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Understanding Camera Switches

Introduction
Taking photos while skydiving is easier today than it has ever been, yet doing the job properly remains serious business. Camera technology marches ceaselessly forwards, and while the gap between the products aimed at the casual consumer and the lofty professional is narrowing - any freefall photographer that considers themselves proper job will very likely rock a stand-alone stills camera as part of their setup.

Try as you might - you will never be this cool. Action cameras are great. Their small size, plus both the features they present and the quality of media they capture make them highly useful for everything from skydiving to attaching to your cat to find out where it goes at night. However - any occasion you have to directly compare the images recorded by these teeny wonders with those of a more traditional camera will highlight the superior quality a dedicated stills unit has to offer.
The exponentially multiplying capacity of digital memory means that with a GoPro or whatever, you can just set it going at some point before the start of your jump, forget all about it until at least ten minutes after you finish packing then sift through an ungodly amount of chaff later in search of the choicest shots to share about the place. Everybody knows this is cheating though, and that photos created serendipitously by a piece of gadgetry that happens to be attached to your forehead is not your work - but is in fact the subtotal of all human endeavour leading up to this exact point, where you got lucky.
A stills camera is the tool of the craftsperson and must be activated manually when something awesome happens. There are a few choices available for this, all of which involve using your mouth to activate the camera and get the job done. As with a lot of things in skydiving, people sometimes feel very passionately about what they believe to be correct tool for the job and will offer to fight you to the death for besmirching their good word by thinking differently - and camera switches are no exception. While all pretty straightforward to operate, they each have some subtle strengths and weaknesses so a little forethought might help you arrive at what is best for you.



This man is called Trunk. Trunk runs a company called GetHypoxic. If you are building a camera platform or simply wish to geek out about skydiving technology - this is your guy.

Bite Switch
The bite switch is either straight or L-shaped with a section somewhere in the middle that you hold between (specifically) your front teeth and bite softly to operate.
The Good:
Good Feedback: Of the choices available a bite switch provides the most satisfying little clicks to reassure you that you are getting shit done.
The Bad:
- Head Movement: Operating a bite switch involves moving your jaw a little bit to bite down, which can put a visible wiggle in your framing - particularly if you are capturing video.
- Moisture. If you eventually chew through the plastic casing, condensation or saliva can get inside and short out the connections.





Blow Switch
The blow switch is a small unit about the size of your thumb that you mount to the outside of your helmet. The part that goes into your mouth is a straw-like tube that you blow into to activate the camera.
The Good:
- Durability. With no wires and such directly in your mouth there are fewer parts that are subject to moisture or wear, and you cannot damage it by biting too much.
The Bad:
- Low Feedback. With nothing that clicks actually pressing against any part of your mouth you do not receive any direct indication of operation from the device itself.
- Breathing. The action of blowing into a tube to depress the button can potentially disrupt your breathing, and vice-versa - having to breathe at some point can interrupt your photo taking.
- Gunk. Clean it, you filthy animal.

Tongue Switch
The tongue switch is usually L-shaped. You grip it between your teeth wherever it feels most comfortable and depress a little button with the tippy end of your tongue.
The Good:
- Separate Actions. By holding the switch with one part of your mouth and operating the button with another, this option has a sensible tactile nature.
- Flexibility. You can hold this switch anywhere amongst your teeth that feels right for you.
The Bad:
- Due to the available mobility, the internal wiring can wiggle loose and the switch possibly wear out over time.
- Moisture. As with the bite switch - if you eventually chew through the plastic casing, condensation or saliva can get inside and short out the connections.
- Hilarity. If you use a tongue switch you will quickly grow very, very tired of jokes about your increased sexual powers - from pretty much everybody.

A tongue switch and a bite switch respectively. Photographed on a moist houseplant.


This is me.
The truth is that all these devices work perfectly well. I have a tongue switch now because I have always had a tongue switch. I don’t remember why that was my choice and yet I see no reason to change it. Every now and then someone will tell me it is a worthless piece of shit good only for the bin, yet I rarely miss a photo.
There is immense satisfaction to be found in ‘getting the shot’ and if you are serious about the role of aerial photographer a good stills camera is essential. High pressure situations like freefall turn small issues into bigger ones, and although just a small element your mouth switch is an important piece of your camera helmet. One that works well for your needs over something not-quite-right can be the crucial difference between kicking ass or not kicking ass much more often than you think.

By admin, in General,

Todd Shoebotham Talks Pilot Chutes

Todd Shoebotham, Owner and President of Apex BASE, Helps Jumpers Get the Details Right
Note: This article discusses pilot chutes in a BASE environment and should not be used in relation to skydiving.
Ah, the pilot chute.
Our beloved little workhorse, it’s the first thing we take out and the last thing we put in. It gets dragged around. It gets abused. For all the obsessive fawning we do over our canopies, our pilot chutes get surprisingly little love.
If you’re looking to change that--and learn a little more about the sizes and styles of pilot chutes that you should invite on your BASE jumping adventures--then you’ve come to the right place. We pinned down the inimitable Todd Shoebotham and picked his brain about it in order to share his infinite wisdom with our beloved public. We’re pretty sure you’re going to learn a few things, so lean in and listen!
1. Keep your fingers out of harm’s way.
Does your pilot chute have a tube handle? According to Todd, the data suggests that fingers have an uncanny tendency to make their way into that little tunnel at pull time, which can make for some seriously awkward Chinese-finger-trap deployments. “A few people have reported reaching back and going up to the knuckle into the PVC,” Todd says. “Or getting their fingers underneath the handle. When you’re reaching back, that’s certainly not what you want.”
This problem can be solved in multiple ways. If you do have a PVC-style handle with a potential finger trap, Todd recommends taping over the ends in order to eliminate this possibility. Apex pilot chutes forego the tube for handles that wrap rubberized, textured fabric around a solid foam cylinder.
“Compared to the old-style PVC handle, this is much lighter, too,” Todd explains, “And that lightness helps the pilot chute get orientated properly.”

2. Travel with a well-curated collection.
Since pilot chutes are available in everything from little 32-inch versions to behemoth 52-inchers, it can be challenging to determine what you really need to carry in your gear bag as a traveling jumper. Todd suggests that carrying a quiver of three to four will reliably cover your bases.
“On the smaller end, we typically set people up with 36-inch pilot chutes,” he explains, “But we still stock the 32s. The 32-inch PC is probably the least-popular one in our range, because we believe they only belong on the lightest parachutes.”
“We used to see 36s on wingsuit-specific rigs,” Todd adds, “But we’ve been seeing a lot of people with wingsuits favor bigger PCs because of their lower airspeed at deployment.”
From there, Todd suggests having a 42--”the workhorse in the middle”--which covers your standard Potato Bridge jumping, and a 46- or 48-incher, depending on the size of your canopy, for objects more along the lines of a low cliff or structure.
If you have a little more room in your luggage and you’re looking to jump a lot of subterminal objects, Todd suggests a 38-inch pilot chute. “Most people aren’t going to be using a 36 or a 38 handheld,” he says. “If you’re in that 5-to-6 second range, it’s a nice pilot chute to have, the 38. It is a slightly different pilot chute. It is not as strong of a pull, but you still have plenty of room there. I might not use it on all 400-foot objects, but definitely on some of them, and it is a little nicer flying with a slightly smaller pilot chute.”
3. Make adjustments to compensate for your choices.
According to Todd, there are mistakes to be made here in both directions. On one hand, unnecessarily oversizing is an easy mistake to make. While it’s not necessarily dangerous, it can negatively affect your jump if you don’t keep your delay relative to your PC choice (and create unnecessary distortion to the canopy during extraction, to boot).
“If you don’t have the appropriate pilot chute for your jump and you don’t adjust your delay accordingly,” Todd says, “You might not like the results. If you were going to extremes in exposing a big pilot chute to a lot of airspeed, you would be stressing out parts of the canopy and your body. For instance: if you should really be using a 42 but you have a 46, you’d better go a little short on this one and enjoy the view from under canopy a little longer rather than taking your normal delay for that jump. I know you don’t want to, but that’s the pilot chute you’ve got.”
“Also keep in mind,” he continues, “That we have seen peculiar behavior when some large pilot chutes are jumped slider-up. You can get some pretty weird interaction if you do that; the slider just seems more reluctant to come down. Personally, I think it has to do with the distortion that the canopy went through during line stretch; at any rate, we do not recommend it.”
Take object familiarity into consideration.
Since larger pilot chutes generally provide snappier openings, Todd asserts that object familiarity is a major factor to consider when choosing a pilot chute.
“If it is your local object and you’ve really got things dialed in, I can see downsizing,” Todd says. “But if you’re a visiting jumper, you’re going to probably need to treat it a little differently. For example: If all the locals are using a 46, I’ll probably be using a 48 to stack the cards in my favor. If I make enough jumps there to become comfortable with the surroundings, I can see transitioning down to the 46.”
“At the end of the day,” he insists, “You have to remember: In BASE jumping, really small changes in performance do matter. Make sure you’re prepared.”

By admin, in Gear,

How the Pros Keep Their Canopies In Perfect Form

Canopy wear-and-tear can sneak up on you--and, if you’re new(ish) to the swooping trade, you might not know exactly what parts of your equipment need extra attention. Since a dedicated canopy pilot plies his trade on the basis of impeccable nylon, only a seasoned pro’s advice on the matter will do. To that end, I caught up with multi-disciplinary virtuoso Pete Allum to ask him for his best tips and tricks for keeping that kit in fighting shape.
Pete started skydiving in 1979, and it didn’t take long for him to clamber up on his first podium. Since 1985, Pete has stood on national- and world-level podiums almost every year (sometimes, more than once). In the pursuit of all that gold--and in the course of his extensive coaching work--Pete has made more than 32,000 skydives. It’s safe to say, then, that he’s seen a few canopies through their life cycles. Here’s what he has to say on the subject.
1. Pack your own parachute as much as possible.
When you’re hopping and popping like a broken record, the last thing you probably want to do is wiggle around on a packing mat. Pete suggests that you should suck it up and make the effort, because your personal attention is the most important factor in your gear’s fitness. After all, your packer’s job is to get it in the container. Your gear’s overall well-being is your job.
“If I’m jumping 20 times a day,” Pete explains, “I certainly won’t be packing it every time, but I want to make sure I have my own eyes on it regularly. Even if I have a very heavy schedule, I’ll make sure to pack it myself at least a couple of times a week. That gives me the opportunity I need to see the things I wouldn’t if I only jumped it. When it’s in my hands, I can check for problems like closing pin damage, dinged grommets and center cell discoloration from sweat.”
2. Don’t be shy. Keep your standards high.
Non-ideal openings accelerate wear-and-tear on your gear (as well as your body), so it falls to you to make sure that some standards are being upheld when a third party is compressing your fabric. Pete advocates a professional, proactive position, especially when it comes to stows.
“Packing stows vary widely, and not everyone is aware of how important it is to be consistent,” Pete admonishes. “So it’s a good idea to make sure your packer is using the same large stows throughout and double-wrapping every stow on the bag.”
Finally, make sure the packer is dressing the container’s flaps correctly. If they don’t, Pete notes that creases will form, building memory in the fabric over time. These ever-deepening furrows can cause degradation as the container ages.
3. Watch the wear points on the lines.
With high performance comes high mechanical stress. A small, aggressive canopy has a tendency to shake the system like an energetic rottweiler thrashes a favorite chew toy, so you’ll need to keep an even more vigilant eye on your canopy’s wear points: especially the lower control lines and the places at the top and bottom of your lines where your grommets like to grind. If there’s even a hint of fraying on your lines, bringing your gear to a rigger should rise to the top of the to-do list.
“When I’m in Florida, it’s the easiest thing in the world to bring it over to Performance Designs, so I’ll pop over at the earliest sign of wear,” Pete says. “When I’m farther afield, my standards have to relax a little, but it’s still a top priority to get it done.”
4. Give your pilot chute an extra look.
Pete recommends that you check for wear at the bridle attachment point at every opportunity. Beyond that, he notes that you should occasionally tug out the kill line and check it for fraying, twisting and shortening.
“The system has a couple of inches of margin,” Pete explains, “But if the kill line measures outside that allowance, you need to take it to a rigger.”
5. Keep an eye on how many jumps you’ve already put on the canopy.
Especially if you aren’t a logbook-lovin’ kinda jumper, it’s easy to lose track of a canopy’s jump numbers. According to Pete, that will need to change. When it comes to jump numbers, swoopers don’t enjoy the luxury of unintentional ignorance.
“Especially if you’ve been jumping someplace hot and/or dusty, it pays to know exactly how far along you are,” Pete advises. “As soon as the ticker goes over 200 jumps, I start to pay way more attention, even though the line set is expected to last much longer than that.”


6. Be an active participant in a high-caliber team.
When your zoomy descent becomes the focus of your skydiving days, your need for a professional team of advisers increases exponentially. Take time to build relationships with the very best, most enthusiastically recommended riggers, packers and coaches you can find, and don’t hesitate to reach out to them for guidance. It takes a village to raise a safe (and super) swooper, after all.
To pursue the perfect swoop under the matchless tutelage of Pete Allum, reach out to him through Flight-1.

By admin, in Gear,

10 Gift Ideas for Skydivers 2017

We're back again for the 2017 festive season, bringing you some gift ideas for your skydiving buddies or family members. We've spoken to the guys over at ChutingStar and Para Gear, and asked them what they recommend to those looking to fill some the stockings with some skydiving gifts, while at the same time, not breaking the bank.

Full-Face Helmets - $285-$428
Get a free ChutingStar Helmet Bag with the purchase of any Full-Face Helmet on ChutingStar.com. Just put both items in your cart and the ChutingStar Helmet Bag will be discounted 100% at checkout! ChutingStar stocks full-face helmets from Cookie, Bonehead and Square1 in all sizes and colors.
Available at ChutingStar


Selection of Goggles
Provide your mate with quality eye protection, with an affordable gift of goggles. Para-Gear offers a variety of skydiving goggles to fit your price range.
Available at Para-Gear


Manufactory MX Series Shorts - $149
MX Series Skydiving Shorts are triple-needle stitched with reinforced seams and bartacks on all high stress areas. A Cordura Nylon exterior with an internal breathable mesh liner allows effortless comfort with structural integrity. Available in 4 colorways in sizes 2XS to 2XL!
Available at ChutingStar


Glow Face Alt III Galaxy - $169
Meters and Black Only. The phosphorescent face provides a background glow to assist in low light conditions. The glow lasts over 2 hours in complete darkness, and is perfect for either night jumps or those sunset loads when it starts to get dark.
The Glow Face Altimaster III Galaxy features a field replaceable lens. In case your lens gets scratched or cracked you will now be able to replace it yourself instead of having to send it to get serviced.
Available at Para-Gear


USPA Skydiving Calendar 2018 - $15
13 months of incredible 11x14-inch photographs by skydiving's best photographers! The 2018 USPA Skydiving Calendar is the perfect holiday gift.
Available at ChutingStar


Cookie G3 Helmet - $379
Welcome to the G3 headgear, Cookies latest release full-face headgear and a result of significant refinement of the previous full-face headgear.
The G3 features the original VMech Visor Locking System that works unlike any other in the industry. The system makes for easy opening and positive locking of the headgear visor.
The visor is 2mm polycarbonate and features a complex curved design for extra strength, unsurpassed field of view and an anti-fog coating.
The headgear's cinching system is simple and secure, adjustment can be made to customize the headgear fit and once locked down just throw the headgear on and jump.
Available at Para-Gear


Parachuting Flipping Santa Musical Christmas Ornament - $24
This large parachuting Santa Claus sings Jingle Bells while he performs front flips and back flips under a round parachute! The perfect skydiver Christmas ornament!
Available at ChutingStar


Power Tools - $19.95
Want a great stocking stuffer with a low price? Give your loved one a Power Tool packing tool in holiday colors!
Available at Para-Gear

Dropzone.com Picks
In addition to the products above, selected by both ChutingStar and Para-Gear, we've selected some of our own staff recommendations for gifts this season.

Turned On GoPro Status Indicator - $79
The first true hard-wired status indicator for extreme sports, tells you the exact status of your GoPro Camera while it’s mounted on your head. Its ultra-bright LEDs shine unmistakably in your peripheral vision: blue for “standby,” red for “record” and yellow for “warning/error.”
The Turned On device gets your mind back in the game -- and off your headgear-mounted GOPRO® HERO3, HERO3+ and HERO4. As you know, optimal performance in extreme sports requires an absolutely clear head (and nothing good can happen when personal safety takes a backseat to a blinking light).
Available at Para-Gear

Aluminum Personal Rig & Helmet Wall Rack -
$99
Tired of seeing your spouse's gear lying around causing a clutter? The personal rig &
helmet wall rack will provide an ideal way to store their skydiving gear in a style way that keeps their helmet and rig up on the wall.
Available at ChutingStar
Happy shopping!

By admin, in News,

Case Study: How to Make A Really Good Life In Skydiving

How NZ Aerosports General Manager Attila Csizmadia Found His Niche
When I talk to Attila Csizmadia, he’s out of breath. He has just finished shaking down his four-year-old son for a set of puckishly “stolen” car keys, and it was a hell of a hunt.
“Sorry,” he says, “I was running around the house like crazy looking for them.”
Hidden keys are certainly not the only thing Attila runs after during the course of any given day. Since 2005, he has been the General Manager of NZ Aerosports--the central hub of operations for one of the sport’s most innovative, prolific and beloved parachute manufacturers. This is a dream job for a lot of skydivers, naturally, but it didn’t come easily. Indeed, one can’t help but think that running an office staffed with 30 to 40 staff is excellent preparation for the rigors of parenthood. The four-year-old is one of Attila’s two; the other is 13 years old--not far off from the age Attila was when he first started skydiving.
“I am not sure if [my sons] will skydive or not,” he muses. “If they want to and they ask me for it, then I’m going to make it happen. It’s up to them.”
It’s worth mentioning that if Attila’s boys start jumping, they’ll be a third-generation legacy. His own father was a skydiver and, though he stopped jumping when Attila was born, he’s much of the reason that Attila dove into the parachuting industry.
“He was jumping in Hungary, where we’re from,” Attila explains. “He was old-school, a military guy. As I was growing up, he was in keeping contact with his friends that were still jumping, and they were always talking about skydiving, even when I was a little kid. Then, when I was about 14 years old, I was talking to one of his friends who was still jumping; listening to his skydiving stories. I remember saying--and meaning it--that I could never skydive. But then a friend of mine brought it up. He’d just watched a record attempt or something on TV. He begged me to try it with him, and I agreed. He stopped after five jumps; it changed my life.”
“For me as a 16-year-old, getting into that group of people was just perfect,” Atilla remembers. “I was in school. It was all boys. I didn’t enjoy it. But then I went out to the dropzone and there was this friendly, crazy bunch. I was like, this is totally me. It felt like coming home.”
It was 1988. At the time, Hungary was still Communist country. Everyone skydiver in the country jumped really old, really dodgy military gear that was “15 years behind the rest of the world,” and every skydiver in the country knew every other skydiver in the country.
In 1991, the World Championships were held in what was then Czechoslovakia. They brought out some helicopters for the event, and the German, French and Italian 4-way team all came to Hungary to train.
“They were jumping these square parachutes that we’d never seen in real life before,” Attila laughs. “These guys were swooping, and we were just, like: what is happening here?! It was like watching spaceships land. We didn’t know what was possible. When these guys came here in these jumpsuits and small gear and like awesome canopy work, we were blown away. And I was inspired to start doing 4-way and competing.”
A few years of hard work later, Hungary had a young team.
“Because it was a new sport in Hungary,” he grins, “We won the Nationals pretty easily. Then we were the national team for a long time--almost 10 years. I was burning to get out there and travel and to jump everywhere I could overseas and to get a better rig and just do more.” He split his time between the US and Hungary for about five years, studiously avoiding European winters; he switched his seasonal pattern to Australia when he went to the World Championships there in 1999. To date, in fact, he has competed in no less than seven world championships.
“The last time I tried it, I couldn’t extend my visa,” he explains. “So there I was, facing returning to the middle of a European winter. I just couldn’t do it; there was nothing for me there.”
His solution: Hop the channel to New Zealand. He got a work visa and picked up a job at a dropzone throwing drogues and teaching AFF. He soon joined the NZ 4-way team. Everything was going well--but then the tone changed.
“My boss at the DZ was becoming a real a**hole,” he explains, “And I just desperately wanted to leave, but no one was hiring. Everybody had their staff. I needed to keep that work visa or I was going to be thrown right back to Hungary.”
As a last-ditch effort, he asked a couple of friends who worked for NZ Aerosports and if they were hiring. They were. It was 2005. Attila went right to work making line sets and cutting canopies.
“When I started working here, I thought I knew a lot about parachutes because I had been flying them a lot,” he says, wryly. “But when I got into the manufacturing side of it, I realized how little I actually knew. I found it really interesting and wanted to learn more and more.”
He found a peerless mentor in NZ Aerosports’ legendary founder/mad scientist/gear innovator/party animal, Paul ‘Jyro’ Martin.
“Jyro enjoyed that I was really interested in this stuff, and he just gave me so much information,” Attila says. “Then the guy who was managing the company at that time left. Jyro asked me if I wanted to do it. Of course I said yes.” It had been just six months since Attila had first accepted the job.
At the time, NZ Aerosports was a much smaller company. They only made six canopies at that time, and they had two sewing machinists. When Attila started managing, he was still the one cutting all the canopies. As he did so, he’d always have the office phone on him, taking orders; he’d be sorting out emails and charging credit cards with one hand and shipping out the canopies with the other. The work was, to put it mildly, intense. “One of my main tasks,” he laughs, “Was making sure the beer fridge was always full.”
“At the beginning it was really hard,” he relates. “I didn’t have any background in the business and hardly knew anything about it. English is a second language for me, so that made it a little bit harder too. I had to pretty much figure out everything for myself. At a certain point, I almost gave up because it was so stressful and things were not going really well. But then we pulled ourselves together with the manufacturing and started developing some new canopies. First, we released the JFX. We hired some new people, which brought in a nice newenergy. Then we met Julien [Peelman, Aerodynamics Engineer], and we started working on some of the really new canopies. There was no way I was leaving after that.”
Now, the NZ Aerosports office buzzes with the work (and play) of about forty people, all of whom report to Attila.
“It was a big learning curve, figuring out how to manage such a large number of people and deal with personal issues so that they still enjoy working together with all their differences-- the cultural gaps, the religious gaps and the age gaps between them. We have a big range. The youngest [staffers] are fresh out of school, and then we have some 60-something-year-old people working right next to them. We have people from Fiji...Canada...from all around the world, really. It’s like a dropzone.”
If you talk to anybody at NZ Aerosports, they’ll tell you that much of that vibrant energy came from Jyro’s influence--and, in March of 2017, we lost him. The loss of “the soul of the company” took a massive toll on the community that had formed at his feet, and Attila had to work even harder through his mourning. However, the spirit that Jyro instilled--in Attila, in his team at large and in the business--kept it from coming unglued.
“It is good to make some money, sure, but Jyro made sure it has never been our number-one motivation,” Attila explains. “You can see that the team is here all day, every day, working hard, and we always wanted to create a really nice environment for them that they truly enjoy working in. Because of that, people don’t really leave here. We’ve hardly changed any staff since I got here in 2005, and I think it’s because this is just a really good place to be. We all really pulled together when we lost Jyro. I think that’s what saved us--the people here, and our customers’ faith.”
Attila insists that that faith--the passionate support of the NZ Aerosports fan base--is the phenomenon that really drives the machine.
“I think that people respond to the fact that we are always trying new stuff; that we’re always improving,” he says. “That’s the part that’s interesting for us. We aren’t just developing new products. We actually want to make better products, and so we’re always searching for improvements on the designs. We have like 20 skydivers working here, so it is not just about driving revenue. I think that’s why people relate to it so strongly. This has always been more of a lifestyle than a business.”
If NZ Aerosports is indeed about lifestyle, Attila is great evidence that they’ve nailed the art.
“I think I found what I was trying to find in my personal life--a balance between family, the hobby and the business--in NZA,” he smiles. “I think that was always my goal, even if I didn’t know it at the time. Right now I feel that I’m in a really good place, and I’m ready for whatever comes next.”

By admin, in News,

When Right is Wrong

By Bryan Burke, Safety and Training Advisor
Image by Serge Shakuto In March of 2017 I posted a review of a canopy collision that took place at Skydive Arizona on December 30, 2016. The post included two videos, one shot by a participant in the collision and one shot by an outside observer. The videos make it pretty clear what happened and I hoped they would spur discussion about traffic management. If you have not read the thread in the Incidents Forum and watched the videos it might be helpful to do so before reading on. Before going on, though, let me caution the readers about a few things. One, some of the comments to my post are stated in a way that suggests the commentator knew what was actually going on in the heads of the two who collided. We don't know, and this kind of baseless assertion seriously diminishes the usefulness of the Forum. Two, if you watch closely there was traffic to both right and left of the overtaking canopy. Lens distortion makes it hard to know just where it was in the final seconds before the collision, but it may have affected the decision making of the top canopy pilot. We could argue endlessly about whether or not the top pilot could have avoided the collision. The fact is that he did not come up with a solution to the problem fast enough to avoid it. Three, the landing area is tight even without heavy traffic. Nevertheless, this collision could have occurred anywhere because it essentially was caused by one parachute turning into the path of another, which is the ultimate cause of almost every canopy collision. Finally, Skydive Arizona does have a lot of guidelines because we have a lot of visitors from drop zones that apparently don't. Breaking the rules isn't a grounding offense in most situations. In this particular case I doubt if either collision participant was actively thinking about those guidelines. In all likelihood the bottom jumper let established habits override the guidelines, and the other was trying to deal with that.
I found it worrisome that several people staunchly defended the concept that "Low Canopy has Right of Way" overrides all other considerations under canopy. In this case the low canopy was almost entirely responsible for the collision and the event never would have occurred if that person had flown in a safe, predictable manner. I want to review the concept of Right of Way and challenge whether it is even a useful or safe idea to teach in skydiving when expressed as an absolute. If we are going to retain the concept we need to understand the origins and the exceptions.
Technically the term Right of Way has nothing to do with navigation by boat, car, parachute, or other conveyance. It is a legal term to describe access to property. For example, if my land is surrounded on all sides by someone else's land, I can be granted a legal Right of Way to my land. Similarly, if tradition allows the public to cross private land at a specific place, a Right of Way exists.
At some point the phrase was adopted to nautical traffic, although technically the proper phrasing is "give way" as "In situation X, vessel 1 gives way to vessel 2." But to be absolutely clear, the rules about who gives way in traffic have a lot of exceptions, all based on common sense. Ultimately they are intended to minimize confusion and de-conflict traffic problems, but they are not in any way absolute rules. Here are some examples:
A powered vessel gives way to a sailing vessel. Unless the powered vessel is actively fishing, or needs a deep channel that the sailboat does not. And any sailor with an iota of experience and common sense knows that sailing a yacht in front of a massive container ship is a sure way to be run down, regardless of your unpowered status.
Between two sailboats, the default rule is that a vessel on a port tack gives way to one on a starboard tack. For those who aren't sailors, that means if the wind is coming over your left side, you give way to a boat that has the wind coming over its right side. In fact this is probably where the phrase "right of way" comes from because the boat on the starboard tack is to the right of a line drawn back to front through the boat on the port tack, and vice versa. Eventually this was applied to cars: if two cars were approaching a crossroads, the one to the right had ‘right of way.’

Obviously this didn't work very well with cars, or we would not need four-way stop signs or roundabouts. But for the purposes of this discussion, we're much more like sailboats than we are like cars or powerboats.
To further confuse things, if we go back to sailing there are many more exceptions to the rule. A windward vessel gives way to leeward. Shallow draft gives way to deep draft in a narrow channel. An overtaking vessel gives way to the slower vessel, ideally passing to the rear if they are on different courses. But most importantly for applying these guidelines to skydiving, the vessel being overtaken is obliged to maintain course and speed, or if it must maneuver, clearly signal its intention!
Parallels in skydiving would be that a canopy over open area should give way to one over obstacles, higher to lower, and so on. But regardless of the guidelines, it is understood that the root rule is all flight in the landing pattern must be predictable! Without predictable flight no set of guidelines or rules can prevent collisions. This collision came down to that: an unnecessary and unpredictable turn into the path of an overtaking canopy.
Let's also get over the idea that all parachutes are similar in handling characteristics and therefore a blanket rule can keep them safely separated. For example, USPA asks Group Member Drop Zones to separate "high performance" landings from - presumably - ordinary landings. What does that mean? A Valkyrie at 2.4 on a straight approach is going as fast as a Sabre 2 at 1.2 coming out of a 180. It's too much to ask skydivers to sort themselves by canopy type, wing loading, and flying style other than by a general designation of high performance landing areas. In Skydive Arizona's case, we limit one landing area to turns of 90 or less, and nowhere do we allow turns over 180. (Except when the jumper exits on a pass dedicated to HP landing.) However, we do ask that people refrain from S turns or flying at an angle across the final approach. This is something we should expect of everyone, and if everyone does it, there should be minimal problems with a fast parachute finding a clear lane next to a slow parachute. In the collision in question, the low parachute failed in the most basic of navigation duties: maintain course and speed and make your intentions clear.
This is a cultural issue. Older skydivers or those taught by older skydivers may have been taught that right-of-way is absolute, taught without the essential caveat “maintain course and speed, make intentions clear.” It may also involve drop zone culture; wide open DZs without much traffic seem to neglect canopy control skills and DZs where people don't travel much may spend little time teaching their jumpers what to look out for when they visit a big DZ. We used to teach people to fly in deep brakes and perform S turns to fine tune their landing point. Now we know this is dangerous in traffic and we don't teach it any more.
There is no reason a big seven cell can't safely land in the same area as a tiny, ultra-high performance canopy, but not when using obsolete rules of the road. The low person does not have the right to turn into the path of an overtaking canopy, period. Finally, low or high, never assume you know where all the traffic is. The assumption you should make is that there is overtaking traffic above and behind, in your blind spot, and you must fly predictably to minimize the chances of them colliding with you.

By bryanburke, in General,

4 Reasons You Need to Escape Wintertime and Jump in South Africa

Exit at Mother City Skydiving. Image by Christopher Teague If the long flight puts you off--or if you’re new to the whole African-continent thing--let me be the first to tell you to get over it and get down here. You’ll be so glad you did. When the skydiving season is literally cooling off in the northern hemisphere, the southern hemisphere is just heating up. And it gets good.
While December-friendly dropzones in the States tend to be one-trick ponies (I’m looking at you, middle-of-the-desert DZs), their South African counterparts offer more than drafty hangars and lukewarm swimming pools for your landside entertainment. Much, much more. In fact, this author insists that every skydiver in the Northern Hemisphere should get a gear bag together and abandon bad weather for points south. (Spoiler: Sure, it’s about the jumping--but it’s about so much more than the jumping. When it comes to adventures, Africa never disappoints.)
Reason #1: Trip-of-a-lifetime ways to get your boogie on.
December is smack-dab in the middle of the summer boogie season in South Africa, so skydivers have even more incentive to book the trip. Skydive Mossel Bay, for instance, is planning some seriously sweet turbine-fueled freefly shenanigans for December 16-31. You can expect gold-medal coaching, all the organized jumps your fluttery little heart desires, a flurry of exotic aircraft, landing after landing on the bay’s powdered-sugar beach and a South-African-style party you’ll be talking about for years (if you register in time). If that’s not enough, point your navel at the ground and make some shapes at the belly-themed JBay Boogie, where you’ll jump with a view of the world-famous righthand pointbreak that is Jeffrey’s Bay. (Pro tip: Book both boogies and bring all your swimwear.)

View of the Cape Town area, with Table Mountain, as seen from Signal Hill. Image by Bryn De Kocks If you end up in-country in November instead, don’t despair: There’s the Tonto Boogie up in Johannesburg from November 25-27. Sure, there’s no jaw-dropping ocean view--but there are plenty of planes, plenty of organizers, plenty of new friends and plenty of good vibes to make up the difference, and the “braai” (bar-b-que) is legendary AF.
Reason #2: (You guessed it.) Animals.
Want to wake up on the right side of the bed for a long day of jumping? Try taking a private open-air shower while listening to lions make big-kitty noises on the ridges nearby. That’s totally possible at Skydive Mossel Bay, which is just down the road from five-star safari digs at Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. If you feel like taking a coastal drive to explore around Mossel, do it with a purpose: You’re just a couple of hours from canoodling with pachyderms at the Knysna Elephant Park.

African Penguins along the Western Cape coast. If you end up heading inland to do some jumping at Skydive Robertson, take a day to explore the “kloofing” (hiking) around McGregor village, where several beautiful conservation areas provide many miles of baboon-dodging along your route between the various waterfalls and bushman’s caves. And if you’re kicking around Mother City, take a long afternoon to swim with the penguins, go dassie-spotting on Table Mountain or stroll around Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. (Insider tip: Don’t miss the summer concert series.)
Reason #3: Chain restaurants and sorry Mexican food? Nopey nopey nope.
The exchange rate is currently favorable enough to turn your dropzone food strategy into a downright white-tablecloth affair, so don’t miss the opportunity. Skydive Mossel Bay sits right next to some of the best beachside braai spots in the country, as well as a couple of standout oyster bars and several coffee shops that are well worth a visit. Skydive Robertson’s choice spot in the Robertson Wine Valley puts a posh spin on the green light, offering up dozens of tasting rooms for your boozy perusal. Then, of course, there’s Mother City Skydiving--which is less than an hour from what is (in this author’s opinion as well as the Telegraph’s) the world’s best city, replete with gastronomic stunners, artisanal cocktails served in suitably slinky venues and pop-up supper clubs.
Reason #4: You’ve always wanted to.
You’ve wanted to see Africa for yourself since you first saw ‘The Lion King.’ (C’mon. You know damn well that’s true.) And now, as a mostly-grown-up skydiver, you have the perfect excuse to finally go: Staying current. There’s a nice bonus, too, for the moment: With the exchange rate being what it is, your USD--or GBP, if that’s your thing--are going to go surprisingly far towards those bucket-list African adventures. (Y’know: shark diving; cheetah snuggling; dancing around with the kids in an actual-factual village.)
...So it’s settled then. I’ll see you in December up in the big, blue African sky.
Right?
Right.

By admin, in News,

Indoors Outdoors - Translating Between The Tunnel & The Sky (Part 6)

Part Six: Wrapping Things Up
Before you have invested the considerable time and effort to persuade your brain how to understand freefly properly it can all feel rather difficult. Witnessing highly accomplished flying in both the sky and the tunnel appears akin to magic, and the road to being able to do all that stuff yourself can seem very long indeed. However - the key to mastering the necessary skills is about breaking down complicated positions and challenging movements into manageable, digestible elements. As you learn you will start to recognise moves that you can do as being pieces of the overall puzzle - building blocks that you can assemble in a variety of ways to achieve different results.
Without proper guidance it can be difficult to take on board the amount of themes and concepts you are required to grasp, so hopefully this series of articles has offered up some insight into the methodology behind the ways we train. To get the most from your sessions with a coach it is important to not only understand what to do and how do it, but furthermore why you are doing it.
Now that we have looked at the individual body positions, here are some general tips to help with progression:
Slow Is Fast - The importance of being able to control your speed cannot be overstated. Mastery of a move is not the ability to do it fast but the ability to do the opposite - the slower you can do something the more your body is registering exactly what is happening with the surfaces you are using for control and the easier it is to inter the correct technique in your muscle memory. Low speed training is a very useful way to develop good technique as you must apply more of your body to the wind in order to make the positions work. Once you have practiced something enough the good technique should transfer though to higher speeds in the tube and on your skydives. Zoom!
Range - This begins with being able to do things as slowly as possible. Zooming flat out is no good if you cannot get there and back safely, and merely being able to go fast does not count as having mastered something. Being able to apply and remove speed with precision means you truly understand how the mechanics of how something really works.
Less Is More - The most efficient way to fly you body is to use all of it a little bit, rather than one part of it a lot. At the start of training a particular move or position the inputs might be exaggerated to emphasise the effect they have, but as you improve and work through the drills the goal is to use your body as effectively as possible. Pay attention to the very best flyers to see how conservative they are with the energy they expend in the tunnel. Aim to be as economical with your movements as you can.
Personal Goals - The only person you are trying to be better than is you. Learning to freefly properly takes a lot of time and effort and money. Everybody went through the same steps and recognises the same frustrations - some things you will get relatively quickly, whereas other will take more time. It can be inspiring to watch people that have been flying for years but also very frustrating. Try not to focus your too much on the huge goals - it is important to remember that every small step forwards is of equal value as they are what adds up the the whole.
Fill the Gaps - Being a truly good flyer is about breadth and depth. Try to resist letting your skillset lead you off by the nose in a single direction - instead use the training time and resources you have available to build your skills evenly. You may well be able to zoom like a motherfucker in a single position and a single direction, but once it gets like that it is all you are ever going to want to do at the expense of everything else. If this is already you then don’t think that revisiting weak areas is ‘going backwards’ - filling in any gaps in your abilities to bring them level is very much moving forwards. All the pieces matter.
“Keep it loose. But keep it tight.” - James Brown

By admin, in Disciplines,

Flanders Boogie 2017: World Class Organizers, Cheap Jumps and Belgian Summer


What do Belgian beers and boogies have in common? Greatness. If you haven't combined both yet, you are missing out.
Last chance was at end of July, in Moorsele (west Belgium). The Flanders Boogie is quite possibly the largest boogie
in Europe. Not happy with that, the club behind -PCV- makes it also the cheapest. PCV is a non-profit organization,
which means that every penny is used to make the club greater, while keeping the jump ticket prices the lowest in the continent -as low as 15€ to 13000ft-. If you aren't convinced yet maybe 3 supervans and 1 grand caravan will
tip the balance.


An event for every jumper.


The Flanders Boogie is an inclusive event in nature. At all levels. The number of jumpers increased over the last
few years, reaching now almost 500, from more than 20 different nationalities. There are jumpers from every skill
level and discipline.


In this day and age, freeflying is the most popular discipline. As such, most of the participants and organizers
focused on different forms of freeflying. Every
day in the morning participants had to sign up for the desired group. Head up, head down, tracking/tracing or
dynamic flying. Each one of these disciplines was further divided in beginner, intermediate or advanced groups.
That made it easier to find an appropriate bunch of mates for each flyer. 13 coaches took care of the groups, that had a
maximum of 7 participants (+ coach). Do you think that a cheap boogie would have second level coaches? Think again.
Ally Milne, David Nimmo, Hedda Andersen, Julian Barthel, Kurt Dockx, Luis Lopez-Mendez, Reed Ramage, Troy Rodway,
Rene Terstegen, Kim Van der Horst, Mike Wittenburg, Dylan Poty and Rich Madeley (from Fly Warriors, Fly-In, Airspace,
Skydive Empuriabrava, Maktoum, Turbolenza, ...) were the freefly organizers, and some of the best flyers of the planet.
Moreover, the all-mighty Gustavo Cabana joined some of the jumps so mere mortals could see the shredding of the
most advanced jumps right before each day's party. Don't believe me? Watch the video.



Even though freeflying has an important presence in the Boogie, the number of belly jumpers is still very significant.
They also had their big share of fun. Quality 4 and 8 ways? That is guaranteed when world champions like Hayabusa are in the house.
Big ways (16 and 32 ways)? No problem when Marco Arrigo, Martial Ferre, Lesley Gale, Roy Janssen, Johan Van Eeckhout
and Herman Landsman are in charge. Are you a beginner skydiver and you think this boogie is not for you yet? Wrong.
Coaches of the club organize fun 4-ways, with one coach and one experienced videoman, where you can learn the basics
of relative work, if you are cleared to jump with more people. I told you. This is an inclusive boogie.


Wingsuiting is the last big modern group discipline. If massive flocking is how you roll, you'll have a good time
here as well. Darren Burke, Benoit Syben, Joran Dekker and Julian Boulle were the bosses in the area this year.


If that is not enough, sometimes balloon jumps, high altitude jumps, CRW or cross country jumps are also organized during
the Boogie days. Unfortunately the weather made it difficult this year for these activities.


Be careful with what you wish.


Last year the weather was hot. Too hot. I bet more than one was wishing for cooler weather. I know I did. Wish granted. This
year was by far the year with the most challenging weather conditions. Wind, clouds and low temperatures -for being
July- were the norm the whole week. Belgian summers tend to be a bit unpredictable, but this level of crappiness
is a new high. Multiple weather holds and 500+ jumps limits kept a lot of people on the ground. The plus side?
There is a brand new tunnel 15 minutes away, and the motivation was high as soon as the conditions improved a little bit.
That's obvious when you notice that we broke a local record: 115 loads in a single day! Nobody wanted to miss the
chance when after 5 days we had a day of good weather.


More than jumping.


The Boogie is also a great opportunity to talk to all the vendors present there. You can see their newest products,
talk about them, demo them, try them on and even get measured if you decided to order a new container or suit later
on. NZ Aerosports, Icarus, Performance Designs, Aerodyne, Vigil, Cookie, Sonic, SWS, Sife, Parachute Systems, Intrudair,
UPT and Boogie Man representatives were there during the boogie with their latests products. Since last year, one
of the evenings all the vendors present there organize the vendor's night, where beer and snacks are on them!
The sponsors of the Boogie -lots of them present during it- also helped to make it more attractive with awesome
prizes during the raffle. The prizes included discounts on products, free gear, tunnel time, t-shirts... you name it.


After a legendary day of jumping (or of waiting) you need a legendary night of partying. Did I mention Belgian beer
while watching the video of day, edited most days by the master mind of Marcel Leen? Well, I did it now. After it
there was live music or DJs to keep the mood high. For some, too high. Maybe the questionable weather was not that
bad on some cases.


Wrapping up.


During 7 days 459 skydivers from 20+ countries made 6904 jumps in 414 loads (16.67 jumpers per load, and 59 loads
per day). The weather tried to keep everyone down and in the lowest day just 21 loads went up. The Boogie rebounded
and made 115 loads when the conditions were good. Fun was had. Skills were learnt. The sky was shredded. Beer was drank.
The wind blew and we blew back. That was stupid but we blame the beer. If you weren't there you missed out. Learn
from your mistakes and save the date for 2018. If you were there and you are feeling the Boogie blues maybe watching again the daily videos will cheer you up.

Flanders Boogie 2017 - Day 1.
Flanders Boogie 2017 - Day 2.
Flanders Boogie 2017 - Day 3.
Flanders Boogie 2017 - Day 4.
Flanders Boogie 2017 - Day 5.
Flanders Boogie 2017 - Day 6.
Flanders Boogie 2017 - Day 7.

By admin, in Events,

Know Your Gear: Harness and Container Systems Part 2

Harnesses: Fitting to your body and effects to consider...

During part 1 (take a look here) we described the different parts of a skydiving harness and the materials used on it. On the second part we are a bit more practical. Here we will go through most (all?) harness options and designs, independently of the manufacturer. We will see what they are and which purpose they have, so you can decide if they are for you or not. Most manufacturers are open to offer non standard options if the buyer asks about it. However, there is a significant number of options that are specific for a subgroup of manufacturers, and therefore you can't freely mix and match every single option explained here.

To keep things ordered we will go from top to bottom of the harness. Let's go!
Risers

Going from top to bottom, the first thing you find are the main risers. As simple as they seem to be, they have a significant number of options.
Webbing

The first thing to decide is which type of webbing you want on your risers. In this time and age there is little debate: If you are not an outlier you'll want type 17 risers. There are multiple reasons. The main technical reason is that it makes it easier to pull down the slider to stow it behind your head. Type 17 is also preferred to type 8 because of its lower bulk and cooler appearance (which is, of course, not a technical reason). It typically comes paired with minirings, which are also less bulky than traditional rings and "cool" looking.

Regarding webbing, a second option is to have risers sewed in half, reducing its cross section and drag. This option is only available in type 17 risers and has a very specific audience: hardcore swoopers. They need to reduce drag as much as possible, to squeeze out all the performance in their canopies. If you are not a hardcore swooper you can ignore this option. Moreover, some manufacturers advise against these low profile risers if you are going to deploy at terminal speed.

The last bit regarding webbing on risers is its length. 21" (53 cm) is the standard length of many manufacturers. As usual, check first with them to ensure that is true. You can also order them shorter (if you have short arms) or longer. It is normally recommended to have them as long as possible, but allowing to reach the slider. That's because with longer risers the canopy can "open up" a bit more, and you'll have more range in all your controls, particularly in toggles. That also means that you can stall your canopy easier, so the whole system has to be in balance.
Diving loops

Diving loops are nowadays kind of standard, and even rigs targeted at newly licensed skydivers have them. There are, however almost as many kinds as manufacturers.

The simplest type is a loop of type 17 webbing sewed close to the top of the front risers. These loops are easy to manufacture, cheap, and play no role on hooking your main canopy. On the flip side, they lay flat against the risers, making them more difficult to grab and causing distractions, and are harder on the fingers.

Another common type of loop uses tubular webbing. The advantage of this type of loop over the simple type 17 is two-fold: It is easier on the fingers, allowing to hold the front risers longer, and the loop tends to stay open, making it easier to grab. Sometimes these loops have extra material inside (stiffeners or bungee cords) to ensure they stay open when you need them. It is also possible that the tubular webbing is sewed in the inside part of a regular type 17 loop.

In recent years the so called "louie" loops have become more popular. These loops have a double layer of webbing, and stay easily open. But their most distinctive feature is that they wrap the loop used to connect the canopy to the risers. That implies 2 things: First and foremost, they require more attention when connecting a canopy. The soft links (these loops do not accept hard links) have to go through the diving loops and the connecting loops. Routing the soft links just through the diving loops can have serious consequences. The stitching could break and the whole line group could be released. The advantage of these loops is that it allows the canopy pilot to pull from the highest point of the risers, giving more range and a more comfortable pull.


Diving loop with tubular webbing on the inside for added comfort and to keep it open.


Louie loop. Note how the soft link has to go through the link loop and the dive loop.  

The last thing to comment here is that CRW dogs typically have dive blocks instead of dive loops. Dive blocks are easier to grab and release, which makes them more useful than loops in that environment.
Toggles

Manufacturing techniques vary wildly between different rigs. So much, that we won't cover them in too much detail here. What is important is that the toggles stay secured until you grab them. To the best of my knowledge, that is true for every modern reputable manufacturer. Nevertheless, we can analyze the different components/options, even though each manufacturer uses its own technique and rarely offers changes to it.

Brake line retainer: That's the part of the toggle that goes through the cat's eye in the brake lines. Normally it is a "hardened" piece made using multiple layers of webbing. Some manufacturers use a straight pin instead. While this seems like a good idea, it opens the door to misrigging, since the pin fits through the guide ring. That could result in the brake line pulling on the pin and its pocket, which could be easily damaged.

Toggle retainers: The toggles need to be secured in place. This is achieved with either stiffer parts inserted in pockets in the risers (just like the brake line retainer), straight pins inserted in tighter pockets, or snaps. The number of stiff parts and pins varies between 2 and 3. The orientation also varies. That is why some cases require an upwards motion before pulling the toggles down to release them. Should snaps be used, it is important to remark that the snaps should perforate an extra piece of webbing sewed in the risers, not the webbing of the risers itself.

Slack retainers: These are loops sewed on the back side of the back risers. They can be a simple piece of tape (which tend to let the slack a bit more loose), or a elastic (which secures the slack better, but makes the slack stowing more tedious).


Toggle with stiffener on top and pin on bottom, tape slack retainers and closed top pocket. Other options are stiffeners on top on bottom, pin on top, extra stiffener pointing downwards on top, elastic retainers and open (at the top) top pocket.  
Additional guide rings
 

Some riser manufactures have the option of placing an extra set of guide rings at the top of the risers. This way, during full flight, the brake lines go through this set of rings, but not through the normal guide rings. To stow the brakes the cat's eye has to go through the normal rings, the toggle has to lock the brake in place, and the excess can be normally stowed. The benefit of this option is to have a smoother transition to rears, and reduce the length that the brake line is traveling, since it doesn't have to go down to the guide ring and up again towards wherever the pilot has his/her hands. If you are into canopy piloting, or if you need to have very short brake lines, this might be an interesting option for you.
3 rings

The last set of options in the risers is the 3 rings system. The first thing to decide here is if you are happy with today's standard: Minirings. The vast majority of sport rigs have them today, mostly for aesthetic reasons. They work just fine, and you rarely see rigs with large rings nowadays. But the pulley minirings form is slightly less effective than in large rings. That means that the force needed during cutaway might be higher. Modern risers have extra housings for the cutaway cable -sometimes with teflon inserts-, to avoid them from being pinched in twists, and make cutaways more difficult. The usage of these housings in modern risers offsets the extra force required to cutaway with minirings in most cases. Another thing to consider is that typically minirings come with type 17 risers, and large rings with type 8 risers, even though other combinations are possible. So the type of webbing you want on your risers might tip the balance for you, if you are undecided.

Aerodyne, to keep the aesthetics of minirings but without compromising on pull forces, designed a modified 3-ring release system. The "miniforce" rings system is essentially the same as other minirings systems, but with an enlarged middle ring. That improves the pulley efficiency and reduces the load in the white loop. If you want to use these risers in a container not manufactured by Aerodyne, check first with your manufacturer about component compatibility. We will talk a bit more about this at the end of the section.


Aerodyne's "miniforce" 3-rings system.

Lastly, you can decide the hardware finish. There are 3 main options in the market:

Cadmium plated steel: This is possibly the oldest type of hardware used in skydiving that is still sold today. It works well will all kinds of webbing, the plating offers corrosion protection and it is generally cheaper, despite the extra costs associated to dealing with cadmium's toxicity. However, the plating can flake off over years, and then corrosion might happen, depending on the environmental conditions and how you treat your gear. Moreover, it is not shiny, which goes against one of the (sadly) first principles of skydiving: You have to look cool.


Cadmium plated steel 3-rings system after more than 1000 jumps.

Stainless steel: This kind of hardware is the most commonly used today. It offers better corrosion protection than plated steel, since there is not plating that can flake off. It is and stays shiny. And it slips more. 3-rings release system can lose about 5% efficiency (more force transmitted to the small ring) because of the reduced friction. Arguably, in well manufactured miniring systems, it doesn't play a role.


Stainless steel 3-rings system after 100 jumps.

Black hardware: This is the latest addition in hardware finish. It is steel hardware with an oxide layer, that gives it its matte black color. It is relatively recent, so field experience is more limited than stainless steel and cadmium plated steel. Some people claim that after hundreds of jumps it doesn't have significant usage marks. However, at least in some cases, marks are pretty visible (see also the pictures of chest rings).


Black 3-rings system after 100 jumps.

The chosen finish will affect the 3-rings system, buckles, chest and hip rings, and RSL shackles. However, whatever you choose, it won't affect the grommets or housings of your rig. Maybe something to consider.

Some people mix risers with different hardware materials and from different manufacturers. This works fine in most cases. However, you are stacking the odds against you if you are not careful. On one hand dimensions and placement of all the parts should match. RSL ring side, cutaway cable inserts and length of cable, large ring dimensions -that can be different even among minirings systems-, large ring placement -higher or lower in the MLW-. All these are things to consider. There have been already fatalities rooted in a poor mix of components (reverse risers on a Javelin container). On the other hand, NAS-804, the specification required by TSO-C23b, states "The use of dissimilar metals, especially brass, copper, or steel in intimate metal-to-metal contact with aluminum or aluminum alloy, shall be avoided, whenever possible.". So, in principle, unless you know better, you should avoid mixing types for extended periods of time, as you might cause premature degradation of your hardware. Also, "miniforce" risers work fine with Aerodyne rigs. But the enlarged middle ring might not release cleanly in other rigs. Check compatibility with the manufacturer of your rig before using that mix.
Chest rings

Exploring down our harness we get to the chest strap junction. Most manufacturers -but not all- add chest rings to articulate their harness, either by default, or as an option. A fully articulated harness (with chest and hip rings) is supposed to be more comfortable, as the webbing doesn't need to bend and fold as much as a non-articulated harness. However, the chest is an area where these deformations are not really pronounced. As much as your body moves and twists in freefall, your upper torso stays pretty rigid. Nevertheless, chest rings help to avoid awkward and uncomfortable webbing twisting when the harness has been made for a larger person than the wearer. In these cases, the tendency is to overtighten the chest strap to compensate and secure better the jumper. That brings both chest junction together more than they should, and without rings the webbing would be unnaturally bent at that point. Of course, in an ideal world, every skydiver would have a harness that fits them properly, so this would never happen.

Besides the arguable increase in comfort, chest rings are an excellent investment if, for whatever reason, the harness needs to be resized or repaired in the lower MLW. With chest rings the area affected is reduced to the webbing between the chest and hip rings. Without chest rings, the amount of work (and price) for this would be significantly higher, since the MLW is sewed to more components that would need resewing or replacement.

Like the 3-rings release system, the chest rings can have different finish. More unique to chest rings is their orientation, and its influence on fitting and chest strap width. The chest rings used in every modern harness/container system are always very similar to the large ring in the 3-rings release system. The only possible difference is the bend in the slot where the MLW is threaded, which might or might not be present. In the chest, manufacturers orient the ring in 2 different ways: With the threading slot towards the upper MLW, or towards the chest strap. There are a few subtle implications:

Rings with a vertical orientation (threading slot towards upper MLW) accept more naturally type 17 chest straps. In roughly half the circumference of the ring, the manufacturer has to accomodate the lower MLW and the chest strap, so commonly type 17 is used for the chest strap. That doesn't mean that type 8 is not possible. It is, but being it more bulky, it is less convenient.

Rings with a horizontal orientation (threading slot towards chest strap) accept more naturally type 8 chest straps. I have yet to see this configuration with type 17, but it is, in theory, possible. Looks would be compromised for no reason though, so it is unlikely you'll see it either. Another thing to consider with this configuration is the range of motion of the upper MLW. Here, it can slide to the sides easier (the ring stays in place and the upper MLW can slide on it) than in vertical configuration (where the whole ring has to move and overcome the friction with the chest strap and the lower MLW). What that means is that when flying steep head down angles, the harness can slip down (up?) your shoulders easier than in other cases.


Black chest ring after 1000 jumps. Note the shiny side on the right.

Chest ring with the threading slot towards the upper MLW and a type 17 chest strap.

The last option to consider regarding chest rings is the use of padding under the rings. Not many manufacturers offer it, but it is nevertheless possible.


Chest ring with the threading slot towards the type 8 chest strap. The additional tape keeps the padding secured under the ring. Chest strap

As we mentioned already, there are two chest strap widths to choose from. Regarding strength, there is no real difference, since the weakest point is the friction adapter, which is rated at 500 lbs independently of the width. Type 17 is less bulky and has less drag, which some swoopers would care about. It is also true that these same swoopers, the ones that can notice the difference, would completely remove their chest strap after opening and stow it away (while using a belly band to secure themselves). So this is also a moot point. At the end, this is one of these options that are completely a matter a personal taste.

Another option regarding chest straps is their length. Most manufacturers have a standard length, which is typically around 19" (48cm). Normally this can be extended at no cost. Long chest straps allow the jumper to open up their harness and therefore their canopy, for increased efficiency. With a long chest strap it is also possible to lean forward during landing for a more active canopy piloting position. Regardless the length of your chest strap, if you are going to loosen it as much as you can, you should pay attention to its termination. Type 8 chest straps have a folded end that acts as a stopper and prevents the chest strap from being accidentally unthreaded. Type 17 terminations are sometimes not that effective, depending on how it was done.


Termination of a type 8 chest strap. The tip has 4 layers to make it stiffer and the tab prevents the strap from being accidentally removed.


Terminations of type 17 chest straps. The top picture has an extra tape, that creates a tab. The bottom picture has a stiffener at the tip. Note how fuzzy they are, specially the one on top. That's the effect of rubber instead of the normal elastic bands. Lastly, some manufacturers offer wide webbing loops in the chest strap to stow it. That replaces the default elastic bands, that tend to stretch over time loosing effectiveness, and can also get lost. This option is more common on type 17 chest straps than on type 8. Whatever you choose (elastic band or webbing loop) avoid rubber bands anywhere in contact with webbing. Rubber bands are fairly abrasive. As a result they will weaken your webbing and make it look fuzzier.
Handles

The next decision point coming down the harness affects the cutaway and reserve handles. The most common combination is a pillow for the right side (cutaway), and a metal ring for the reserve ripcord. But there are variations.

Pillow handles are popular among freeflyers, because they are less snag prone than other options. Many of them use pillows for both the cutaway and reserve handles. The obvious downside, is that they make grabbing and pulling them more complicated. A pillow requires your whole hand to grab it. On top of that, it has a similar texture to your jumpsuit fabric, so if you are not looking and you have a loose suit you can grab part of your jumpsuit by mistake. To make them easier to grab, some manufacturers make sure they have a harder core. Others make them extra fat. And others sew an extra layer of a less slippery material. You can also embroider pillows for extra "flashiness", which is not possible with other types of handles.


Reserve pillow handle, with embroidery, a pocket between both pieces of webbing on the MLW, and a spectra ripcord.
Metal rings have been around a longer time than pillow handles. They are easier to grab (you can simply hook your thumb through them) and have a very distinctive feeling, so you can't possibly grab your jumpsuit fabric by mistake. On the other hand they are easier to snag when your buddy is grabbing your harness or with a small camera during exit. To mitigate that, some manufacturers offer low profile D rings, that stick out less than traditional D rings.


Reserve D ring with a pocket between both pieces of webbing, and a steel cable ripcord.

The last option is having a webbing loop with a stiffener inside to retain its open shape. These handles are very common in tandem rigs. However, in sport rigs they are rarely used. They are compromise between pillow and D ring handles.

The reserve ripcord has been made of a steel cable for a long time. It works well in most cases, and most manufacturers stick to it. Others give the option of using a spectra ripcord with a bungee inside. In some cases this is the default for new rigs. The claimed advantages are many. Since spectra is more slippery than steel cables, it reduces the pull force required. In case of a dislodged handle, the bungee will keep it close to the housing and minimize the area in which it will be bouncing around. It is also cheaper to manufacture and inspect in some cases (steel cables have a hidden swage inside the pillow to keep them connected to the handle). However, it is slightly easier to misrig (the reserve pin can be threaded through just some fibers of the ripcord, instead of through the loop) and can be damaged by a sharp edge in the housing easier than a steel cable.

The next option here is the material of the cutaway cable. Almost every manufacturer offers "lolon" coated cables. These are the standard yellow cables that most people are familiar with. They are reliable if the user/rigger ensures proper length and maintenance. The maintenance requires regular cleaning and lubrication of the cables. This is often neglected, which can result in increased pull forces during a cutaway. An alternative material is teflon coated cables. These are orange or red, and are currently in use just by Parachute Labs and their Racer harness/container. The advantage is that they don't require periodic cleaning and lubrication. However, getting them right is more complicated, as teflon doesn't stick easily to the cable. That resulted in the past in the core of the cable detaching from the coating, leaving the sheath locking the 3-rings release system. Regardless of the material you chose, it would be smart to check regularly your cables for cracks or other issues to avoid similar situations, as in theory it could also happen with "lolon" cables.

Finally, there are a few ways to construct the pockets for the handles. The most common ways are either sandwiched between the 2 pieces of webbing of the MLW, or with a specifically manufactured pocket made of fabric wrapping the MLW webbing. As long as the velcro is in good condition, both are equally secure. On rigs with chest and hip rings the pocket wrapping the MLW is more common, as there is extra stitching necessary to secure the MLW in place, right where the handles are. Another advantage of the fabric pocket is that velcro is placed further away from webbing, avoiding possible contact and damage. On some older rigs, the cutaway handle might be attached just with a simple velcro strip, without extra pockets or in between the MLW. This is easier to disengage accidentally.


Reserve pillow handle, with pocket wrapping the MLW and a steel cable ripcord.

Cutaway pillow handle, with a simple velcro strip on the back side of the MLW.
Hip rings

More important than chest rings, are hip rings. However, they are more difficult to evaluate for a variety of reasons. The most important one, is that each manufacturer puts together in that junction a different set of harness components. Let's see this in more detail:

MLW, laterals and front and back leg straps: Some manufacturers might connect together in a single round ring 4 different components. This has a couple of disadvantages, and that's why it is not a common configuration. First and foremost: it connects the leg straps too far up. The angles then could be a bit more awkward and less comfortable, particularly if you are a tall person and want to sit on your harness during canopy flight. Secondly, with 4 connected components there is little room for a belly band.


Round hip ring connecting 4 different components (lower MLW, laterals and front and back leg straps).

MLW, laterals and a single leg strap junction point: This setup is far more common than the previous one. Having the front and back leg strap junction working independently from the ring, and therefore placing this junction further down in the harness, allows to have a more comfortable fit. The angles of the leg strap become more natural. Nevertheless, the consequence of this is that the leg strap becomes slightly more stiff. There is a non-articulated junction between front and back leg straps, and they move as a single component. Most manufacturers design the geometry of this junction in a way where the back leg strap connects to the ring, and the front leg strap connects to the back leg strap. Rigging Innovations does it the opposite way in their Curv. There these roles are reserved and the front leg strap is connected directly to the ring. As a result, when the leg strap moves forward, it pulls in a bit more on the hip ring, and consequentially on the whole container.


Round hip ring connecting 4 different components (lower MLW, lateral, belly band and leg strap)

MLW and front and back leg straps: This arrangement is also very common. The ring is placed further down than in the previous case, which allows to connect independently the front and back leg straps, while preserving comfortable angles. Laterals are connected to the MLW above the ring in this setup. That junctions is very stiff, and right above it is the handle pocket. The small area in between absorbs whatever angle change you induce by leaning forward, so it ends up bending sharply. Another effect of this arrangement is that having the rings below that junction makes belly bands sit further low than in harnesses with rings connecting laterals. But the positive side is that both parts of the leg strap can move independently. Some people like them to move "at once", and so opt for a setup that adds an extra piece of fabric that softly links front and back leg straps and slightly covers the ring.


Hip ring connecting 3 different components (lower MLW and front and back leg straps linked with an extra piece of fabric). Note how further up is the lateral junction.

Each arrangement is a tradeoff. Depending on your body type and chosen discipline, you might prefer one setup or another. Part 3 will focus on body types and will explain how theses tradeoffs might affect you.

As with chest rings, repairs are easier on harnesses with hip rings than without them. Another thing in common with chest rings is that hip rings are also affected by your choice of hardware finish.

An option related to hip rings is the belly band. This component can have 2 different functions. Most people that use them do it in their swoop setup. They undo completely their chest strap, and stow it away. To stay secured in the harness they use belly bands. The second group of people interested in belly bands are people whose harness has laterals that are too long. With a belly band they can pull their hip rings a bit forward, making their container stay closer to their lower back and move less in freefall. That is particularly important while freeflying. Of course moving the hip rings too much forward can distort the harness geometry and affect comfort. If you are in this situation chances are that you should get your harness resized.


Hip ring connecting 4 different components (lower MLW, front and back leg strap, and belly band). Note how this setup places the belly band lower than in a setup with a ring connecting to the lateral.
 
Laterals

As we saw in part 1, the laterals are the part of the harness that connect the back of the harness with the lower MLW. They are critical for comfort during freefall and under canopy. Too long and you will have a huge gap between your back and your container. Too short and they'll make your harness feel too tight and uncomfortable. The default construction, with the laterals coming straight out of the edge of the backpad, works fine if your back is significantly wider than your container. But in many cases that's not true, the container and back are about the same width, and there is a measurable gap between the back side of the laterals and your back.

Many manufacturers try to find a way to contour to the side curvature of your back (back to front, at the belly level). That makes the container more comfortable and it stays in position without moving around much. There are essentially 2 schools for that. The most common is to find "cut-in" laterals, where they are inserted in the backpad not at the edge, but somewhere more centrally. This style of laterals are in contact with the jumpers back, and typically they are padded for extra comfort. Another type is to have the webbing coming straight from the edge, get to the hip junction, and come back a bit more towards the center of the backpad, wrapped in padding.

There are alternatives to the two main approaches. Infinity and Sife provide floating laterals as an option, where the lateral webbing goes through the webbing slot of the hip ring, which moves freely. Sife adds padded stabilizers to that configuration. Mirage has the laterals coming straight out of the edge of the container, but has two elastic bands coming from the center of the backpad, acting as a sort of elastic stabilizers. Lastly, as in some student rigs, SunPath added adjustable laterals to their Aurora wingsuit rig.


Straight laterals coming out of the edge of the container.

Padded stabilizers. The outermost component is simply an stiffener wrapped in fabric, without major structural purpose.

Floating laterals. Note how the ring can move freely through the webbing of the lateral.


Elastic stabilizers.
Leg straps

Leg straps are the remaining piece of the harness. And of course, there are multiple options here as well. In part 1, we already saw multiple adapters. Each manufacturer has its default set of adapters. Nevertheless, some of them, can install an alternative style if you ask them. These adapters are also affected by the chosen hardware finish. As it has been mentioned before, stainless steel is more slippery than cadmium plated steel. The teeth of the adapter could also be harder and sharper if they were the same design as plated adapters, which could damage the webbing and make the whole system work differently. That's why both types of hardware have slightly different designs. These effects are also part of the reason to have double layer straps, to make them thicker and slip less. Besides this, adapters are normally thread-thru. But it is also possible, even though not common, to order B-12 snaps. They allow to clip-in the leg straps, instead of having to put your legs through them.

We have seen lots of options targeted for swoopers in the upper side of the harness. The bottom side also has options for this discipline. It is possible with some manufacturers to order wider leg straps, so sitting in your harness for long periods is a bit more comfortable. The tradeoff is that they are more uncomfortable during freefall and on the ground. Since swoopers tend to slide during their landings, the leg straps suffer a great deal of wear. That's why it is also possible to use leg strap covers, that can be easily replazable once they are worn out. That way, your harness stays intact.

The last optional bit is the freefly bungee. It's functionality has been already discussed in part 1. There are basically 2 designs: Connecting the inner part with 2 webbing loops and a bungee; or connecting the outer part, with the bungee routed through a channel that hides the knots and distributes the tension.


Freefly bungee connecting the inner part of the leg straps and knots exposed.


Freefly bungee connecting the outer part of the leg straps and knots hidden in the channels.
 
More harness options

There are even more options than what we have covered so far. But they are difficult to classify going from top of the harness to bottom. For instance, embroideries. Laterals, leg straps, mud flaps (right below the 3-rings) are all areas were you can include any embroidery. Mind you, the embroidery is done in fabric, not in webbing. So for instance, to add an embroidery to your laterals, they have to have a piece of fabric covering the webbing.

Other example are hook knifes. There are 2 common pockets for hook knifes: In the mud flap, or in the leg strap. Some manufacturers also add a hook knife pocket integrated in the fabric that makes their handles pocket. There are multiple models of hook knifes: Cheap plastic handle with a single blade, harder plastic with single or double blade, metal handle and single or double blade, or full metal knifes. Even though it is unlikely that you'll need it, it is recommended to avoid the very cheap knifes made of brittle plastic.

Some manufacturers make contoured yokes, that adapt better to your shoulder area. It is also possible that they offer an "inverted yoke", where the container seams are inwards, looking a bit neater and slightly more comfortable on that area, since the sharper binding tape won't be rubbing against you. Every manufacturer also offers padding. Some include full padding (yoke, backpad, stabilizers and leg straps) as a single option. Others separate it in 2 or 3 areas, allowing you to choose with more granularity. Besides the standard padding, made normally out of some spacer foam, some manufacturers also offer "deluxe" padding in their backpad, made of a more comfortable material.

Rigging innovations has gone an extra mile in the harness design of their Curv container, and offer 3 unique things. The first is what they call the bio yoke. There, they essentially separated the part of the yoke in contact with your shoulders, and the part of the yoke that connects with everything else inside the container (risers, reserve risers and housings). This way the part in contact with your body is more flexible and comfortable. The second is what they call the bio curve. This is a half container half harness feature. It simply contours the container so it follows the curvature of your back, avoiding gaps there. The third thing is a new leg strap geometry, which has been already discussed in the hip rings section.
End of Part 2

This concludes part 2. As you can see, there are tens of options, which create hundreds of combinations. Each manufacturer has their defaults and their common options. If you are buying a new container and want an option not listed in their order form, ask them. You might be surprised. If you are buying an used container, hopefully this will help you to decide on which harness designs and options are important for you, to narrow down your search in the wild second hand market.

Part 3 will be the last part of the series. There the focus will be on how different harness designs might fit different body types, and how the wrong dimensions in parts of the harness will affect your flying, comfort, and potentially even safety. So if you enjoyed part 1 and 2, keep an eye out for part 3!

By admin, in Gear,