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Safety in the Sky: A Skydiver’s Defense

By EMarte21on - Read 7669 times

The world of skydiving offers those who choose to take the leap of faith a rush like non-other. The sport has grown far beyond anything its pioneers could have ever imagined. This growth has raised the demand for the establishment of advanced safety protocols in drop zones around the world. Container systems, main and reserve parachutes and basic safety procedures have all made this sport safer for all its users. One particular invention however, stands out above the rest and it is the automatic activation device or AAD for short.

An AAD is a small, technically advanced device which activates a cutter that severs the reserve closing loop when the user is falling at or greater than a predetermined speed (roughly 78 MPH) and at or lower than a predetermined altitude (roughly 750 feet AGL). The device is equipped with a small computer designed to compute the skydiver’s speed of travel by using the surrounding air pressure. AADs have been common to skydivers for decades but recent years have brought about amazing change to this industry.

CYPRES and Vigil AADs have become two of the leading manufacturers of AADs in recent years. When turned on, the AADs computer chip uses an advanced pressure monitoring system to determine a skydiver’s altitude and fall rate. If a skydiver passes the predetermined altitude at a faster than predetermined fall rate, the system sends a signal to a small cutter built into the parachute’s container. Once activated the cutter severs the reserve line retaining pin, causing the reserve chute to immediately deploy. Essentially, both CYPRES and Vigil AADs are meant to perform in very similar ways. Historically, each company has built and fine-tuned their respective devices to fit various disciplines in the sport.

Cypres 2 AAD

CYPRES which is short for Cybernetic Parachute Release System was developed by AirTec, a German company founded in 1990. Company founder Helmut Cloth decided to replace the old and faulty technology for opening devices of the time with a more reliable device. The result was revolutionary: the first CYPRES was ready in 1991 and became the first electronic opening device in the skydiving world. Shortly after hitting the market the CYPRES AAD sales grew to nearly 5,000 units per year. Developers continued working hard on making sure all the feedback from its users was implemented into their new products. In a little over a decade, CYPRES AAD sales rocketed to over 80,000 units. Airtec saw the overwhelming demand for their product and in 2007 developed the CYPRES 2. Within two years the CYPRES 2 broke the magic barrier of 50,000 units sold. The successes and reliability of the CYPRES 1 and 2 were celebrated throughout drop zones worldwide in 2011 during CYPRES’ 20 year anniversary. Since then the company has continued to provide a great piece of equipment with the backing of thousands of saved lives all over the world (CYPRES, 2014).

The Vigil AAD shares many similarities to its competitor and was also designed to add a wider range of safety measures for skydivers. Nearly a decade after CYPRES’ great successes, Vigil was introduced. Immediately after being marketed the Vigil began flying off the shelves in record numbers. Designed by the Belgium company Advanced Aerospace Designs in 1999, the Vigil AAD system offered its users unique patented features. Features such as: a patented cutter device (circular knife) that cuts the reserve loop twice, water resistant technology, and a multimode option which allows for three different modes: PRO – STUDENT – TANDEM, all make the Vigil unique. These features make the Vigil a highly sought after piece of equipment for skydivers of all disciplines but even more so by drop zone management staff wanting to use one AAD for multiple modes of operations. In addition to calculating a skydiver’s rate of travel by using the surrounding air pressure, Vigil also uses an additional activation technique. Once the door opens and you leave the airplane, the Vigil AAD will calculate the time left over before reaching the activation altitude (Vigil, 2014). Since its appearance, the Vigil has sold upwards of 70,000 units and continues to increase sales annually.

Vigil AAD

Aside from their successes, the overarching factor in this equation is the consumer, as is in any supply-demand industry. The initial cost of purchasing an AAD unit is about the same, approximately $1,400. Many consumers view this as a steep price to pay especially when also calculating the maintenance costs throughout the lifecycle of an AAD. The additional cost of ownership includes battery replacement and scheduled maintenance, which calculates to be roughly $75 per year. The Vigil AAD claims to have a 20 year lifespan with no mandatory service requirements. The CYPRES AAD, however, is said to have a 12.5 year life expectancy with required maintenance at the four and eight year marks after activation. Many skydivers take these two factors well into consideration before committing to any purchase.

Thankfully the CYPRES and Vigil AADs are readily available to ship to locations worldwide. The ease and effortlessness involved with purchasing an AAD makes it very convenient for anyone in the market for one. The decision of which one is the better choice is strictly up to the buyer’s personal preference and skill level. Both CYPRES and Vigil have been tried and proven over many years and thousands of documented lives saved. All in all, the sport is lucky that jumpers have a good choice of automatic activation devices. Few jumpers wore them before they came to their present level of accuracy and reliability, and members of the gray-haired set who still remember friends they lost when no-pulls/low-pulls dominated the fatality reports will mostly agree that the added cost of skydiving due to AADs has been worth it (Parachutist, 2010).

Thanks for reading,
Blue Skies!

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adwilson07
Nobody like's M2 but me...

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MichaelG
Good article! True nit pick criticism... The AAD, by cutting the closing loop, "initiates reserve deployment," not "causing the reserve chute to immediately deploy." as stated.

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Horsepiss
Absolutely beautiful article, we need more content like this on the drop zone. Excellent job to the manufacturers of AAD's and the author of this article. You can really feel the knowledge that this author brings to light, almost as if he's encountered a few close calls himself.

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sammielu
Good article for 2010. Time for an update to add Mars M2 AAD, the new speed modes, a brief description of the cool features (altitude offsets, modifying activation altitude, jump counter, jump information), and to specify that all of the AADs cut the closing loop, not the pin.

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pateverson
Very misleading information about the Vigil. The author implies that Vigils take the exit altitude, calculate a time that it expects you to reach activation altitude and then will fire at that time. The website talks about how it takes a time measurement, but it's recalculated 8 times per second. In practice, that's essentially no different than every other AAD since it is measuring your speed constantly based on changing air pressure, directly in opposition to the statement that the Vigil is "unlike its competitors." This description in the article leads me to question the qualification of the writer. Decent article, but misleading to new jumpers.

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EMarte21
There is much more information on both the AADs that was not included in the above article simply because the intent was to provide a brief history and emphasize the importance of AADs (particularly CYPRES and Vigil). There was a misinterpretation on the Vigil's method of calculation. Vigil does indeed use multiple methods to calculate fall rate and altitude. Please visit their website to learn more: http://www.vigil.aero.
By no means do I claim to be an expert in this subject matter. Rather, I am simply stating the importance of AADs. Simply put, every person exiting an aircraft should seriously consider investing in an AAD they feel is right for them.
Disclaimer: This article focuses on two of many AADs in the industry. Anyone in the market for an AAD or any piece of equipment which could ultimately save your life should conduct extensive personal research and consult with the S&TA and/or instructors at their local drop zone before making a decision.
Thank you for reading and for your comments!

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Hellis
"An AAD is a small, technically advanced device used to automatically open a skydiver’s reserve parachute."
The AAD does not open the reserve, it may open the reserve container.
There is no guarantee that it will open the container that's why I say "it may open".

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taffclarke
inaccurate article: fxc is an aad the cyprus is a cybernetic parachute release system. The fxc type system uses air pressure to extract the reserve pin and was among the first such safety systems. the Cyprus uses a system similar to but with significant differences to the fxc. the fxc is an automatic activation system in that a membrane expands and contracts at a fixed rate as air pressure changes. should air pressure exceed its parameters of contraction speed it activates a spring that contracts to pull a cable attached to a pin. this competes its activity there are no electro or chemical components and it does all of this automatically, you can not change its settings. the cyprus on the other hand comes with a computer constantly monitoring the air pressure and free-fall speed to "compute" the altitude. Ergo the computer mechanical and chemical composition of the system or cybernetic mix. you can change its settings change the opening altitude and interact with it in various ways it is therefore NOT automatic.
just my two cents worth.
great article for woofos though.

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taffclarke
inaccurate article: fxc is an aad the cyprus is a cybernetic parachute release system. The fxc type system uses air pressure to extract the reserve pin and was among the first such safety systems. the Cyprus uses a system similar to but with significant differences to the fxc. the fxc is an automatic activation system in that a membrane expands and contracts at a fixed rate as air pressure changes. should air pressure exceed its parameters of contraction speed it activates a spring that contracts to pull a cable attached to a pin. this competes its activity there are no electro or chemical components and it does all of this automatically, you can not change its settings. the cyprus on the other hand comes with a computer constantly monitoring the air pressure and free-fall speed to "compute" the altitude. Ergo the computer mechanical and chemical composition of the system or cybernetic mix. you can change its settings change the opening altitude and interact with it in various ways it is therefore NOT automatic.
just my two cents worth.

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SkyMannn
dont listen to taft clarke.

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