Flight Planning for SafetyBy Winsor Naugler III on 2004-08-07
In any aviation activity proper flight planning is critical to safety, and skydiving is no exception. If you take the time beforehand to plan for various eventualities, you don't waste precious time making decisions when they arise.
- Familiarize yourself with aerial views of the DZ and surrounding area, if they are available. Note locations of obstacles and pick likely outs for bad spots in various directions.
- Check weather reports, if possible, and note forecast winds at altitude, cloud conditions and any approaching fronts. You are less likely to be blindsided by rapid changes in conditions when informed of their likelihood.
- Turn on your AAD, if so equipped. Make sure your hook knives are accessible.
- Find out who on the formation has audible or visible altimeters, AADs and RSLs; make sure they are all operational and properly initialized.
- Check your and your partners' gear.
- Make sure you are in agreement on breakoff and opening procedures and altitudes.
- Face into the wind and see where the sun is. Its position should be the same when you are on final and there is no wind indicator available.
- Know what groups are around you, what they are doing and what delay is planned between groups (ask around before and after boarding). The Skydive Arizona policy of large to small slow-faller groups, followed by large to small fast-faller groups, followed by students, followed by tandems is the best all-around approach in the business.
- The more of a delay between groups you can arrange, the better. DO NOT assume that any reasonable delay is reason not to pay attention to other groups in the air - LOOK AROUND!
- Dock gently, from the level of the formation. DO NOT swoop into a formation, but make the final approach smooth and deliberate.
- DO NOT EVER get above or below a formation. Inadvertent deployment can become fatal fast if people are above each other.
- If low, stay near and to the side of the formation until breakoff. Do NOT begin tracking before breakoff altitude, and DO NOT do anything to increase vertical separation..
- Track flat at a common level. DO NOT drop out of a formation vertically. If you have an inadvertent deployment when you are below the formation, the likelihood of someone getting killed is significant. The greatest likelihood of an inadvertent deployment is right after exposing the pilot chute pouch to direct air stream - like when dropping out of a formation in a stand-up.
- Track to a clear sector while watching the people on either side. While flat tracking, it is easy to split the difference between the people to either side by looking under your arms.
- Open at an appropriate altitude. Between two and three thousand feet is reasonable for a high traffic event; any higher opening (for CRW or whatever) should be arranged with the pilot.
- Do NOT spiral down through a high traffic area. If spiraling to lose altitude, get well off the wind line to stay clear of the spot for other groups, and LOOK AROUND. In a turn, the direction of most likely collision is at the leading edge of the canopy in the direction of the turn, and there is a blind spot where a collision may occur between jumpers whose canopies blocked their view of each other until right before the collision. I reiterate - SPIRALING IN HIGH TRAFFIC IS DANGEROUS!
- The safest flight path when opening above the landing area is to fly the canopy away from the landing area, perpendicular to jumprun, until far enough out to allow a long, shallow approach to the landing area (leave enough room for obstacle clearance).
- LOOK AROUND NEAR THE GROUND! Don't fixate on your landing, but pay attention to who is in the area. Keep your head on a swivel, and periodically scan for potential traffic.
- Do not execute unplanned turns near the ground. If you are cut off on final, executing an avoidance turn must not be a possible response.
- The safest landing areas are the least popular ones with the most outs. Landing in congested areas or where ground traffic is allowed (e.g., the camping area) can be an invitation to disaster.
- If you must turn for traffic or obstacle avoidance while setting up to land, use a FLAT TURN. If you don't know how to do so, find out from someone experienced in the maneuver and practice at altitude until you have the procedure wired.
- Keep your head on a swivel after touchdown. Even if you land under complete control, you might want to dodge someone who is swooping where they should not.
If landing out is inevitable, or if safely making it to a designated landing area is in doubt:
- Pick an open area in which to land by 1,000 feet (300 metres). Corn can be over 12'(4m) tall (a cornfield is NOT like an unmown lawn), so landing between rows and preparing for a PLF will reduce the likelihood or extent of injury.
- Any changes of color on the ground probably have barbed wire along the boundary. Land parallel to any area changes.
- Locate any telephone poles or other wire supports by 500 feet (150 metres), and set up to avoid the wires that are sure to go between them.
- Identify the lay of the land by 500 feet (150 metres), and set up to land alongside any hills. Do NOT land uphill or downhill, REGARDLESS of what the wind is doing.
- If there is any doubt about the landing surface, or if you are sure to have excess speed on touchdown (like when stuck with a downwind landing) execute a PLF and roll out the landing. Keeping feet and knees together, and not using hands or elbows to break the fall can greatly help avoiding injury.