Forums: Skydiving Disciplines: Swooping and Canopy Control:
Saved By The Beep


BrianSGermain  (D 11154)

May 16, 2011, 12:49 PM
Post #1 of 14 (4105 views)
Saved By The Beep Can't Post

Hello Fellow Meat-Bombs!

I am starting this thread to allow for further discussion on the topic of the new article. I have offered my perspective, now it is time for you to share yours.

Additional discussion of this issue is in the new Skydive Radio interview, airing later this week. Check it out!

Happy Landings!
Brian Germain

davelepka  (D 21448)

May 16, 2011, 3:48 PM
Post #2 of 14 (3997 views)
Re: [BrianSGermain] Saved By The Beep [In reply to] Can't Post

My concern with these devices is that they might be making it 'too' easy. What I mean by that is that the degree of accuracy required below 1000ft with regards to visually checking your altitude is well within the grasp of human ability.

Let's say you start your canopy ride, slider collapsed, chest strap loose, brakes unstowes, at 3000ft. For you to enter the pattern at or around 1000ft, that's 2/3 of the way down. It's not hard for human perception to grasp the concepts of halves or thrids, so a jumper should be able to figure that out just with their eyeyballs. Even if they're unsure, analog altimeters are 'reliable' to the degree that you can use it for telling when you're at 1000ft.

Now you take that same concept, and compress it even further into the pattern. You start at 1000ft, and ride it down halfway to 500ft where you turn onto base. Now you ride your base leg down 250ft, and turn onto final. In both cases you're dealing with very managable altitudes with regards to visually accuity, and simply cutting that in half to get to your turn points.

My feeling is that if this is planned ahead, to include holding areas and altitudes, a study of the wind and the spot, and pattern entry, along with the above scheme of altitude and turn points, any jumper can be taught to fly the pattern accurately without the need for any aid of any sort.

The catch is that you have to find a way to corner EVERY new jumper, and put them through the training to learn to do this. If you can start off with A license graduates who can plan and execute such a canopy flight, they're going to turn into jumpers who will only become sharper with their skills.

My concern is that the beepers just make it too easy. When something goes wrong, what do you do? What happens when the wind conditions change, and your beeper beeps and you're nowhere near where you thought you would be? Will the jumper recognize and adapt, or just yank a toggle when the beep goes off because they're 'supposed to'?

None of this is mentioning the 'future' risk (even though it happens already) where people used to the beepers start to swoop. Plenty of new swoopers are using the beepers right from day one, and they are 'swooping by the beep'. Again, the problems you can run into when your situation doesn't agree with your device are numerous, and in a swoop scenario, you're out of time for anything but action. Thinking through the confusion is not a luxury a swooper on final has.

Of course, you can't ignore the untility of such devices, and the consistancy that they could add to the patterns of untrained jumpers. In that sense, maybe in the communal sense, they're a good thing as the overall situation might improve. As a personal asset to the individual jumper, I think they offer a variety of device dependency pitfalls that the individual could easily fall prey to.

BrianSGermain  (D 11154)

May 16, 2011, 4:35 PM
Post #3 of 14 (3985 views)
Re: [davelepka] Saved By The Beep [In reply to] Can't Post

All good and valid points, Dave. The question I ask is, would wide-spread use of such devices improve safety more than than they detract from it? I believe they would. AAD's can kill people too, but I still have one.

In order for folks to arrive at a sustainable conclusion, all things must be considered. I thank you for your thoughts.


davelepka  (D 21448)

May 16, 2011, 5:07 PM
Post #4 of 14 (3969 views)
Re: [BrianSGermain] Saved By The Beep [In reply to] Can't Post

It's impossible to deny that they are accurate, fairly reliable, and can be utilized in many different ways. I guess my main problem is the emergence of device dependence, and inverse to that, being the reduction in the skills of basic airmanship. The more responsibility you take away from the jumper (like being able to fly their canopy 'by eye'), the more that attitude will drift into other areas.

Maybe it's just me, but my view of a 'skydiver', is an individual who is highly self-reliant, motivated by the need to perform at a high level and willing to do the work it takes to get to that level. I don't see these types of devices as contributing toward building that type of skydiver.

We might just be in the classic chicken/egg scenario, where we now need these devices because we have already created a gneration of jumpers who can't get out of their own way, even though we know these devices are only going to further degrade the ability of the individual, leading us further down the wrong path.

Given your exposure to working with jumpers in your canopy control courses, if you feel that beepers would be more of an asset than a liability, then I'm inclined to believe you. Maybe not whole-heartedly, but if that's the conclusion your observations have led you to, then I'm on board.

EFS4LIFE  (D 31885)

May 16, 2011, 5:13 PM
Post #5 of 14 (3967 views)
Re: [BrianSGermain] Saved By The Beep [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree with Brian that overall they would aid to the safety.

I know I am a lower time jumper, but I have my own experience with an audible.

I got one at about 80 jumps because I started to experiement with Free Flying and refused to try it without one because of the whole internal clock being off because of increased freefall speed.

Anyway when my instructor saw me pull out my shiny new audible at 80 jumps she pulled me aside and cautioned me to never rely on it, ever. She said that it is a great aid, but that it is like an aad in a way. You never wait for it to fire. It is prone to failure like anything else.

I took that advice to heart. I never wait for the beep, but if I hear it I instantly know where it thinks I am.

It has greatly improved my accuracy, well at least I think. Just because it beeps doesn't mean I have to turn, and I don't have to wait for the beep to turn either. I simply use it to aid me in confirming what I am seeing. I adjust my pattern off of my visual sight picture, but the beep has aided me to make adjustments to that pattern as necessary too, i.e entering my downwind lower than I thought I was, hearing the beep for 1,000 earlier than I expected. A visual check of my altimeter, along with my sight picture tells me I am lower than expected. I go to brakes, or rears to increase my glide, and adjust my pattern accordingly.

I don't think students need the added distraction, but even lower jump number skydivers can greatly improve their accuracy with proper use.

I am begining HP landings now, and if I am not set up perfectly before the alarm goes off then I abort. Better to swoop another day, and I still have plenty of recent experience landing straight in :)

danielcroft  (D 31103)

May 16, 2011, 8:56 PM
Post #6 of 14 (3926 views)
Re: [BrianSGermain] Saved By The Beep [In reply to] Can't Post

I think a more general discussion about the results of making things easy would be interesting. I think people have the tendency to under-value things that are easy and therefore put very little effort into them. So, the more rules we institute, the less people think about the actual process.

I think that there are certain personality types who don't fall into this trap (because they're OCD) but I see this in every day life all the time. I certainly can't speak as an instructor or canopy coach but I can say from other experiences that simplifying and, in theory freeing up cycles for other work, doesn't always get the result you're after. Sometimes the opposite is true.

Rugby82  (D 705310)

May 16, 2011, 11:57 PM
Post #7 of 14 (3910 views)
Re: [BrianSGermain] Saved By The Beep [In reply to] Can't Post

Let me start to say that I think audibles under canopy can be helpful for a lot of people but can never be more important than visual cues. As someone who has a major in Psychology and does look at things a little different as others I'll explain why. I also took BG's course a couple of years ago.

Skydiving as we all know is a sport that uses all 3 dimensions. This is something people aren't used to and aren't really made for. The human brain can only process a small proportion of the stimulus we get while skydiving when we have low jump numbers (0-500 jumps). This means we will not be able to see and hear everything we would like, to be totally save. The recent incidents IMO have confirmed this.

Now let's throw in the audible. Let me first state that it must be used as a backup like AAD's. There eventually is no substitute for thinking with your brain and looking with your eyes. The audible allows the skydiver to put more focus on his/her surroundings then on the altimeter which will have a negative effect on awareness for everyone around you. This should be especially true for jumpers with lower jumpnumbers (read 75-500 jumps). I don't think jumpers with less then 50 jumps should use audibles, but correct me if you think I'm wrong. These jumpers must first learn the basics before being aided in this way.

Now let's go one step beyond this. Let's add swooping to the equation. You've just learned how to land your canopy in a tight space and understood the basics of canopy flight. You're used to all the stimulus under canopy and can handle this pretty well (assuming your not downsizing too fast). You're now taking away a lot of brain capacity for scanning your surroundings by inducing speed on landing which takes a lot of focus which cannot be directed towards other things around you. Add the small margin of error we have when swooping and you can imagine what will be left of your brains processing capacity. Not much. The audible can aid in having a bit more brain capacity and therefore make that human a bit safer when used in the right way.

Let me make one thing clear. I don't think people should rely on audible for 100%. There is no substitute for your eyes. They can only aid you in becoming a safer and more consistent skydiver.

(This post was edited by Rugby82 on May 16, 2011, 11:58 PM)

BrianSGermain  (D 11154)

May 17, 2011, 12:37 PM
Post #8 of 14 (3817 views)
Re: [Rugby82] Saved By The Beep [In reply to] Can't Post

I doubt anyone would argue that our eyes have ultimate veto power, and fostering our "organic" instruments is the best plan. However, as people develop this skill and judgement, how many will lose their lives? We might, by the traditional thinking, stop giving altimeters to students to force them to use their eyes. That is how I learned back in the '80's. Clearly not the path to safety. This sport is far to hazardous to hold back the technological advances that can make us safer. If the goal is to save lives, than every bit of data we can get our pilots will help us to achieve that goal.

I am not suggesting that we make these devices mandatory. What I am suggesting is, we just do it anyway. Like the use of goggles, having audible altimeters designed for canopy pattern information. We chose to use them not as a result of regulation, but it is the right thing to do.

Complacency comes in many forms, and relying on our instruments before our gut instincts will always be a trap in flying. This potential however, must never cause us to cast aside the benefits of such life-saving technology.

For less money than a weekend of jumping, you can know how high you are throughout your approach, without taking your eyes offrhe action.. I will always believe that it is worth it.


pchapman  (D 1014)

May 17, 2011, 1:31 PM
Post #9 of 14 (3789 views)
Re: [BrianSGermain] Saved By The Beep [In reply to] Can't Post

My initial thoughts:

I also kind of snicker at the idea that one needs all these beeps to be able to skydive and fly a pattern.

And it's true, you don't, and I'm against anyone who thinks they are necessary or the "proper" modern way to do things.

But I don't see a lot of harm in Brian's ideas. He's advocating under-canopy altitude alerts as a useful addition to normal practice. The beeps don't force you to turn onto base as soon as you hear the 500' beep or start your swoop turn at the 670' beep, but are a reminder of the altitude.

I do everything under canopy, including amateur swooping, with a big old analogue Altimaster on my wrist. It certainly takes some time to stare up at it and figure out what my altitude is when the last 1000' is a small section of the dial.

Compared to that, I was going to write about the benefits of keeping "eyeballs out of the cockpit" with a beeper, but now that I actually looked at Brian's article, it looks like that's what he's preaching anyway.

In many ways, under-canopy altitude alerts are far less hazardous to over-rely on than freefall altitude alerts (which have been endlessly debated).

1) In freefall, waiting for the beep without trying to be altitude aware is clearly dangerous. Under canopy, if you just wait for the beep to turn crosswind or final, and miss it, you just sail off a little further under canopy and don't land quite where you want. Sure you can get yourself into bad terrain, but far slower than the ground approaches in freefall.

2) Under canopy you should already be actively watching your path relative to the ground (in addition to others in the air nearby). That's different than in freefall where you focus on the jumpers you are with, and are often not looking at the ground at all. So the beeper does not become your sole reference.

3) Beeps under canopy dont act as straightforward commands like in freefall, to breakoff or to pull. Under canopy, they are basically saying, "You are now at the altitude where you normally do such and such a turn -- but you have to decide that for your self now, depending on where you are over the ground." The alerts are more advisory in nature.

There probably will be some discussion about how best to introduce these gadgets to newer jumpers.


Aug 26, 2012, 4:46 PM
Post #10 of 14 (3252 views)
Re: [BrianSGermain] Saved By The Beep [In reply to] Can't Post

As a brand new skydiver who just got a Class A, I'd like to share my thoughts on the matter, while my training is still very fresh in my mind.

I understand why a heads-up display would be nice - especially for things like crabbing along during crosswind landings (at my DZ, we always land north or south). Aside from this, though, I'm not sure having audibles is a great idea for students.

A major reason I'm opposed to audibles for students is I've already had an altimeter fail on me. It froze on me at 5800 feet on my Cat C, so I executed a landing pattern without looking at an altimeter at all (and was successful, yay). It unstuck itself somewhere under canopy, but at that point I wasn't even looking anymore - why would I trust it? My worry is this - how long would it take for a student to figure out an audible altimeter wasn't working? What are the consequences of a student not knowing their audible isn't working until they're lower to the ground than they want to be under canopy, and haven't made the necessary turns to hit their landing area?

I understand some might consider this a special case - altimeters don't fail all that often, right? I disagree with this mindset - we rookies and students need to be the most aware of failing equipment, because we're the ones who take the most time to process and make appropriate judgment calls. I think a visual altimeter is far more easily identifiable as "wrong" than an audible one.

A less extreme example of when I wouldn't want to be a student relying on an audible follows. This, and similar situations, have happened to me already:

I've done a few jumps today with a consistent landing pattern, but the wind has picked up. On my downwind leg, I realize (a) I will gain much more ground on downwind than I originally expected, and (b) gain a lot less ground on finals than expected. If I don't turn onto my base leg soon enough, I will not be able to clear the trees on finals. I'm below 1,000 feet - no restarting this pattern now. I have a couple options. If I won't cut anyone off, I'll swing out wide on downwind to drop altitude while hitting the same target to start my base leg. Alternatively, if I won't cut anyone off, I can start my base leg above 500 feet.

Because I became aware of my too-far-downwind landing patterns early on, I never had to bail to another nearby field to avoid both collisions and trees; waiting for an audible to tell me where I am may have led to a different result. This type of scenario is especially relevant for students, because they're always trying different canopies. Since each jump can be radically different, even in similar weather conditions, I think it's important for students to be assessing the situation constantly in landing patterns.

I understand where you're coming from on wanting audibles for students, but I think it's more important for students to introduce them as an aid or a backup after they have mastered landing with visuals alone.


Aug 26, 2012, 11:25 PM
Post #11 of 14 (3219 views)
Re: [davelepka] Saved By The Beep [In reply to] Can't Post

There are people who never uses any type of alit, but i'll bet they will swoop better if they reach their initiation point at consistent altitude by using altimeter.

Name one canopy pilot that placed top 5, hitting pro gates that doesn't use altimeter and they go all eye-ball status in USPA canopy national.

It is hard to distinguish between 950-1000. It is even harder to distinguish between 1100-1200 ft, setting up for 450 and 630's.

(This post was edited by stayhigh on Aug 26, 2012, 11:28 PM)

excaza  (C License)

Aug 27, 2012, 6:13 AM
Post #12 of 14 (3141 views)
Re: [davelepka] Saved By The Beep [In reply to] Can't Post

As a new jumper, the problem I have with going by the beep is that altitude is really only part of the process. This was hit on hard by my instructors during AFF (that the 1000, 500, 250 ft. marks are just rough points), but it has the potential to get lost if one is flying by the beep. I started using a ditter when I got my A and I think it's a great tool as long as you keep up with the basics. For me, it's basically "don't get caught by the beep." A few jumps fresh on my A I decided, for whatever reason, to go with the beep instead of my eyes on the canopy pattern and almost put myself long into the trees. It was really, really dumb and I turned off everything under 1000 feet after that.

I can't speak for high performance canopy work, but I'm sure it's a completely different beast.

(This post was edited by excaza on Aug 27, 2012, 6:14 AM)

BrianSGermain  (D 11154)

Aug 27, 2012, 8:00 AM
Post #13 of 14 (3111 views)
Re: [excaza] Saved By The Beep [In reply to] Can't Post

It is important to note that the beep is only a guide that tells you where you are (altitude), not what to do (when to turn). The reality is that most people do not look at their altimeter AT ALL below about 1000 feet. This means that the last turn to final is made without altitude awareness. The primary reason for injuries in our sport is low inappropriate turns. Having a last beep that lets you know when you are below 300 feet seriously reduces this risk.

The use of audible cues for students will remain a debatable issue. We do not all need to agree about absolute right and wrong. We just need to do what makes sense to us. If audibles are used, there must undoubtedly be special training to prepare the canopy pilot for the new element.

Think, decide, think, decide.
We are never done.


canatheart  (D 1130)

Sep 13, 2012, 6:18 PM
Post #14 of 14 (2818 views)
Re: [BrianSGermain] Saved By The Beep [In reply to] Can't Post

For what it's worth:

I'm a newbie and reading up as much as I can while I skydive as much as I can, just eating it all up and fell instantly in love with the sport.

I chose to start wearing an audible at around 20 jumps.

In freefall: I feel it has helped me to build my internal clock. The faux pas here is that I have come to rely on it a bit meaning that I don't check my visual altimeter quite as often, especially when I'm in sit. But just before I hear the beep, I always sense it's just about to come and if it doesn't when I feel it should, that's when I check my wrist and usually get the beep within a second or two. From experience, is this eventually going to bite me in the but? Or am I right to trust the internal clock that's getting dialed in and will continue to get dialed in with more jumps?

Under canopy: It has always been nothing more than a guidelineI never turn when I hear the beep, I simply make a note of the altitude and feel that it has helped me progress much faster than if I had to look at my visual altimeter and take my eyes off the ground and the airspace around me.

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