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The Misty Blues: 100% Female (and 100% Badass) Since 1984

“Misty” Kim Kanat Talks About the Team
  Guess what? There’s been an all-female demo team kicking ass and taking names since the 1980s. Maybe you’re as surprised to learn about them as I was--or maybe you’re squinting at your screen and wondering what rock I’ve been hiding under--but y’know what? I think we can both agree that that’s pretty damn great.
The basics are pretty straightforward: The team of 13 women calls Skydive Tecumseh home, jumps hot-pink-and-navy kit and specializes in jumping big honkin’ flags. The details are the cool part: Each one of “the Mistys” can do anything the demo requires, from packing the flags to setting up the smoke--and each is a highly successful professional with a full-time career outside of skydiving.
When I visited Skydive Tecumseh to check off Michigan for Down for 50, I jumped at the chance to corner Misty member Kim Kanat and pick her brain about the team. During the week, Kim is a mild-mannered (and high-powered) Facility Manager for a real estate company; but, when the call comes, she slips into her pink-and-navy supersuit and smiles for the adoring crowd. Kim’s been at it for four years now, and she shows no signs of slowing.
 
 
Annette: Tell me about your person intro to the sport. How’d you became a skydiver in the first place?
Kim: It’s a love story, really. My husband and I were on vacation in Hawaii in 2001 and ended up doing a tandem. It was a life-changing moment for both of us. About a year later, for our 10th wedding anniversary, we took the first jump course. The rest is history. We’ve been jumping ever since. Fifteen years later, here we are.
A: How’d you get a slot on the Mistys?
K: I’ve known the current owner of the Misty Blues, Amanda Scheffler, for my whole skydiving career, and known about the team since I started jumping -- Amanda bought [the team] about five years ago from Cindy Irish.
We were at the dropzone one day and she asked me if I would be interested in doing some demo jumps. I said yes. The next thing I knew, I was jumping at an air show in Maine, so close to the Canadian border that our phones were roaming. It took two flights to get to Maine, plus some driving because there isn’t a commercial flight that goes that far up. It was a very, very small show; we just had a 182.
I still remember the scariness of that jump. I started on static line; not AFF. So that first demo with the team was a very visceral reminder of being a static line student. I ended up having a minor malfunction with my banner on that jump; luckily, it cleared itself, but it still gives me butterflies to think about it now.
Honestly, every time I do a demo, it feels just like that first time, because in skydiving anything can go wrong. You just hope that it doesn’t. There’s extra pressure on a demo with the team because the clients are paying for that jump; paying for you to be there as a performer. Sometimes there are issues with the plane; sometimes it’s too windy, or the weather isn’t great, which puts a damper on our part of the show. When everything is conducive to letting us do what we are there to do and it works, it’s magical.
A: You haven’t slowed down in four whole years. What was it about that jump that hooked you?
K: Well, the Misty Blues are very crowd-oriented, and that gets me going. It’s so much fun to be a crowd-pleaser with a message. Before and after our jumps, we walk amongst the crowd, pass out stickers and take photos with all these excited kids. We interact a lot. I think that sets us apart a little bit from some of the other demo teams that are out there, and it never fails to inspire me, because we spend a lot of that “crowd time” working the message of empowering women and girls to let them know they can do pretty much anything they set their minds to. We’re all working women, and a few of the Mistys have kids, too, so we’re walking the walk.
A: What are your signature moves?
K: When we’re booked for a show, we’re almost always the opener. We open up the show with a very large American flag. The jumper with the flag usually carries a microphone and has a little conversation with the MC of the airshow as they’re descending, which is a reliable crowd-pleaser. When we’re jumping in an airshow context, we’ll often have some of the stunt pilots circle us with smoke while we are jumping in with the flag.
 
 
We have another signature flag with an enormous smiley face. I love that one.
A: Do you have a favorite of the jumps you have done so far with the Mistys?
K: Just last year we had a local businessman book us for a private party. He’s a construction owner that is local, and he throws this huge annual theme party. He got our name and asked us if we could do a demo into it. The theme that year was “America,” and it had a mechanical bull; volleyball courts; a fireworks show at the end. The setup was unbelievable. It was a tight landing area, but everything worked out. Best of all, we got to attend the party after we landed. The guests just thought it was fantastic--so much so that he asked us to come back and do it again this year.
A: Do you feel like you face additional pressure because you’re an all-female team?
K: Personally, I would have to say yes. I know there are a lot of other demo teams out there that do more than we do, and some of those guys have more experience than we do, so I do personally feel obligated to put on a better show. I don’t know if that’s necessarily because we are women, but being a woman, I like to be able to nail it. On the other hand, some people want to coddle you more when you’re a female jumper, and I just want to be treated like everybody else.
 
 
The landscape for women in skydiving is changing, though, and it’s changing fast. A lot of the AFF classes at Skydive Tecumseh have a good number of women in them. Case in point: There are two female Tis at our dropzone. I think that’s awesome. It doesn’t happen everywhere, yet, but I am certain that it will.
A: The Misty Blues have been around for more than 30 years. What’s the secret to that longevity?
K: Inclusion. Some people have better skill sets at certain things, but we strive to include everyone in a meaningful way. Over the years, we’ve discovered that inclusion can bring shy and hesitant people out of their shell and end up in them becoming an integral part of the team.
The owner of our team, Amanda Scheffler, is fantastic. She is willing to show anybody anything, anytime. She does it all. And she’s a great example of inclusion. I don’t know if I would have [joined the team] had they not approached me. I would have never asked. I’ve learned from Amanda that you never know what including someone will open up for them. A lot of times those people in the shadows are the ones who are jumping conservatively, thoughtfully and procedurally and have a tendency to look and observe before they act, which is the kind of person you want on a team.
I think having other women to show you the ropes helps, too. We have a couple of guys who help us out as ground crew, but we really do it all. For example: If we’re doing smoke and all that stuff, we try to get in there and make sure all the people are informed and all the girls know how to do it. We can all pack the banners, rigs, and flags. Getting everyone’s hands on all of the skill sets is really what makes our team. Everybody can jump in and fill in for each other.
A: What’s your personal skydiving philosophy?
K: Feel the fear and do it anyway. That’s what I’ve always said about skydiving. Even to this day, I still get butterflies on a demo. In skydiving and in life, I really live by that--to feel the fear and do it anyway--because you never know what will come out of it. Sometimes it is good. Sometimes it is bad. Always, it is a learning process. “Doing it anyway” can only ever propel you forward.

----
For more info on the Misty Blues, visit the team website at mistyblues.net.

By nettenette, in News,

What You Need to Know About Opioids (Preferably, Before You’re In The Hospital)

Dr. Randy Brown of the UW STOMP Study Talks Us In
 

 
If you huck yourself out of aircraft for fun, you already know that it doesn’t always go according to plan. It follows that there are a couple of facts of which you should probably be aware:
Victims of traumatic injury are at greater than normal risk for opioid addiction. Initiates of opioid misuse who progress to injection frequently cite prescription of an opioid for an injury as their first exposure to opioid, and the event that led to their eventual addiction. If you’ve been in this sport for a while, you almost certainly know someone who ended up battling opioid addiction for precisely that reason. And, if you’re in a hospital bed with a ‘fun button’ under your thumb the first time you think about opioids, you might be in for a rough ride.
It was next to just such a hospital bed, after a very bad couple of days, that I first heard about the STOMP study. (“STOMP” stands for the Screening in Trauma for Opioid Misuse Prevention.) The three-year study, based at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, draws on expertise in Addiction Medicine, Trauma Surgery, Public Health, Systems Engineering, Social Work, Pain Medicine, and Primary Care. The goal: to improve medicine’s understanding of opioid misuse and the development of addiction specifically in the context of traumatic injury (Ding! Ding! Ding!) and pain management. Ultimately, its goal is to develop protocols which will intervene early in the process to prevent opioid misuse, addiction and related complications.
The STOMP program is hope on the horizon. I reached out to the program’s Principal Investigator, Randall Brown, MD, PhD, FASAM, to get a little wisdom for those of us tossing ourselves into harm’s way.
Annette: How’d you become interested in pain medicine?

Dr. Brown: I did my initial training in family medicine in California’s central valley, in a town called Modesto. At the time I was doing my training, the area was producing 90% of North America’s methamphetamines -- and consuming a fair chunk of it, as well.
In hospital, we saw a ton of complications resulting from injections, methamphetamine use, and the struggles in that population -- where, despite having a horrifically painful surgeries and hospital stays, would reliably leave the hospital and resume their use.
It made a deep impression on me. For someone to go through the pain these patients went through and return to the use so immediately, this addiction thing must be a pretty compelling state of affairs, and I don’t think the health care system, in general terms and settings, is adequately prepared to facilitate recovery from addiction. I found that troubling and fascinating, and so I pursued further training and gradually moved my focus from broader family medicine to substance use issues, prevention and treatment.
I came to Madison in 2001 to do a research fellowship. I have been here involved in that sort of work to some extent for 17 years now.
A: What changes have you seen in the field over that 17-year period?
Dr.: In brief, the opioid crisis the biggest thing that has emerged since I’ve been doing this. Opioids are a much bigger deal than they were when I started on this path. Substance use issues have always been a major problem -- and, currently, substance misuse is the most common root cause of preventable death and morbidity in the US. It shifts from time to time, but it is always there: whether it is alcohol, which is always there, or methamphetamines, or opioids, which picked up steam in the 90s. Opioids have really skyrocketed over the last 15 years.
A: How did opioids rise to power, would you say?

Dr.: The literature guiding pain treatment in the 90s evolved over a landscape of imperfect science. The message that experts in pain management were putting out there back then -- with fair frequency -- was that “we are not treating pain adequately.” They specifically meant chronic, non-cancer pain. The literature out there in the 90s insisted that we should be using opioids more liberally to alleviate that suffering. The literature insisted that addiction was rare; that complications were rare. Honestly, we didn’t really know otherwise. There really weren’t data out there to tell us that wasn’t the right thing to do, and it seemed like the right thing to do -- to alleviate pain and suffering.
The other thing that was put out there via the literature was that opioids don’t really cause any organ damage, so there wasn’t a clear ceiling to the daily dose. Again, we didn’t really have data in the literature to tell us otherwise.
Around 2009 and 2010, the state of science started changing a little bit. We did have studies appearing in the literature indicating that these higher doses were associated with greater risks, particularly for overdose and death. That’s where there really started to be a sea change around prescribing patterns; trying to rein in those daily doses; trying to bring them down to less risky levels.
On the flipside of that, from the public health standpoint, while it’s a smart move to reduce the absolute supply of opioids out there, the tricky piece is doing that in a reasonable and compassionate way, not cutting people off or assuming that these dosage recommendations are a hard ceiling for everybody. Opioids are still really important medications. They aren’t going to -- and they shouldn’t -- go away. We just need to be more mindful about monitoring their use, and educating patients about how to handle of them, to dispose of them appropriately if they aren’t using them.
A: Can you summarize the STOMP study for me?

Dr: STOMP recruits UW hospital patients who have been admitted for a traumatic injury. We collect information from them about their medical history, their personal history and their mental health. We then follow them forward for six months after discharge to collect further information that measures around mental health symptoms, anxiety, post-traumatic symptoms that may have developed as a result of the injury, information around their current opioid and other substance use patterns.
We are trying to tease the data apart to see if there is some way that, all the way back to the time of injury, we can identify some factors that are strongly predictive of someone developing difficulty controlling their use of opioids.
A: Let’s talk about my community: the “skyfamily” of airsports athletes. A lot of us are highly mobile, without an established healthcare provider, and a lot of us get injured when we’re traveling. Oftentimes, we’ll find ourselves inured far from home, where there the standards of medical care may be very different than we’re used to. Where would you suggest that folks go if they’re in that position and they need good information?

Dr: That’s a really great question. Honestly, when we were putting this study together, STOMP, Screening in Trauma for Opioid Misuse Prevention, I was not finding much of anything out there, to tell the truth, and this was only a couple years ago. The stuff that is out there in prominence and taken up widely really is more targeting chronic pain -- like long-term stuff.
The CDC has released a good set of guidelines regarding the reasonable taper rates for opioids and a patient information packet. The most common situation that folks struggle with after a more serious injury is that taper, and that information is good to have as soon as possible. These can certainly apply in situations with injuries which have resulted in severe pain that needs to be managed for a few or even several months.
The other information contained in those guidelines that I think is really important for folks to know regards the safe and responsible handling of opioids: storing them appropriately, not advertising to the world that you have them (because of the potential for being victimized) and the safe disposal of unused medication to protect public health.
In the setting of traumatic injury, I honestly have not been able to find a lot more out there. That’s why we’re doing this study.
A: Is there any additional wisdom you want to offer an athlete who suffers an injury and realizes that they may be facing the reality of a long-term course of opioid medication?

Dr: Recognize early that successfully navigating this process will take a collaborative effort with an established provider that can track your progress over time.
Even if you’re lucky enough to be living in a stable residence geographically, know that, in this clinical setting, you’re likely to be moving between specialists and other care providers. Sometimes, monitoring -- and appropriate care in coming off of higher-dose opioids -- can fall between the cracks. Establish a relationship with a provider and stick with it for a period of months. That’s a challenge anywhere, but particularly for folks who are highly mobile.
A: What are a couple questions that folks can ask of a potential provider to establish whether or not the provider they’re with has an appropriate functional understanding of opioids, so that we know that the experts we’re trusting really understand what they’re prescribing? Are there flags that can indicate if you are dealing with a savvy and empathic prescriber?

Dr: My instinct would be to ask that provider the fairly open-ended question around their philosophy regarding the use of opioids for managing pain after an injury.
Warning signs would be, for example, a provider who tells you that they “hate prescribing opioids, ever,” or, conversely, someone who says, “No problem! We’ll keep you on opioids as long and as much as you need them!” The provider should have a thorough, thoughtful answer to that question that incorporates a balance. That answer should involve informing you that there is some risk for physical dependence, but giving assurances that s/he will be here to work closely with you as you’re coming off of them when it becomes appropriate. You’re looking for a provider who demonstrates mindfulness of what physical dependence and opioid withdrawal is like, but isn’t someone who is just going to write the opioid prescription because it is the easy thing to do.
A: Tell me about what the future of pain management might look like.

Dr.: It’s pretty exciting, actually. We have been doing work here at UW to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances, primarily Psilocybin, but also MDMA. We are going to be launching another study to see about the therapeutic potential of Psilocybin in the setting of opioid addiction or opioid use disorder. We are excited about that. Then we also have a study upcoming on therapeutic potential of MDMA for PTSD, which bears a relationship to substance use risk.
It’s important to differentiate between clinical and recreational use. One of the really important components of the studies on the therapeutic potential of Psilocybin and MDMA involves the pieces of the intervention referred to as “set and setting.” Set refers to a number of things, including a relationship that is built up with a guide, the development of trust, orientation to the experience, exploration of current symptoms of mental health issues or underlying issues and preparing the participants for the therapeutic session itself.
The setting can also be quite important. These supervised administrations tend to happen in an environment that is comfortable, homey, and not your typical clinical research, hospital-ish looking room, but the variables are still all under strict control, and the patient is being monitored by medical personnel. Both set and setting are understood to be really important to the potential therapeutic outcome. Recreational use takes all those controls away, so the extent to which those experiences can be therapeutic is a lot more unpredictable.
Luckily, we’re getting closer and closer. When these treatments will be approved is a little unpredictable, but both are moving toward FDA approval. We’re participating in the studies that will hopefully lead to that, but it’s probably a couple years down the road. It’s an optimistic future, for sure.
To learn more about Dr. Brown and the STOMP study, visit the study’s landing page at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine website.

By nettenette, in General,

The Secret of Banana Hammock

A Few Nuggets of Golden Advice from a Winning Self-Funded Skydiving Team
  It starts like a bad joke: a Californian (Kenny Beach), an Italian (Alessandro “Alex” Struppa) and a Frenchman (Lawrence De Laubadere) walk into a skydiving competition...
“Our team name was Banana Hammock,” Kenny grins. “We decided that while we were drunk ice skating.”
Yep. Banana Hammock.
“Alex made a logo,” he continues. “It’s a banana in a hammock with his hands in the air. His arms are my jumpsuit and his legs are my teammate’s jumpsuit, and the banana is drinking a martini.”
The punchline of the joke? Banana Hammock took the 2-way MFS gold at the 2014 Nationals. (*Rimshot*!) It was a damned good result, especially considering where Kenny was at the outset.
“When we did our first team jumps,” Kenny remembers, “Alex was already able to fly head down and pick up grips. I would leave on my head and then flop away and fall past. Byyyyyye.”
As it turns out, the road from flopping to flying your way to the top of a national podium is paved with very intentionally-executed intentions. Without meticulous planning and open team communication, there’s very little chance you’ll ever make it to the first round. And, for most mere mortals on self-funded teams, you’ll have a very limited number of chances to get it right before the money and/or the wherewithal runs out. The struggle is real.
That said: If you’re looking for an example of a skydiving team done right, this is it. Banana Hammock not only walked away with a gold medal but with the teammates’ friendships intact--gold within gold--and Kenny is willing to share the wisdom he gleaned from that epic endeavor.
1. Compete for the right reasons.
When Kenny was first looking for teammates, he ran into a lot of friction from people who simply didn’t want to compete without the guarantee of a win.
“You have to understand that it isn’t the winning that makes you better,” Kenny observes. “It’s the fact that you are getting in with a like-minded, dedicated group of people and you are doing the same skydives over and over with them. You each learn how the other flies, and then you can focus on the really fine details.”
“When you train to compete, as long as you approach it from the mentality I’m not going to win, I’m going to become a better skydiver and I’m going to use this as a tool to buckle down as if I’m trying to win,” he muses, “then you will be giving yourself the opportunity to learn all these particular skills within whatever discipline you’re training, in a really focused environment.”
2. Overstaff.
The most deadly contingency for most skydiving teams is that of the suddenly-absent member. Shore up.
“If you want to do a 4-way team, find 8 people,” Kenny says. “If you want to do an 8-way team, find 16. People are going to bail on you. I’ve seen teams that have been destroyed a week before Nationals because their outside center flyer decided he couldn’t go to Nationals anymore and the entire team’s training was shot because they didn’t have a backup. Make sure you have more people than you need.”
3. Start talking.
Got some people interested? Great. Now it’s open-communication time.
“When you get the people, put together the plan for your schedule and the goal of what you want to achieve: to win; to place; to develop; whatever that is. Figure what everyone wants to do and find a general consensus. For example: You might have one person who is, like, I want to win the Worlds this year and somebody else who is, like, I just want to see what a competition is like. Both of those people won’t get what they want. The person who just wants to see what it is like isn’t going to put the energy in to train hard enough to win the Worlds. You are going to have to meet in the middle if it’s going to work. Find people you can work with and who will work together for compatible goals.”
At some point along this journey, emotions are bound to escalate. When that happens, be ready. Kenny advocates getting everyone into a quiet room and passing around a talking stick (or a talking altimeter or a talking helmet or a talking rock or whatever ya got).
4. Everybody gets a job.
Kenny insists that, once the team is in agreement about the goals, it’s time to give everyone a very specific set of roles to play.
“Try to divide up the responsibilities for each member,” he says. “Have one person be responsible for making sure there is coffee in the morning; one person be responsible for making sure the video flyer gets taken care of; one person be responsible for making sure your pack jobs are done. You’ll pool your resources to pay for everything, of course, but have the admin jobs divided up so that everyone is responsible for part of the team so it comes together as a fully functioning unit. You don’t want one person getting stressed because they’re having to do everything. Everyone shares ownership.”
5. Plan down to the minute detail, and do it on paper.
“I think the thing that helped us the most was sitting down and getting a calendar and scheduling out every single day we were going to train, with concrete goals lined out. Not just, We want to win Nationals. Instead: We want to win Nationals and have this kind of average point. We put down on the calendar what skills we needed to work on at what time, and we broke it down to be really structured around what we were going for.”
That hyper-detailed schedule might sound imprisoning; for Kenny, it was anything but. It gave him the freedom he needed to dedicate himself completely to the task.
“If I knew that in the month of February, I would be at Paraclete for the second week and training three full days over the last weekend, then when February comes around, I’d know exactly what my schedule was going to look like to plan ahead for work. The strictness of the schedule ensured that we were getting the number of jumps we needed, the amount of tunnel time we needed and the amount of work we needed, all within our schedules.”
Not a spreadsheet nerd? No problem. You’ll get the hang of it.
“I literally had no experience of even how to set up a schedule,” he adds. “I went from working at McDonald’s to a full time skydiver, and then I quit my job to pack parachutes.”
In fact, Banana Hammock’s training schedule derived from a 4-way-specific structural starting point gifted to Kenny by uber-competitor Dan B.C. The team agreed on a certain number of jumps and a certain number of tunnel hours that they needed to accomplish in the nine intervening months between their training start date and the Nationals competition in October. From there, it was a matter of division--but with a twist.
6. Cluster ‘em up.
“You just divide up the jumps by the number of months you have available,” Kenny explains, “but you try to schedule so you are trying to do your month’s jumps in 2-to-4 day time period. You don’t want to do 40 training jumps over the entire month. You want to do 40 training jumps in 3 days and then maintain currency the rest of the month. That way you are honing in and developing those skills rather than just maintaining some vague point of currency. Like: Do I transition on my right or my left shoulder? Do I back up two feet or a foot? When you do 10 jumps in a day, you can dial that in. If not, you are not going to get that level of resolution.”
7. Then plan for the contingencies.
“Then we went on to build a plan for all of the things we could think of that could possibly go wrong,” he continues. “When we did our first team jumps, we had already had a contract that we had written up and both signed that said, ‘if this happens, this is what we are going to do.’ That way there was no animosity between us if any of it happened.”
Happily--and somewhat predictably--but for a few speed bumps, Banana Hammock ended up cruising cheerfully along its well-oiled tracks to meet its golden goal. While the team decided not to compete again (self-funded, y’know), Kenny reports that everyone involved considered it a happy ending, and he, for one, is glad he took the time to do it right.
“The best advice I can give you,” he smiles, “Is don’t give up. Don’t quit. It won’t always seem like it, but it is worth it. If you’ve ever considered competing, you owe it to yourself to try.”
 

By nettenette, in News,

The Last Frontier

Down For 50 Jumps Alaska, And Annette O’Neil Tries to Rise to the Occasion
Image Credit: Melissa Dawn Burns When I grapple my way out onto to the float, I notice two things immediately.
First: It’s impossible to maintain a relaxed attitude while sitting on the pontoon of a floatplane in full flight. My mental image of myself doing this is going to take a major revision in the translation to reality.
Secondly: My pilot chute has never felt so vulnerable in all my jumps. For almost the entirety of this once-in-a-lifetime skydive, as I keep a resolute smile trained on the camera aircraft flying next to us, a sepiatone clip plays over and over in my head: A pinch of (actually very securely and conscientiously packed) fabric managing to wiggle itself out of my (actually tight-as-a-new-pair-of-jeans) BOC and bolt mischievously between the pontoon and the step, deploying my beautiful new Crossfire one last time as we spiral, nose-first, into Alaska’s forested wetlands.
But I digress.
Before we came to Alaska, we were warned.
“Ah, mosquitoes: Alaska’s state bird,” said one. “They don’t bite you. They carry you home and feed you to their children.”
“You’re only there for five days?!,” breathed another. “Good luck with that. You should have planned on at least a week. You’ll never get a break in the weather.”
“A college kid just got eaten by a bear while he was running a half-marathon out there in Anchorage,” chimed in another. “It chased him off the trail and into the forest. He was calling his mom as it was running him down.”
Since my previous knowledge of Alaska was gleaned almost entirely from the Calvin & Hobbes ‘Yukon Ho!’ collection and a single viewing of Grizzly Man, I’m a receptive audience. I decide not to go for runs.
When I arrive in Anchorage, I walk through a neighborhood from my airport hotel to a car rental storefront. The gardens, clearly nothing more than a salad bar for the local deer population, have been scrupulously stripped of anything edible. The one with remaining flowers is surrounded by a high fence. A woman crosses in front of me, walking her toy yorkie. She is carrying bear spray. I speed up, having no toy yorkie to cast off as bait.
Image Credit: Melissa Dawn Burns When I get to the rental place, they issue me a Subaru. Clearly, they assume I’m not messing around.
And clearly, we are not.
The next morning, we—myself, my Down For 50 co-adventurer, Joel, and Brett, along for the ride on this particular state’s adventure—are on the road, bound for the town of Talkeetna. Ah, Talkeetna, Alaska: the acknowledged “doorway to Denali,” home to a heterozygous mix of hippies and lumberjacks, a private pilot mecca. The latter becomes evident even miles away, on the long road into town. The traffic overhead, after all, is significantly more congested and varied than the traffic on ground level. I’m glad I’m not driving; I’m transfixed looking out and up, checking out the rush hour trucking over the trees.
Soon, following the instructions given in a flurry of arranging emails, we wind through a series of deeply wooded roads to arrive at our pilot’s lakehouse/hangar/office/flight school/community hub. The pilot himself, Don, is an affable fellow with a handsome mustache and the air of a man you’d immediately trust with your life. In fact, I do: When he suggests that we head over to the airport to conduct a quick aerial requisition of the available parachute landing areas “in the Breezy,” I immediately offer myself up. We hop in the rough-and-ready fuel truck (okay: the rusted-through blue pickup with a tank of AV gas in the bed) and off we go.
The airfield is, to put it mildly, a candy store.
All manner of aircraft sit gamely waiting, lined up as tidily and fetchingly as pretty ladies in an Old West brothel, all waiting expectantly for a pilot. Don and I cruise along in front of their expectant glass faces. Will we hop into the shiny red one? The bare-metal number that looks like it’ll have a sign on the door that says “silk scarves required”? The race-car-faced green-and-white one with its dancing shoes on and the freshly-chamwowed gleam?
What’s this blue thing?
As I’m wondering what I’m looking at, we pull to a stop. I take a closer look. This aircraft—I’m finding it difficult to call it a “plane”—is a robin’s-egg-blue latticework of metal with a wing laid across the top. There’s a prop. There’s an engine. There’s a Wizard-of-Oz-style picnic basket strapped in for storage behind an open, park-bench seat. It looks like the pilot is meant to perch on a piece of wood that sits directly in front of that.
Suddenly, I realize that Don’s walking right towards it.
Oh. The BREEZY.
That looks pretty breezy, alright.
Don hands me a motorcycle helmet and a bib jumpsuit “so he doesn’t have to worry about me.” I sit down on the park bench. I fasten the single lap belt as fastidiously as I can manage. Then, as Don works the engine like a lawnmower, I read the little metal placard fastened to the seat in front of me. It says, “Passenger warning: This aircraft is amateur-built and does not comply with the federal safety regulations for standard aircraft.”
For some reason, that’s all I need to start enjoying myself. As we taxi out, I’m smiling so hard in my helmet it hurts a little.
Twenty minutes later, I’ve found Jesus. I’m reeling from the feeling of being in the dead-on sweet spot of everything I love about flying and motorcycling and adventuring, all bound up into one ugly-ass not-quite-aircraft. We rode the river like a track day. We bounded over forested hillocks and gravel outcroppings and one enormous, out-of-place old satellite dish. We buzzed the lakehouse, waving at my astounded companions. As we land, I decide I might not be bluffing about wanting my fixed-wing license anymore. I tell Don.
“Oh, you don’t need a pilot’s license to fly this thing,” he grins. “I can get you checked out on it this afternoon.”
I backpedal. Hard.
When we arrive back at camp, it’s late. It doesn’t look late, but it is late. Don, the pilots and us jumpers congregate on the dock, four floatplanes bobbing cheerfully around us, and go over the flight plan. As it turns out, they want to do our jump as a stacked formation—each of us in our own chariot—with queenly Denali throwing her white skirts around in the background. There will be a photographer (my preternaturally gifted, multi-hyphenate wonder of a friend, Melissa) passenging in a camera plane, ready to capture it. Our flight instructors thrill to the plan. I am assigned the one that’s mostly purple, bedecked with little hippie daisies. I am much pleased.
After the meeting, Joel and Brett and I trundle up to the room that Don has graciously offered us, with its wide deck overlooking the twilit lake and the visiting pilots trading stories around the fire pit. We (very ineffectually) close the shades. We try to rest. Tomorrow’s a big day.
Image Credit: Melissa Dawn Burns The night segues seamlessly into the morning. I wake when my sleep mask shifts and the 4:30AM sun sears my eyelids. Brett wakes when I bump his shins, hanging over the padded arm of the loveseat upon which he reclines. Joel is already up.
Coffee in hand, we meander down to the dock under a cloudless, bluebird sky. There’s a four-month-old Bernese-Blue Heeler mix rolling around the lawn, doing its best to learn how to be a dog, its fur bunching adorably in handfuls, waiting to be grown into. Two chubby golden retrievers stalk fish offshore. Two pigs, wire-haired and curious, wander over and present themselves for belly rubs. We kit up.
Taking off from water is a new experience entirely. It’s smoother than I think it’ll be, as the glassed-off lake is feeling nary a tickle of wind this fine, blue morning. Before I know it, we’re tooth-and-clawing our way up to six grand.
“I forgot how pretty it is from up here,” my pilot smiles when we get to around four. I, for myself, had forgotten that most people—especially people around here—don’t blow through four grand like the front door on a cold night.
Once we’re up at six, we circle, building the formation. Let’s be clear: these are really, really good pilots, but they’re not formation pilots, and there’s most certainly a trick to it when you’re wrangling low-performance aircraft that were made to do nothing of the sort. With the door open, six thousand feet over Alaska at the entrance to glaciertopia, it is cold. The twenty minutes it takes them to get together has me clinging to the back of the passenger seat like it’s a lover returned from the wars. I hope my hands still work when it’s time to get out.
Image Credit: Down For 50 Which, coincidentally, it is.
I see Melissa’s plane figuring its way alongside us. I uncertainly stick out a foot and screw it down onto the sandpaper surface of the step. Then I offer my body up to the full blast of the relative wind and lunge for the strut. I get a purchase. I, ungainly, perch. I’m doing it.
There’s a yoga to staying here, one iron grip around the strut, the other hand “casually” in my lap, my brain stuck firmly to my pilot chute. Most of me aches to tumble into the familiar arms of freefall. The rest of me grabs that part of me by the cheeks and shouts into its face: For chrissakes, woman, pay attention to this and here and now, because it has an expiration date that is less than a minute in the future and this is what you came for.
I heed it.
Suddenly, I can see. I see the red and white camera airplane, framed by impossible mountains. Denali, of course; Mount Huntington; Moose’s Tooth; Little Switzerland. I see a sky of a blueness Alaska pretty much never sees, yet here I am, sitting in it. I see Melissa, concentrating behind the winking black eye of her lens. I can’t see them, but I feel Joel and Brett, doing their own pontoon yoga practice behind me and above me. I see so much of what I love about being in this world, hanging here and now in the suspended animation of complete attention.
And then there’s the landing area below—a cleared construction pad, tucked up next to the Talkeetna airport runway. My pilot nods. I had planned some sort of fanfare for this exit. As it stands, however, all I can manage is a dizzy-eyed smile and a bog-standard hop. My pilot hollers to watch me go. She’s never seen anything like it before.
When we land, parachutes slung over shoulders, I’m exhausted with the effort of committing it all to memory. I decide to walk back to the FBO and let it all process—Don’s generosity; the force of the community here; the entirely new sensations of flight. It overwhelms my hardware.
It’s only later, as we hunch over plates heaped with pancakes, that I happen to glance at the collection of grinning pilots clustered in black-and-white on the Talkeetna diner wall. It crystallizes what I’m feeling: The momentum of a long tradition. Those smiling faces, proudly next to their planes, captured over the entire history of aviation, seem to prove that this place—Alaska, the last frontier—was created by and for adventure. Alaska turns energy to adventure like some sort of spiritual chlorophyll. Every single one of these guys grew tall, strong, enduring lives with the force of that alchemy. Alaska pushes out the envelopes of the willing like leaves bursting from ever-lengthening branches. This is its job.
 

It does it well.

-----------
 
Down For 50, the first 50-state skydiving road trip accomplished in a single journey, is happening from May to October of this year. To follow the journey, to check out when it’s coming to your state or simply to help out (thanks!), visit downfor50.org.

By nettenette, in News,

How Cognitive Bias Is Messing With Your Skydiving

Three Cognitive Tools to Help Keep You In One Piece

Image by Kenneth Grymen Uncertainty is a foundational element of skydiving, and managing that uncertainty is one of our most important responsibilities in the sport. Right? Right. Unfortunately: what we know from laboratory experiments is that when humans come up against probabilities—all of which are, technically, conditional probabilities—our minds seize up when they try to make an inference from that data.
We all hold carefully constructed illusions that comfortably surround the ideas of certainty, responsibility and safety. Learning about the structures we build out of those illusions forces us to open up to the idea that we don’t know jack. And man, we don’t like to do that.
As a culture, we’re also tripped up by the fact that statistical thinking isn’t a cornerstone of our educational system. We’re friggin’ terrible at juggling statistics, in fact. (Esteemed mathematician John Alan Paulos calls this phenomenon “innumeracy”: literally, an illiteracy of numbers.)
With that in mind, co-nerd along with me on this path to understanding how we stumble around in our own heads. Clearly, a library of cognitive phenomena relate to our beloved sport; I’ve picked my favorite three biggies to start the conversation.
#1: The Dunning-Kruger Effect
If you walk away with only one new tool in your cognitive toolkit, let that be the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a relatively new discovery, as these things go. It was set out in experiments run by David Dunning and Justin Kruger at Cornell in 1999.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias (defined as a systematic deviation from rational thinking) that prevents people from being able to know with any accuracy how skilled and/or informed they are. Basically, the research found that incompetent people overestimated (sometimes, hilariously vastly) their own abilities. Skilled people, however, tended to downplay their competency.
What repercussions does this have for you as a skydiver? Holy dachshund puppy in a hot dog bun. SO MANY. It only takes a little extra listening to recognize it in the people around you--and yourself. Our sport is--just like the rest of the world--chock-full of the “confident incompetent”: those who lack the metacognitive ability to recognize that they (at least for now) suck.
What’s a smart skydiver to do? Firstly and most importantly: Underestimate your abilities and the abilities of the jumpers around you. Get professional coaching to uplevel; that’ll come with a bonus of an outside perspective on your actual skills. Then make it a project to find truly competent fun jumpers to enrich your educational environment. Remember: People who know nothing are far more likely to make themselves be heard than people who know a lot. The fun jumpers who actually know a lot will likely be much quieter, so it’ll take more work to find them.
#2: The Stress-Influence Tendency
Every human makes decisions under varying intensities of stress; far fewer of that number regularly, intentionally make life-and-death decisions under stress. Of that smaller population segment, a pretty large fraction does it for a living. For fun? Yeah. We’re a weird crowd. We play stress games. We need to play them as consciously as possible.
The Stress-Influence Tendency pops up when the stakes are high and not enough information (or cognitive resources) are present to reasonably guarantee a good choice. Here, it’s the pressure that matters. High-pressure environments dramatically change human decision-making strategies. You might think that your decision-making under pressure is solid, but you’d be wrong: Studies that compare outcomes often show vast differences in decision-making quality between high-pressure and low-pressure environments.
Here’s why.
According to psychologist (and Nobel Prize laureate besides) Daniel Kahneman*, we humanbeans have two routes to the endgame of a decision: the fast route, labeled System 1**, and the slow route, labeled System 2***. System 1 is snappy and pretty much automatic, kicking in to respond to an external stimulus. System 1 can be the result of genetic hard-wiring (Eek! A rat! Climb up the bookcase!) or long-term, hard-practiced skillbuilding (Eek! A rogue toddler in the LZ! Braked turn!). These responses have a tendency to feel involuntary.
System 2, on the other hand, has to do a bunch of library research and take up the whole damn operating system to do its work. System 2 puts together a spreadsheet and a PowerPoint presentation of the pros and cons associated with each option. It’s the farthest thing from involuntary, but it can flexibly check, modify, and override the decisions from System 1, if given the chance. Ideally, System 1 sits down with System 2 and offers a solution, and System 2 either vetoes that judgement call or gives it the blessing of reasoning.
An overdose of stress, however, pulls that chance right out from under System 2. It diverts all the cognitive resources that System 2 needs for its ponderous function, subbing out instinct for conscious reasoning. In lots of cases, that works out just fine. The problem is that System 1 is simple. It’s a habit memory system. It’s rigid; it only has a hammer, so everything looks like a nail. System 2 can bring the rest of the toolkit to bear on the problem, but only if it has the chance to get there.
The only way to reliably get System 2 into the room is to reduce the amount of stress you’re under. Strive to limit your variables. Example: Doing your FWJC? Awesome. Doing your FWJC at a new dropzone in suboptimal conditions? You just locked yourself in with System 1 and chucked the key out the window. If you need a more reasoned solution for a problem than the one System 1 throws out first, you’ll be out of luck.
Another thing: When you’re learning new skills that overlap with skills you’ve trained deeply, be mindful that your System 1 responses are going to overwhelmingly favor what you’ve trained. (This is why swoopers have a tendency to over-toggle paragliders, and why multi-thousand-jump skydivers sometimes panic-pull off of big-wall BASE exits in the opening phase of their low-speed belly careers.)
#3: The Availability Heuristic (a.k.a. The Availability-Misweighing Tendency)
 

Because our decision-making process has its roots in the systems that sent us scrambling for food and running from better-physically-adapted beasts, those systems are built for immediacy. They’re designed to make quick assumptions and finalize a decision using that scant criteria while consuming as few resources as possible in the process. The system works like a search engine, and we’re only ever really interested in the top three results. In precisely the same way as a search-engine ranks its resultant listings, the system ranks the stuff that pops up according to the number of times it has been accessed. “Availability” is analogous to top-ranking search position. Top ranking alone creates the illusion of truth and reliability. It’s easy to forget that simple repetition got it there.

Beliefs, in kind, propagate by repetition, and our sport is no exception. Examples abound. A nail-biting number of skydivers (and aircraft operators, besides) remain super-casual about seatbelts in the jump plane because it’s pretty rare that a forced landing makes the news, making them cognitively unavailable for decisions. Make no mistake: There are plenty of forced landings goin’ on. In another example, the prevalence of a certain brand of gear on your dropzone (or in the advertising you consume) will make it significantly more “available,” driving your purchase decision more than you realize. And another: A regional community’s oft-repeated mantras (Ex.: “If we didn’t jump in clouds, we’d never jump!”) are most certainly available due to repetition and not the unaltered truth.

Thinking outside of availability takes work. It takes curiosity. Often, it takes the willingness to say or do something out of lockstep. How often do you visit the second page of the search results? Maybe it’s time to start.

As I said before: There are loads of these cognitive heuristics that, in one way or another, bring their kerfuffle to bear on your skydiving (and, of course, your life at large). Most of these biases complicate the problem by tending to overlap and interweave, creating a series of false bottoms and fake doors in your thinking. Learning to recognize them is a good first step; the rest of the demolition work is up to you.
 
* Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

** “Intuition” in the “stress induced deliberation-to-intuition” (SIDI) model

*** “Deliberation” in the SIDI model

By nettenette, in General,

Reviewing Vertical's Viper Elite

The amount of suit designs there are to choose from continues to grow, and selecting the right one to meet your needs can be a confounding process. Why are there so dang many and what are they all for?
The simple truth is there are a lot of ways to fly your body. Our sport is divided by both line-in-the-sand disciplinary boundaries, such as wether-or-not you require booties and grippers to ply your trade - but also on macro levels inside sub-disciplines that have evolved together with the modern freefly scene. The ultimate grail quest of any company that designs suits is surely to come up with something so exquisitely crafted and manufactured that it should eclipse all else, transcending choice altogether by being totally awesome at all the things. The reality is that there is no single combination of pattern and material that serves all areas of a flying career as well as something focused on and aimed at a particular niche. The result of this is it can be difficult to choose one from a toolbox of designs when you are pushing at the edges of you skillset in all directions at the same time - hungry to get good everywhere right now. What you are left with is having to make a wise and honest choice about the kind of suit you really need.
Up to the point where you might be seriously considering investing multiple jumpsuits to apply where and when you need them, you should be approaching an expensive purchase with practicality in mind. A slinky squeezy suit might be all the rage right now, but if you are continually sinking out on all your mates then you have not chosen wisely. The opposite of this is also true - if you are prioritising the time, money and effort on some quality tunnel time then a fitted design that will help build good technique and feels like a second skin might be just the job. When assessing which suit is best for you, the right kind of eyes are the same ones you should be using to choose a parachute: a smaller, more advanced canopy will not make you a better pilot - the path to success is getting the right thing for where your skills are currently.
The Viper Elite is a further refinement of Vertical’s flagship Viper template - already previously tweaked into the Viper Pro. While it is possible to simplify these iterations as each being more advanced than the last, to do so would be disservice to the thoughtful work and overall consideration that Vertical have put into their range. If you do find yourself tumbling down the freefly rabbit hole - ultimately reaching the level where you are coaching, competing, or simply flying enough that the only real way forward is to own more than a single suit, then Vertical has all your needs covered, from the specifics of bendy freestyle to powerful lines, static shapes and everything in-between.
At this point in my flying career I have utilised all the styles and types of suit - from back-in-the-day Talsan bagginess, through the first generations of tunnel-is-a-sport-now rethinks and all the way up to the damn-I-should-eat-less looks of right here and right now. The Viper Elite is my favourite out of all the suits I have owned. This is not because Vertical have created a better suit or some kind of revolutionary design, but because it represents the best intersection of materials and design characteristics with my personal abilities and the specific requirements I have for it. The place that this suit occupies on the spectrum of performance characteristics has, for me, the widest band of usability - it feels equally as good both indoors and under a parachute harness, and I love putting it on either at the dropzone or the tunnel. When flying in either environment, any concessions made to the other are as small as I have encountered - leaving the suit feeling tailored to both the tube and the big blue.
Pros and Cons
As stated above - there is no single suit design that covers every aspect of flying. Here is a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of the Viper Elite.
Spandex: This super stretchy material is at the central compromise between power and mobility, and its use and placement is often the most important consideration when creating a new design. The Viper Elite has spandex in the areas you would expect to see on a pure-bred tunnel suit, with additional panels for underneath where your parachute harness goes. Even the best quality spandex will shift and flap when put under pressure from the wind and in the tunnel you might feel this in a few places at certain angles, but it does allow for full, unrestricted mobility in both environments.
Squeezy Fit: The closer a suit fits your body, the more you are relying on your true shape to fly. The better you understand how your true shape flies the more graceful you look and feel. The Viper Elite is very much a squeezy suit so all the extra stuff has been removed, such as the mesh lining and any pockets. This is good for the fit of the suit around your body and subsequently your technique, but it does mean you will need to wear some kind of base layer for comfort and find another solution for the things you like to take with you while skydiving - such as your phone, lip balm, bungees, pull ups etc. etc.
Reinforcements: In line with it’s two Viper siblings, the Elite has Cordura covering the elbows and knees. In an ideal world none of us would ever crash or wear out our suits by dragging our limbs about on various surfaces - like the net or the glass at the tube, the floor/wall/roof of the plane, or whatever your landing area is made of, but we do any they do. The plus here is that the Viper Elite will last longer in those hard-wearing areas than if it was made without Cordura, the minus is that every extra of fabric used in the construction of a suit moves it a little bit away from the actual shape of your body.
If you, like many, are buried up to the eyeballs in the possibilities of flying your body, and are committed to the rewards of getting it right across both environments - Vertical may well have created the best single tool produced thus far.

By joelstrickland, in Gear,

Improving Your Indoor Flying Outside The Tunnel

How First-Person Videos Can Supplement Real-Life Learning
Image by alphamedak If you’re like most people, there’s only one reason you’re not, like, the best tunnel flyer in the world. It’s the annoying digital thing that barks out at you from the driving room window. 00:00! 00:00! 00:00!
The cruel little clock leaves you with a knuckle-biting question that lingers in the air: Is there training that you can do that optimizes the time you spend in the airflow while the damn thing isn’t ticking down?
Apparently, there is. But let’s dig into a bit of theory, first.
Embodied theories of learning and instruction are having something of a moment in airsports. When we talk about “embodied learning,” we’re talking about the ways our physical actions lay the neural groundwork for new information to take root in meaningful ways. That neural groundwork is a physical, real-world thing that’s being manufactured in your head right now. The material is called myelin, and its part in the process is called myelination. Without myelin, you’ll never nail that layout.
Myelination is the method by which your brain paves the pathways you tell it are most important. Like wrapping a copper wire in rubber, it wraps the axons of those prioritized neurons, protecting the neuron and helping it conduct signals more efficiently. Repeatedly, deeply practicing a move--getting it a little wrong, making adjustments and trying again--is the most efficient way to build up that myelin and, by extension, get better at what you’re working on. (For more of this in a super-readable pop-sci format, check out Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code.)
When you only have a few minutes in the tunnel--or a few seconds, hopefully very occasionally, to mess with a malfunction--you need all the help you can get to get the myelination process wrapping neurons. If you’re not actually doing the activity you’re trying to myelinate, the trick is to make your brain believe that it is the actor that’s practicing the action.
Learning physical skills has always begged for embodied learning methods, but modern technologies are hopping the fence in places between the things you absolutely have to be physically present to learn and the things you can reinforce--or even learn--on your own couch.
Take, for example, the virtual reality malfunction videos released as a collaborative project between Sig.ma and the USPA. These are, in this author’s opinion, set to exponentially improve the way new skydiving students learn malfunction response. (Heck--they might even be instructive for you if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing one or two of these babies overhead.)
Visualization has proven useful for this kind of thing, but you have to keep in mind its limits: Visualization works, but only if you’re able to very realistically, very precisely visualize the task at hand. You already have to know what you’re doing first. Visualization is a very useful tool for competitors training for a world competition; it’s not terribly helpful for someone at the first stages of working on an outface snake. First-person/VR environments are for learning new stuff, and they do it very well.
The results are in: first-person video works. Check out this 2017 study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, which tested whether first-person videos were better task-teaching tools than third-person videos. (Sure, the study participants were assembling components on a circuit board, but doesn’t putting together a complicated line kinda feel all fussy-fiddly, too?) Across two experiments conducted in different labs, the first-person group performed the task more accurately, hands-down, and more time-efficiently to boot.
There’s a problem, of course: It has not, historically speaking, been an easy task to find first-person video of tunnel flying. And that’s where Johannes Bergfors, a Swedish tunnel instructor and coach, comes in.
Johannes has produced a fine set of these, available for free on YouTube, called First Perspective. Simply put, it’s a series of online videos filmed from the flyer’s POV. They show repetitive flying of dynamic flying motions on several speeds, both solo and duo. Filmed over a few days in the Flystation wind tunnel in Munich, local instructor Nick Poland flew the lead as Bergfors filmed following. (As a bonus, there are also some first-person videos posted there of non-single-move exchanges between Bergfors and Poland and also freestyles by the legendary Leonid Volkov.)
"Your visual experience is a muscle memory,” Johannes explains. “For example, if you’re trained as a gymnast and have made a thousand front flips from the trapeze, then you will be more prepared to do a front layout, because you have already seen your world spin in front of you on the vertical axis so many times and will be able to navigate at the same time. If you don’t have that experience, you can expect everything to be a blur in front of you. Without that basis reference, you’ll have to perform a new type of body motion at the same time as your visual is dramatically changing."
The idea for First Perspective has been on Bergfors’ to-do list for quite some time. Before he took his first tunnel gig in 2014, he had about 20 hours of tunnel time, which he’d paid for with a less-than-princely chef’s salary that made every second count.
“Also, I was not a very good student,” Bergfors laughingly adds. “I was always complaining. My expectations were too high, and I spent a lot of time stressed out. I also had really lousy body control since I never really did any sports before that except for skydiving. If I had videos like these when I began, I think they could have helped me, and I think that’s probably true for a lot of people out there. I don’t claim it’s perfect, and it’s not a series of instructional videos about how to fly--it’s about what could be presented visually in front of you when you fly certain lines, and about teaching your body to embody this information in kind-of a sneaky way.”
Johannes plans to expand and improve the collection in time. That said: It’s a damn good start. For those of us who’ve been looking for a way to invest in their progression without the clock ticking down the dollars, it’s a sweet discovery--and, hopefully, one of many emerging innovations for inspired airsports instruction.
First Perspective on YouTube: https://tinyurl.com/fallrates2018

By joelstrickland, in General,

Vigil Service Bulletin - 19 April 2018

Issue Date: 19 April 2018

Bulletin Number: PSB-01-2018

Subject: Firmware Update and High Altitude Jumps

Status: Mandatory Prior to the next jump with any aircraft altitude exceeding 27,000 ft MSL

Identification: All Sport Vigil II and Vigil 2+ with firmware versions 05.05, 05.06, 06.01, 06.02
This product service bulletin does not apply to Military Vigils
Background: Due to an internal calculation algorithm, units with firmware versions 05.05, 05.06, 06.01, 06.02 will enter protected CTRL-ERR mode when the measured pressure is less than 300 hpa. (Approximately 30,000 ft MSL).
Compliance: Vigil II & Vigil 2+ (does not apply to Military Vigils).
All Vigil II and 2+ units with firmware versions 05.05, 05.06, 06.01, 06.02 MUST be updated to a new firmware version.
The current firmware version MUST be checked in the info menu during the startup of the Vigil. (See Road Map - Parameter Sequence Flow Chart in the User's Manual).
Compliance Date: Compliance is the mandatory before any jump during which the aircraft is anticipated to reach, or reaches, any altitude above 27,000 ft MSL. DO NOT MAKE ANY JUMP IF THE AIRCRAFT, AT ANY TIME ON THE FLIGHT, EXCEEDS 27,000 ft MSL WITHOUT HAVING FIRST FULLY COMPILED WITH THIS PSB.
For all users NOT making, or planning to make a jump with an exit altitude above 27,000 ft MSL, or planning to make a flight above 27,000 ft MSL, compliance is still mandatory for all affected firmware versions, however compliance may be at the user's convenience during any repack between the date of this PSB and 31 May 2020.
This is to prevent risk of possible future high altitude use by a new owner or user, without compliance with, or awareness of this service bulletin.
Compliance Procedure and Costs:
Please follow the return RMA procedure online at https://www.vigil.aero/servicing The unit update, maintenance and return shipping from AAD Belgium or Vigil America to the customer will be at no charge to the customer. The shipping cost to AAD Belgium or to Vigil America will be the customer's responsibility. Repack costs and expenses are solely the customer's responsibility. No claims for repack costs and expenses will be accepted. Authority:
Jo Smolders

Managing Director

A.A.D. nv/sa

Bd.A. Reysers, 193

1030 Brussels - Belgium - Europe

Tel: +32.2.732.65.52

Fax: +32.2.736.06.27

www.vigil.aero - rma@vigil.aero
Vigil America, Inc.

1400 Flightline Blvd., Suite C

Deland, FL 32724

Tel: +1.386.736.8464

Fax: +1.386.736.8468

www.vigil.aero - candace@vigil.aero
Distribution of this Advisory Product Service Bulletin shall include, but is not limited to:
All AAD dealers. Parachute Industry Association. All identified parachuting publications. All identified parachuting Federations and Associations. All National Aero Clubs, Parachuting Section. IPC Technical Committee

By admin, in News,

Useful Training for BASE, Right There on the Dropzone

Courtesy Apex BASE: Pascal Constantineau flying his FLiK at Skydive Perris during his BASE canopy course with Dimitrije Dadic. (Of note: Square1 offers discounted rental rigs to people taking Dimitrije’s BASE canopy courses.)
If you’re like most people, your idea of dropzone training for the stresses of the BASE environment involves trying to look nonchalant when you climb into a hot-air balloon basket. If you have no access to such a thing (and/or if you’re significantly smarter than the average bear) you’re probably looking for more. You know you need a way to get as many jumps under your belt as possible with your BASE parachute proudly overhead--preferably, with a reserve on standby. But how?
“Skydiving your BASE canopy is by far the best way to learn canopy skills for BASE jumping before making a BASE jump,” says Steve Doherty, who served as Director of Operations of Apex BASE for five years. “In a perfect world, everyone would be able to jump their BASE canopy skydiving--a lot--before they ever took it out on a BASE jump.”
Ideally, if you’re serious about this, you’re not just swapping gear willy-nilly on every dropzone day. You have a dedicated skydiving system, configured for the purpose. Here’s how to build it.
The Canopy
“It's only with the introduction of ultralight canopies that jumping BASE canopies at the dropzone has become a possible and useful activity,” he continues. “Anything you can use in the BASE environment, you can use in the skydiving environment--of course, in the skydiving environment, you have to manage your opening speed.”
“If you take your whole BASE setup: mesh slider, BASE bridle and BASE pilot chute, you're going to have a very brisk skydiving opening,” he adds. “In our collective experience at Apex, we found that you can make two or three slider-up skydives on this kind of setup in a day and it's okay. If you were going to make five to ten, you need to start making modifications.”
As any seasoned BASE jumper will tell you, nothing flies quite like an actual BASE canopy--so the goal is to get as close to it as possible. Athletes who want to train BASE canopy skills should choose an ultralight canopy and seek a skydiving container that fits it.
That said: Athletes who want to get into flying a wingsuit with the intention of BASE jumping but don’t want to jump a BASE-sized canopy for all their wingsuit skydiving training now have some options.“On today’s market, you can find seven-cell, BASE-type canopies created for the skydiving environment. The benefit is that--while these canopies do have some of the distinctive BASE properties--you can jump all day and not feel it when you wake up the next morning.
The Risers
Forward-facing risers are more appropriate in the skydiving environment for a simple reason: the possibility of a horseshoe malfunction. During a horseshoe malfunction, forward-facing risers are the only type that you can reliably cut away.
“During a horseshoe malfunction with rear-facing risers,” Doherty notes, “Your body will be in the way of the twisting movement that the three-rings need to do in order to release. So, when you’re jumping a two-parachute system, we always recommend jumping forward-facing risers.”
The Container
As you’ve certainly noticed by now: Apart from student gear, most of the containers available for sport use won't fit BASE canopies. According to Apex, the best way around that is to jump an ultra-light parachute. (Take, for instance, the Lobo: a 250 can pack up to the size of a skydiving 180.)
“More and more drop zones are coming around to the idea of BASE jumping,” Doherty continues, “That is to say: Not assuming that it’s attracting bad publicity to the sport of skydiving. Nowadays, they're more willing to let their student gear be used. Here in Southern California, we suggest going to Square One. They have a huge selection of demo equipment, so it’s relatively easy to get the largest demo container they have and pack into it the largest BASE canopy that fits.”
Most drop zones have a container that's sized for a 180/200. The Apex team have, however, not been able to find a non-tandem or -military container able to fit anything bigger than a 300+ made from F-111 fabric. (UltraLite PN-9 is a different story, and large canopies are more easily accommodated.)
The D-Bag
Talk to your local CReW dogs: You don't have to use a deployment bag when you skydive.
“You can free-pack your BASE canopy into a properly-sized skydiving container, just like you do in your BASE container,” he says, “except the rectangle is a lot smaller, so you’ll have to stack it up.”
If that sounds a little unnerving, ask for help. Doherty notes that a lot of the older generations of CReW skydivers are quite familiar with that deployment method, so ask them for advice.
If you do use a D-bag, he insists that you’re using it correctly. Take note of what BASE canopy you're using. Not all BASE manufacturers use a metal ring at the top of the parachute. Some do use a metal ring, just like you'd find on a skydiving canopy. The Blackjack and Ace canopies built by Asylum also use a metal ring. Atair doesn't. And Apex doesn’t, either. To get this right, use a metal connect link to prevent the canopy from getting sucked up into the grommet of the bag. (Very importantly, the link needs to be inside the bag.)
The Pilot Chute
You are going to want to use a slightly larger pilot chute for a BASE canopy than you would if you were jumping a skydiving canopy, because the BASE canopy itself is much larger.
“You don't need to use the same-sized pilot chute that you use in the BASE environment,” Doherty notes, “We recommend a 32" non-collapsible pilot chute for skydiving. It's much larger than a sky pilot chute, which is typically 28 inches.”
The Bridle“We typically use a longer bridle in BASE jumping,” Doherty says. “You don't need to take the BASE bridle over to make the BASE canopy work. You'd want to use the bridle that was appropriate for whatever discipline you were doing in skydiving. We recommend using a normal skydiving bridle for normal skydiving freefalls. If you’re wingsuiting, we recommend using whatever bridle length you'd normally use for wingsuiting in the BASE environment.”
The Slider
You can use a mesh slider, but it’s not ideal.
“In BASE, we’re so close to the ground that we tolerate--even welcome--brisk openings,” Doherty says. “But if you make five jumps on a mesh slider at terminal, you’re going to feel it. You won’t regret using a sail slider in the skydiving environment. That said: If you’re making hop-and-pops, a mesh slider is not a problem.”
The Jumps
Once you’re all geared up, there’s only one place to go: Up. And when you get there, you’ll have a few more things to think about.
“When you're jumping a BASE canopy on the dropzone, you have to think about where you're going to be in the pattern,” Doherty advises. “You're jumping a parachute that's much larger than the other parachutes around you and you're going to descend a lot slower. Especially at large dropzones where they’re flying multiple aircraft and doing multiple load drops over the same area, this can get problematic. Stay out of the way.”
The Mentality
If you have access to a candy-colored, fire-powered dead-air machine, then by all means use it--but don’t rely on them as the sole training platform for your BASE-jumping skills. Commit to fine-tuning your BASE canopy skills (and that impossible-to-exaggerate-the-importance-of accuracy) before and between jumps from objects. Your bones, your friends and your family will thank you. And--as always--talk to your mentor and/or gear manufacturer to clarify any points that leave you unclear.

By admin, in Disciplines,

How Green Is My Skydive

by Bryan Burke
Images by Serge Shakuto Friends, co-workers, and visitors to Skydive Arizona often comment on my interest in environmental topics and my rather restrained consumption of goods and energy, at least by American standards. This is in sharp contrast to my job, which is helping to run the biggest drop zone on the planet. I freely confess I have probably pumped more jet fuel into jump planes than anyone on earth. My fuel supplier is on speed dial and I order 8,000 gallons of jet fuel with a 15 second phone call. When things are busy I make that call two or three times a week. National Championships or Holiday Boogie busy? Every other day.
Yet we strive to keep our operations as efficient as possible. This is good business: burn less fuel, save money. Over time, every incremental gain in efficiency saves a few gallons of fuel here and there, just as people who plan their weekly driving to minimize miles and maximize efficiency will see huge savings over time, in thousands of small increments.
I reconcile my environmental leanings with my job in this manner: if someone else was doing it, a lot more fuel would be wasted. On a busy day I figure my expertise and commitment to efficiency saves Skydive Arizona at least two Otter loads worth of fuel consumption.
Just how much does our sport consume, and how does that compare to other ways oil is used or wasted? The numbers that follow are rough - sometimes very rough. Comparisons are difficult because as numbers get bigger and bigger, they tend to get harder to evaluate for accuracy. Even rough numbers will give the curious reader something to think about.
A Twin Otter burns about 30 gallons of jet fuel per load. If a drop zone operates at high efficiency, meaning most loads are close to full, that works out to about 1.4 to 1.5 gallons per jumper through the door. Other jump aircraft can be assumed to come in somewhere near that figure. A Cessna 182 burns a lot less per load in volume, but in terms of jumpers per load and time flown, they aren’t that different. Single engine turbines are probably about as efficient as it gets. But on the other hand, if you lose an engine on an Otter, you’re still in an airplane. If you lose the engine on a PAC or Caravan, you’re in a glider. That’s the main reason Skydive Arizona likes to run twin engine jump ships.
Gasoline turns into Carbon Dioxide at a rate of about one gallon into 20 pounds. Jet fuel is a little less clean, coming in at 21 pounds per gallon. Therefore, for every 100 jumps you make, about 140 gallons of fuel are burned, and 2,940 pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted. That’s one and a half tons. Does your log book suddenly feel heavier?
If you are having trouble wrapping your head around this figure, think about the raw energy involved in getting to altitude for a skydive. Imagine climbing 13,000 feet on foot, say from the lowlands around Mt. Rainier to the summit, which is 14,411 feet above sea level. Skydive Arizona is 1,500 feet above sea level, so when your altimeter says 13,000 on jump run, you’re at about the same height as the summit of Mt. Rainier. It would take several days, lots of meals, and enormous effort to get to that summit on foot. We do it in 15 minutes using a jump plane. How? By turning long dead plants and animals into explosive energy funneled through a turbine engine.
By USPA’s figures, approximately 3 million jumps per year were made in the USA between 2007 and 2016, which works out to 4,200,000 gallons of fuel and 88,200,000 pounds of CO2. That’s 44,100 tons of CO2 emitted by skydiving in America each year. Multiply that by ten years and we’re talking about a lot of emissions!
Let’s look even further back. Based on the jump estimates published in the April 2013 edition of Parachutist, annual jump numbers were at or below 2,000,000 until the late 80s, then climbed steadily throughout the 90s to their current levels. This makes sense. Prior to 1990, turbine aircraft were few, equipment less reliable and “one size fits all,” and training less sophisticated. People packed their own rigs. The pace was just a lot slower. Improvements in all these areas allowed the sport to reach out to a much broader demographic, resulting in more jumps made.
Driven by curiosity I started pulling numbers off USPA’s bar graph estimating number of jumps per year through 2013 and then added on through 2016. I made my best rounding-off estimate, coming up with about 70 million jumps in the history of US skydiving through 2016.
Obviously as data gets harder to read, or scarcer, numbers get fuzzier. Rough numbers suggest that about half of all jumps made in the world take place in the USA, so globally the skydiving total might come to about 140 million jumps made in the entire history of the sport.
That would mean that since 1960, the sport has burned through somewhere around
196,000,000 gallons of fuel, sending about 2,058,000 tons of CO2 out the exhaust pipes.
How do we stack up against other fuel figures?
The State of California estimates that 26,221,917 gallons per year are burned by Off Highway Vehicles, including motorcycles, ATVs, and snowmobiles. That’s almost six times the total national fuel consumption for skydiving. Put another way, OHV recreation in California alone burns more than twice as much fuel as the entire world’s skydiving.
The Department of Defense is the world’s single largest buyer of fossil fuels, with an estimated consumption as high as 14 million gallons per day. That’s more than all skydivers in the world use in a year and a half.
To fly Air Force 1 to Hawaii and back is about 50,000 gallons of fuel, or about 36,000 jumps – enough fuel to run a mid-sized seasonal drop zone for a year.
So much for motorized comparisons. Let’s look at some other fossil fuel uses.
In my home state of Arizona coal-generated electrical power produced 33,402,462 tons of CO2 in the year 2016. In just one year, that works out to 16 times the entire skydiving fuel burn, globally, in all of history.
The Earth Policy Institute estimates that America’s bottled water demand requires 714,000,000 gallons of oil annually for materials, packing, storage, transport, and cooling. That works out to more than 80 years of jumps for the entire skydiving world at current levels of jumping.
In a more graphic image, the Pacific Institute says each bottle of drinking water would have to be filled about ¼ of the way up with oil to represent the energy it used! A gallon is 3.8 liters (which makes one jump about 5.3 liters, don’t you love math?) so you only need to drink about twenty-one 1-liter bottles of water or other beverages to waste as much oil as one skydive. Of course, this doesn’t count the energy used to get you to the DZ and make your rig, jumpsuit, and accessory equipment. Or make the airplane, pave the runway, and put up the hangar.
Then comes the most disheartening element of fuel of all, the waste.
The Exxon Valdez spill released about 11,000,000 gallons of fuel over the space of a few days, enough to supply the entire global fleet of jump ships with fuel to fly for over a year. Exxon Valdez pales compared to the ten largest spills in history, all of which amounted to more than 45 million gallons each. The Deepwater Horizon spill alone was estimated to be approximately 200 million gallons, which would cover all the skydives ever made in the world, with about 30 million gallons left over for rigs and jumpsuits, and shipping them to customers.
Here’s my favorite. Around three billion gallons of gasoline are estimated to be wasted annually in the USA by cars idled in traffic congestion. If that amount was used for skydiving, the entire world could keep jumping at current levels for another 350 years. Daily fuel wasted in American traffic jams is the equivalent of almost six million jumps, or an entire year of the entire world’s estimated skydives.
I didn’t bring up all these very dark comparisons to make skydiving look green against a black background. There’s just no way we can rationalize skydiving into being green. To visualize just how much CO2 you generate on each jump, take that 29.4 pounds of CO2 and visualize it as six five-pound bags of charcoal briquets. Every jump, piling up on the DZ. If a bag of briquets is about one cubic foot, even a small drop zone would have a big pile out back. Skydive Arizona would have enough to fill four structures the size of the Colosseum of Rome, plus one Parthenon.
On the other hand, clearly skydiving is a small element of the whole picture. At the personal level, if you are the average American your annual car emissions are the equivalent of 340 skydives per year.
Even so, how can it be justified?
Philosophically, I do it this way. Play is a fundamental need coming in right after food, water, shelter, and security. Skydiving is high quality play, as good as it gets, but it comes with a cost. We can’t eliminate that cost, but we can mitigate it by simply focusing on eliminating waste and inefficiency throughout our society and off-setting the damage through environmental restoration.
Wasteful use of oil, such as bottled water, cars stuck in traffic, industrial scale agriculture, consumer culture in general, and incredibly fuel consumptive military adventures around the globe are examples of where savings could be had. These require some personal and political commitment to steer away from a system that practically glorifies waste. Why not take that lesson skydiving with you? Maybe carpool to the DZ with a friend. Take an apartment closer to your job to avoid that wasteful commute or use mass transit to get to work. Buy a couple re-useable five-gallon water jugs to fill at a local water filtration facility, then refill smaller bottles from that rather than buying a pack of one-liter bottles for the weekend at the DZ. Set your air conditioning a little higher in summer and a little lower in winter. Make your driving as purposeful and efficient as possible by planning your errands carefully and buying a car that is practical rather than a statement about image.
Buy less stuff. Not only does stuff need to be moved from source to consumer, it must be mined, refined, transported to manufacturing plants, and so on. An I-phone 5S has a carbon footprint of 150 pounds - five skydives worth of fuel.
I find that visualization really helps me make immediate choices. If you visualize the bottom quarter of that throw-way beverage bottle as filled with bitter jet fuel that you must drink, you’ll never want to touch it again. Sodas, same way. All that high fructose corn syrup was grown on highly mechanized farms before it was heated, treated, dyed, stuffed into a plastic bottle, and trucked to its air-conditioned home in a machine! When I contemplate a road trip, I visualize chucking a five-pound bag of charcoal out of my window every five miles and ask myself just how important that trip is to me. It’s harder to hide from the truth this way. I’ll still make the trip, but I allow myself only so much total annual fuel consumption – a budget, if you will – and making that trip will require that I tighten up consumption in other areas. Most Americans could reduce their overall consumption of energy, goods, and services by at least a third with a little thought and better practice.
Finally, don’t waste money and fuel on lousy skydives! Focus on well planned jumps that have a high probability of success and the feeling of reward that comes with that. You’ll learn faster, be safer, and maybe be just a tiny bit greener too! There’s an old saying, “Dirt dives are free.” Use your time on the ground wisely and your time in the air will be well spent.

By admin, in General,