How to survive the WFFCBy Bill Von Novak on 2003-10-06
1. Do only one new thing at a time. Many jumpers show up and are awed by the array of canopy demos, big ways, new planes (with new exits) and new styles of flying. Indeed, the WFFC is a great place to try new gear and jump new planes. But showing up, grabbing a demo rig with a tiny main, getting on a new type of airplane, and trying head down for the first time is not such a good idea. Want to try a new rig? Great! But first make a few jumps with your old rig. See if the canopy traffic near the landing area is OK with you. If it gets a little too intense, you're still in good shape, because you are familiar with your canopy, and are in a better position to handle lots of traffic. After your first few jumps on your current canopy, you can make a better decision whether a smaller canopy is a good idea, or if you want to land that smaller canopy in an alternate (i.e. larger, lower traffic) area.
2. Make small changes. If you do decide to jump that demo rig, talk to the folks at the canopy tent and get a canopy they recommend. I would hesitate to downsize more than one canopy size at a time at the WFFC, no matter how good you think you are. Put a few jumps on each size or style of canopy before going on to a more aggressive one, so you have some experience you can fall back on if the next landing doesn't go as well.
3. Know who you're jumping with. You're generally not going to know everyone on the dive, but at least make an effort to not to jump with all unknowns. Skydiving is still small enough that your friends probably know their friends, so ask around to determine their skill level. Ask them how many jumps they have, but be aware that this isn't always indicative of skills, and people sometimes lie about their number of jumps (which is really stupid.) The WFFC organizers are a good resource here, since they have a lot of experience matching people and planning safe dives. Even if you don't want to jump with them, you can ask them for recommendations on other people. Chances are one of the LO's knows them or has jumped with them at some point.
4. Jump with a clear head. The WFFC has some excellent parties. But if you were up all night, it might be a good idea to get a little sleep before jumping. Adrenalin can't always make up for a hangover or a lack of sleep, and you need all your wits about you when you're in the air at the WFFC.
5. Plan your outs. The main landing area by manifest is popular, but a lot of people have gotten hurt trying to land there. If dense canopy traffic worries you, land somewhere else. Also, if you open and you think you may not make it back to the main landing areas, pick your outs at 2000 feet, not at 50 feet. You don't have too many options left at that altitude.
6. Learn to flat turn and flare turn. This is really important. You will be in big crowds of jumpers flying back. At some point, someone will cut you off. If it happens at 50 feet you have three choices: make a hard toggle turn (and plow into the ground at a painful speed) run into them or flat turn away. If it happens at ten feet, or after you have begun your flare, you have even fewer options. So be sure you can both flat turn (turn with minimal loss of altitude, using both brakes) and flare turn (turn right and left in the flare) before you get put in a position where you need those skills.
7. Plan your opening altitude and stick to it. At the WFFC, it can be dangerous to open high, since the next plane may be coming along on the same jump run just a few minutes later. There are some aircraft/loads that allow higher openings; check with manifest if you need a higher opening altitude to try out a new canopy (for example.)
The WFFC can be a dangerous place. But with a little planning and some common sense, you can spend your time at Rantoul jumping and partying rather than taking that "other" helicopter ride.