were still a huge learning curve. It is a unique skill, and it will all come together soon enough for you. Smile

Joellercoaster  (D 105792)

Jun 28, 2012, 4:45 AM
Post #5 of 8 (1654 views)
Re: [thomas.n.thomas] Altitude control in the pattern [In reply to] Can't Post

In reply to:
Also, does it get easier to eyeball it and not rely as much on the altimeter


One thing that might not seem obvious to you is that depending on the wind, your pattern needs to move. To consistently land in the same place, you need to start in different places - sometimes very different.

When you say, "I'm still only at 800 instead of the desired 600", what you should hear is, "I started my downwind leg too far downwind". Your downwind leg will be different lengths depending on how much the wind is pushing you! So where you start needs to move.

This can take a while to work out. Stick with it though, you'll get there.

thomas.n.thomas  (A 65931)

Jul 1, 2012, 7:31 PM
Post #6 of 8 (1522 views)
Re: [Joellercoaster] Altitude control in the pattern [In reply to] Can't Post

I did 3 jumps this weekend and felt better about the pattern on all of them. I am still nowhere near the accuracy I want, but I was doing more decision making on when to turn onto base and final to get closer to the target instead of just going on autopilot and following exactly what was drawn on the briefing board.

I think my worst distance was about 75m, which is still way too far away by my standard. We have a nice large student landing field, but I am always concerned about obstacles ever since my tree incident, and I ultimately want to be able to hit <25m from the target every time. The saying "amateurs do it until they get it right, pros do it until they can't get it wrong."

Thanks for the tips so far - these have helped. I will start thinking more about where I start the downwind leg, because until now I have always started at the marker on the briefing board. Is there any good way to get a feel for the downwind speed considering it may be different at 1000 than it is at 3000? I have not used visual indicators like windsocks to estimate magnitudes yet, and I think I should have probably been doing that more (so far I have been too focused on just getting down in one piece and tend to not notice a lot of these types of details because I'm too busy focused on making sure I avoid other parachutes).

davelepka  (D 21448)

Jul 1, 2012, 9:35 PM
Post #7 of 8 (1503 views)
Re: [thomas.n.thomas] Altitude control in the pattern [In reply to] Can't Post

I think my worst distance was about 75m, which is still way too far away by my standard

Flying a parachute is similar to driving a car in that in a car you have to get used to when to turn the wheel for a desired turn, how much to turn it, how fast to turn it, hard hard to press the gas or brake, and when to press the gas or brake. In the beginning, you're not exactly 'smooth', but with time you get the feel of it, and it's no big deal to pilot the car through town.

A parashute is the same way where you just need to get used to the controls, how the parachute reacts to them, and how to turn that into your desired result.

Again, much like a car, the enviroment makes a difference. The type of road and the conditions on that road dictate how you drive the car, and so does the weather and wind dictate how you fly the parachute.

So with that in mind, worry less about your specific results at this point, and more about what you can learn from each experience. While your combination of inputs on a given jump on a given day might not have put you on the exact spot you wanted, it did put you somewhere. Look at that spot as 'home', and look back on the flight and see what got you there.

If you overshot your target by 100ft, what could you do on the next flight to come up 100ft short of where you landed on the first jump? You know what you did, and what the result was, now figure it out another way, and try that.

Don't focus on the touchdown point, or see it as a failure or short coming if it's not exactly where you wanted to be. See it as another learning experience. and call it a success if you can walk away from the landing with more information than you had beforehand.

Every day will present new wind conditions that will require you to change your game. If you're like most new jumpers, you're going to be jumping a variety of different student/rental canopies, and then your own new canopy, and each time you switch wings, you'll need to change your game. Give yourself a solid 20 to 30 jumps on one canopy before you hold yourself to too high of a standard, it's just going to be coutner-productive to expect anything more.

Have a flight plan in place before each jump, pay attention to your spot and pull altitudes so you have a good chance of actually tyring out that flight plan at the DZ. If you're going to land off, make the decision high enough that you can pick a clear open area to land in, and you'll be fine.

Much more than pinpoint accuracy what you need is good judgement. 99 times out of 100, good desicion making beforehand will keep you from 'needing' pinpoint accuracy to land in a tight backyard or parking lot. Good choices are easy to make before you get in the plane, while squeaking into a tight LZ while landing off is much tougher to do, but only neccesary when you fuck youself over by being stupid.

thomas.n.thomas  (A 65931)

Jul 11, 2012, 5:39 PM
Post #8 of 8 (1345 views)
Re: [davelepka] Altitude control in the pattern [In reply to] Can't Post

You all have a lot of patience with us new folk trying to figure every angle before we get any experience under our belts to understand what we're even asking - thanks for that. I realize I am a bit neurotic when it comes to activities that motivate me, and I am always hurried to know everything I can about them. Maybe I watched too much GI Joe as a kid.

I am finding that in successive jumps, there is a more intuitive feel. I did a slightly downwind landing the other day because the winds shifted a bit after takeoff (still light and variable) and had my first realization about flare height and speed needing to be a bit different in that situation as I crumpled into a surprise PLF. No injuries, actually felt pretty good when I got up, but definitely surprised. In retrospect, I should have known it was coming because I had thought to myself flying around up high that the downwind leg really seemed to be pointing upwind; I flew different headings and could just feel when I was into the wind vs. running.

The next landing was the same pattern and much smoother, and I recognized the signs much earlier. So, as has been said many times before, a lot just comes down to learning by doing (provided you've had the right coaching to get down in one piece) - the accuracy and the finesse will come with more experience so long as I am paying attention.

As an aside, I will be taking a canopy course on the 20th and am really looking forward to that. Already got my new notebook all ready.

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