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General

    Teaming Up: Part 2 - Sponsorship

    Image by Joel Strickland
    Compared to many other sports that operate a similar system of patronage between manufacturers and athletes, skydiving is relatively small. Even if you sell yourself brilliantly right from the start, the big goal of free stuff is not something that happens straight away. You are going to have to work for it.
    Wait! Work for free things? I have been duped!
    Skydiving gear ranges from not cheap to downright extravagant and team training is a substantial investment - therefore any help you can receive along the way is very valuable. Manufacturers know this and also understand the powerful desire for any new skydiving team to be able to declare loudly in their most off-hand yet portentous manner that they are indeed sponsored.
    Approaching Potential Sponsors
    Medals help. Getting on a podium of any kind is tangible evidence that companies like to see, but shiny discs are not the be-all and end-all. Manufacturers are most interested in selling their products and if people head their way via your influence it counts for much. You might not be bringing home the gold just yet and your Instagram (or whatever) may not be filed with super-cool cutting-edge skydiving - but if you are respected on the dropzone as a purveyor of solid advice through which a steady steam of equipment choices are settled upon it registers directly. An important thing to remember when drafting those letters about taking over the world is that whomever you are trying to impress is likely to have heard it all before. What is interesting and unique about your team?


    Image by Matthias Walde

    Getting A Deal
    The first thing you are likely to be offered is a small discount on a limited number of items. Granting something like 30% off to a team means that a sponsor is not going to lose anything if they simply never hear from or about you ever again. It might not add up to big savings but the crucial part is that your new support has recognised and acknowledged your potential - they like the cut of your jib and might just believe in all those big promises you made. From here it is down to you to make good on the trust they have shown. The larger, seasoned skydiving manufacturers will likely have a tiered system in place to manage their stable of athletes and teams whereas smaller companies may not. The exact nature of progression through to a better deal and then better-er deal is based on building a strong relationship that works both ways.
    An vital consideration once you start receiving offers is which brands and companies do you truly believe in? Sponsorship is not free - it is a symbiotic relationship between athletes and the companies for which they fly the flag. Entering into an arrangement with someone simply because you received an offer is perhaps not the wisest course of action. Would this be your first choice if you were paying full price for it? It is much more satisfying and easier to do a good job of representation if you truly believe in something and value it higher than its competitors.


    Image by Joel Strickland

    Giving Back
    There are quite a few ways that you can do for your sponsors. Try to cover all the bases.
    Wear the T-Shirt and Be Nice: Few things have as positive an effect as a direct conversation in which you can be passionate about your support. Equally important: Don’t be a dick.
    Everyone Sees Everything: Even if they pretend they do not. Social media activity has become an important part of how manufacturers market themselves, so learn the hashtags and whatnot and use them.
    Writing: If you are handy with language there are many outlets for quality work. Producing informative and entertaining articles will earn you some scope to promote yourself. You can be both subtle and not-subtle.
    Events: Organising or attending events as a team can provide many opportunities. Again: Few things are as good as actually being there and talking to people.
    Always Thank Your Sponsors: Try to individualise it bit as well. It is well known that a Cypres unit will save your unconscious ass or that Larsen and Brusgaard have the best customer service on earth. What else have you got?
    Sponsorship is an important part of the skydiving world. Acting as a member of a professional team is long on spending and short on financial reward - so any help you can attract might keep things going. Strong relationships between sponsors and athletes also helps to raise the profile of skydiving around the world - pushing skills forward via events and competitions that ultimately attract more people to the sport.
    Joel would like to thank:
    Both Sandra and Vlady at Vertical Suits for their endless patience with an overly fussy freefly team and their obsession with every tiny little detail.
    Miska at the Hurricane Factory for her unerring accuracy and ability to decipher ramshackle emails about tunnel sessions (in her second language).
    Everyone who has a part in designing and constructing Icarus Canopies - providing me with the confidence to pack in the landing area under a standard that ranges from poor to awful directly relating to the indeterminate amount of time it takes the tandems to get on the bus.

    By admin, in General,

    Skydiving For The Unlucky In Lung

    How To Jump Smart When You've Got Asthma

    Photographer: Wolfgang Lienbacher

    Ah, the sky: the beautiful bubble of air that surrounds us all in a breezy embrace.
    But what if your lungs have a troubled relationship with that air? If you’re an asthmatic and getting into skydiving, you’re facing a substantial--but surmountable--challenge.
    You’ll be happy to hear that you’re not the first to square up to the sky with flimsy airbags. Many asthmatics are successful sport skydivers. In fact, some studies show that exposure to high altitudes can even improve the lung function of people with asthma. (Ha! Take that, haters.) That said, you need to check off a few boxes on your way to the plane. Here’s a quick tipsheet.
    Get your doc’s signoff.
    If you want to be a serious sport skydiver, your asthma must be stable and under excellent control. Don’t take your own word for it, either--speak to your doctor about it. Your doctor will need to confirm that your peak flows (or spirometry) should be close to the normal range. This can be quite discretionary stuff, so get a second opinion if necessary. Unfortunately, severe, persistent asthma and skydiving are not a good mix.
    Know where your meds are.
    It’s rule number one for you in your landlubber life, and it remains rule number one in the sky: you must know where your meds are at all times.
    Keep that rescue inhaler readily available--not buried in a bag, floating in with the rest of your gear--and make sure other people know where it is. Making sure it’s in the pocket of jumpsuit is definitely not the worst idea--and keeping a permanent backup in your dropzone kit is a very, very good one.
    Go easy on yourself.
    Skydiving is exercise, and it’s exercise in a cold-air environment. The high altitudes we reach on sport skydives can compromise weaker lungs, reducing the oxygen in an asthmatic jumper’s blood to the point of unsafety. These conditions are challenging even for people who fall within the healthy, normal range--so an asthmatic can expect to exert proportionally more effort on each jump. Listen to your body. Don’t push it.
    Declare your meds.
    The dropzone needs to know if you’re on medication, so be clear and specific about what your treatments include.
    Also note that if competitive skydiving is on your horizon, you’ll need to make sure the governing organization is aware of all the prescription medications you’re taking. Anti-doping rules are in place for all competitors, and some asthma medications are on the list. You wouldn’t want to see your team’s faces at a DQ you could have seen coming.
    Don’t be shy.
    While you’re talking to your new dropzone about your asthma and declaring your meds, talk to them about the supplemental oxygen on the plane. If you’re on a long hold at altitude, don't be shy about asking for it.
    Be okay out of the pollen bubble.
    Is pollen a problem? Be aware that most dropzones around the world are located in agricultural areas. You may actually be physically landing in a cultivated crop field chock-full of pollen. If that sounds like your idea of a very bad time, you may need to get creative about where and when you jump.
    Make sure your bones aren’t compromised.
    As asthmatics are probably aware, a regular dose of oral steroids can be very bad for the structural integrity of your skeleton. If that describes you, make sure you’re thoroughly medically assessed for osteoporosis and that your bone density sits within the normal range. Learning to fly a sport skydiving parachute doesn’t automatically mean you’re doomed to crash landings, but they’re far more likely in the early days of your jumping career--and potentially much more injurious for a medicated asthmatic than for others.
    Brand new? Address your anxiety as early as possible.
    Anxiety is a very normal part of the early skydiving experience. This is true for everyone.
    Asthmatics--especially folks for whom emotional spikes can trigger an asthma attack--must deal with this in a much more thoughtful, procedural ways than others. The good news is that you can expect the intensity of anxiety to lessen over the course of your skydiving career; the bad news is that, in the beginning, it’s quite a hurdle to get over.
    Here’s a hot tip: there are plenty of ways to prepare your body for the experience. The wind tunnel is a great hack. If you take some time to acclimate your body to the feeling of freefall in this controlled environment, you’ll have proportionally less anxiety once you get into the sky. Take a tandem skydive to be introduced to the procedure, the plane, the facility and the sky.
    Give yourself the time to approach your sport skydiving career sideways, not overwhelmingly all-at-once, and your lungs will be that much happier in the sky. After all, it’s the sky we fill our lungs with; it’s time yours were properly introduced.

    By nettenette, in General,

    Teaming Up: Part 1 - Getting Started

    Image by Gustavo Cabana
    Looking back across a season of high profile competitions and seeing professional teams across many different disciplines throw down their best performances can have a powerful effect on the imagination. The pull towards the ziggurat of organised competition can be strong - but what you ultimately witness is the end product of a lot of time and effort, so it important to know exactly what you might be getting into and addressing some front-end considerations will help you get on the good foot.
    What really goes into starting a skydiving team? What are the advantages and rewards in the immediate future and then further on down the road? Also, what are the costs and compromises - both obvious and perhaps less so?
    There are different ways of making a team happen. Some countries have a national skydiving organisation that plays an active role in the selection and training of talented individuals for the purpose of competition (e.g. France - who recognise parachuting as a national sport), although the more normalised method is whatever body controls the skydiving interests in your country will have an application method for allocating support to functioning teams with a valid performance history - which means at the beginning and for the foreseeable future you are likely on your own.
    Other possibilities exist: Private coaching operations such as Satori Academy (www.teamsatori.co.uk) conduct season-long programmes in which a pool of students are seeded into teams of appropriate skill with the intention of building towards competition. Also sometimes already established teams might lose a member (for any number of reasons) and seek a replacement via. application and/or audition. However, by far the most probable beginning is that you and a group of friends that regularly jump together and socialise in the same circles will pass the idea around a bit and have things grow from there. You are practically a team already right? All you need is a cool name and some matching shit and glory awaits. Right?

    Image by Simon Brentford

    Now What?
    The first thing that happens once you commit is you will become filled with motivation. Outwardly nothing has changed - you are the same gaggle of mismatched skydivers you were this morning, yet now you have a purpose! The machinery inside your head will be whirring and whizzing about all the things you might achieve.
    The clearest immediate payoff from the decision to compete is this sense of purpose. It is very easy to get lazy when skydiving and fall into patterns of the same comfortable familiar behaviour - always flying your strong ways, always swooping the same direction - never training the wonky side or pushing yourself forward. Having the date of your first competition marked on a calendar by which you have to achieve specific things is a really good method to highlight how much more you could be getting out of your jumps right now - and the extra things you could be learning around the edges from all the different sources of information available out there. Also - the format and structure of competitions themselves are are designed to test your range of ability. The various dive pools for FS or VFS (and MFS!), the compulsory moves for Artistics and the indoor ruleset cover the full range of movement you have been using for your casual flying. Learning and practicing these will strengthen your knowledge and draw attention to weak areas where you need focus and improve.

    Image by Jim Harris

    Things To Consider:
    It is easy to get excited about all of the great things you are going to achieve. Your new teammates might all be present and correct for the boozy bar talk of world domination, but how much is everyone really committed to the idea? When it comes down to the early starts on cold mornings is everybody going to actually be there? Also, the way you interact is going to change. The kind of mistakes that make for fun stories over a weekend of jumping might well create tension and arguments when there is more on the line. Competing can bring many rewards and be a lot of fun but it is also hard work. By introducing a formal element into your skydiving you risk making it into just that - work. Examine why it is that you skydive and have the others do the same. What do you realistically hope to achieve from teaming up? What are the trade-offs exactly? You could see it as being more serious across the board in return for deeper rewards, or a motivating way to throw money at your passion and improve much faster than before.
    Team skydiving is worth the effort for many reasons, so if you are in a position to do so then don’t let any possible negative elements dissuade you - but examining potential hiccups and conflicts of interest early on can help everything to run smoothly from the beginning.

    By joelstrickland, in General,

    You Know Nothing About Seatbelts - Part 4

    You Gotta Do It Right, Every Time
    Lead image by skydivegirlpl In the Frankenstein world of skydiving aircraft--where the original innards have been ripped out and kinda-sorta replaced here and there with lighter components--we’ve had to rethink this whole “seatbelts” thing with an eye to minimalism and ease of use. (For contrast, check out the amount of webbing with which aerobatic pilots festoon themselves.) In almost every case, skydiving has had to invent new procedures to maximize the utility of restraints while lacking the backing support of a seat.
    Hear this, dear readers: These “new procedures” vary in effectiveness. Very few skydivers are properly educated. The details matter.
    Belts for Benchwarmers
    Are you sitting in a comfy, capacious aircraft with side benches? Lucky you! You can enjoy the proven-safest restraint configurations available to modern skydiving. Hooray!
    The reason that lap belts should only be used by side-facing skydivers is that they are maximally effective when there is a solid support surface behind the occupant: a seat back, an aircraft sidewall or a bulkhead. (A particularly burly swooper doesn’t count.)
    Already bored and sure you know how this lap belt thing goes? Hold up. Did you know that you should be routing your lap belt between your main lift web and body when you’re sitting on a side bench?**
    “Whoa,” you say. “This means that the restraint belt does not simply go over the top of my glorious lap, as I am used to.”
    You, dear reader, are correct in that observation. Routing the male end of the lap belt between your belly and main lift web as it’s on its way to the latch on the other side is the way to go. It’s proven to make you less likely to slide out of it in the slippery, bucket-seatless context of a jump plane.
    Restraints For Floor Folks
    If you’re on the floor, this is your huckleberry: A single Hooker belt, wrapped around a single hip, close to the ring. These aren’t as good as the big-plane lap belts, because single-side belts have a disconcerting tendency to impose massive, twisting, sideways loads on a jumper's spine. There’s also a huge flail arc for the head, which can result in significantly reduced thinking for the rest of the jumper’s natural life. That said: if it comes down to it, at least your meat stays put, inside the plane, and you don't end up suffocating your buddies at the front of the cabin.
    “What fresh hell,” you are probably wondering, “Is a Hooker belt?” Calm down--you’ve totally seen one. A Hooker belt is what we call single-point skydiver restraints. They’re ‘Hooker belts’ because they were invented by Jack Hooker. (If you recall, we mentioned him earlier in this series; he’s the fellow who developed restraints in response to the multiple-fatality crash in Hinckley, Illinois that claimed many of his friends.)
    To see how it’s done, take a little journey with me back to nineteen-ninety-something, when the FAA last took photos for its Sport Parachuting Advisory Circular. Play some Ace of Base and put your hair up in a side ponytail so the photos aren’t so jarring, then take a look.
    1. Sit close to the attachment point, facing the back of the plane.
    2. Pass the male end of the restraint under the upper part of the leg strap closest to the attachment point.
    3. Pass it under the main lift web*.

    4. Latch it close to the hip ring.

    5. Aim to sit so you have a 45-degree angle between the point the restraint attaches to you and where it attaches to the floor.
    6. Tighten until there is little slack. The more slack you have, the further you will travel before impacting something in the cabin in a no-bueno manner. A short leash also minimizes twisting and flail arc.
    Once you’ve got those methods down, it’s not over. There are a few more points to keep in mind, besides:
    Restraints don’t work if you can slide out. Ask the jumper who was ejected out the left door during a forced landing in Oklahoma. She was sitting with her back to the pilot and the belt only over her lap. Routing it through the harness would have kept her inside the plane, which is an excellent place to be when the plane is bouncing and crunching all over the ground.
    Beware the leg-strap-only method. In a tiny plane? Tempted to just tug a belt through your leg strap and fuhgettaboutit? Think twice. Crash tests have proven that single point, single tether restraints are not very effective.
    The direction you’re facing is actually important. Research has shown that, in order for the restraints to work properly, parachutists must face the tail (“aft”).
    Never ever ever share a restraint with another skydiver. Everyone on the aircraft needs to be secured individually. Yes, this is just as true for tandems. Tandem students should never be restrained by just clipping to the tandem instructor. If the tandem instructor is incapacitated during a crash, the student cannot unhook. This has killed at least one tandem student in Australia (by drowning).
    Don’t double up. You must have a single point of detachment to begin egress*** in an emergency. Panicky flailing, fear, fire and smoky visual impairment can all play into the ability to get out. Two attachment latches is one too many to work out in that kind of environment, as has been proven over and over again.
    Curb your camera. In the event of an impact, make no mistake--your flimsy little G3 is a projectile weapon, as is every loose bit and/or bob that’s rattling around your person. The length of a Twin Otter is plenty of space for them to reach ramming speed. Don’t let them get the opportunity.
    Leave your chest strap the hell out of this. Chest buckles are only rated for 500 pounds, while most other harness buckles are rated for five times that. If it does hold, it’ll flail you around like a demented cowboy misusing a lasso.
    Been in a cra...uh, forced landing? Get your gear checked out. Even though it’s a key part of how we protect ourselves from aircraft oopsies, a parachute harness was developed for deceleration from freefall, not partnering up with a restraint belt. Most manufacturers have not tested their harness configurations to see how they weather the jangling, multi-directional abuse of a forced landing. If you’ve been in a plane that’s gone down unexpectedly, send your rig to a rigger to check its airworthiness.
    The “tight cabin” theory simply ain’t true. Tightly packed loads do no better than their emptier counterparts during forced landings. The only thing that will protect you is a restraint system, not being shoved in like a sardine.
    You’re not buckling up for yourself. If you take one thing away from all this talk of restraints, remember this: When you do up that belt, it’s not for you. It’s for everybody you might crush if that plane smashes in. It’s for everybody you might fall on from the apex of your surprised-face zero-g levitation to the cabin roof. It’s for the pilot, who needs to be able to count on a certain balance of weight when shit is actively hitting the fan. And it’s for your friends--so they don’t have to stand around a bonfire in tears, wondering how to prevent it all from happening again.
    * The main lift web is the vertical part of the front of the harness--the webbing that your cutaway and reserve handles live in.

    By nettenette, in General,

    You Know Nothing About Seatbelts - Part 3

    You Probably Aren’t Aware of All These Oopsies
    Screengrab of the 12th May 2016 Lodi incident Seatbelts help. You probably get the picture by now. But do you know just how many lives they’ve saved in the past couple of years alone? Oh, man. Loads.
    At time of publication, USPA dropzones use seatbelts. Even the legendarily non-USPA maverick dropzone at Lodi had seat-belt use essentially imposed on it--which resulted in all souls walking away from that dropzone’s 2016 Cessna Caravan forced landing in a vineyard. The pilot suffered a bloody nose. (He was not wearing a shoulder belt--nor his emergency bailout rig. Tsk tsk.) They were shaken, but okay--and they haven’t been the only ones.
    Over the last couple of years, forced landings all over the world have seen most of the jumpers survive, in great part because of that friendly webbing.
    On December 4, 2014, A Cessna 205 out of Sussex, New Jersey suffered a total loss of engine power during its initial climb. The in-cabin video shows the forced landing going smoothly until the nose wheel dug into a muddy field and flipping the plane onto its back. All five seatbelted souls on board survived with minor injuries.
    Also in December of 2014, a Cessna 182 in Beromunster, Switzerland lost power shortly after take-off. The aircraft broke its nosewheel in a field, but all five occupants--seatbelts fastened--made it out with bumps and bruises.
    On May 10 of 2015, an Antonov out of Azov, Russia experienced high engine temperatures that forced an immediate landing. While the crash was severe enough that a post-landing fire destroyed the fuselage, all 13 (seat-belted) occupants got out in time, and survived with minor injuries.
    On June 29 of 2015, a Cessna 182D out of Oak Harbour, Washington lost engine power. It struck a tree during the forced landing, which was short of the runway. The impact split the fuselage in two at the instrument panel. Unsurprisingly, the pilot was seriously injured (but survived). One passenger was injured after being ejected from the open fuselage.
    On July 12 of 2015, a Cessna took off from Barnegat County, New Jersey. The crankshaft failed shortly after take-off, forcing a landing right on the highway. The traffic camera shows the plane landing on the right lanes and rolling onto the grass median towards the end. The pilot and all four passengers survived with hardly a scratch on them, thanks to their seatbelts.
    On July 7 of 2015, a Cessna Caravan lost engine power shortly after taking off from the desert dropzone in Dubai. The forced landing into the sand dunes started a fire that consumed the airframe, but everyone--including the pilot--was able to unfasten their seatbelts and get out before it burned up.
    In August of 2015, a Turbo Finist carrying a pilot and ten skydivers crashed shortly after taking off from Casale Monferrato, Italy. The impact of the landing bent the wings, broke the main undercarriage legs and smashed the engine compartment. Everybody wore seatbelts. Everybody walked away.
    In October 2015, a Yak-12 carrying three skydivers force-landed in Poland, hard enough to break the main undercarriage. The video starts with a glance at their fastened seat-belts and ends with them running away from the wreckage.
    Later that October, one of Dubai’s Twin Otters crashed on landing. Only a pilot was onboard. He survived, despite major damage to the airframe, thanks to his handy webbing.
    On April 28, 2016, an antique biplane lost power and force-landed near Osage in the American midwest. The pilot plus two skydivers put the airplane at gross weight, and both skydivers stood on the lower wing, grasping the front cockpit edge. This created more drag than usual for what was originally a two-seater trainer with only 220 horsepower. The plane never climbed very high and force-landing in a field, hard enough to break both main undercarriage legs. The "safety straps," as sketchy and unofficial as they must have been, kept those skydivers onboard during what must have been one hell of a clenchy forced landing. (For comparison: a couple of years earlier, another skydiver was incapacitated by carbon monoxide--because he had been holding on right behind the exhaust--and fell from the lower wing of a PT-17 biplane at an altitude too low to open a parachute. If that jumper had had a safety strap, they’d be alive today.
    Thanks to rockstar Sebastian Alvarez’s video, most of us are familiar with the May 12, 2016 crash of a Cessna 208 Caravan at Lodi. Engine failure shortly after takeoff forced a landing. During the roll-out, the plane struck a truck and rolled into a ditch, inverting at low speed. When the airplane ground to a halt, the entire load was hanging from the ceiling. All 17 skydivers exited uninjured. The last frame of the video shows the pilot washing blood off his nose--which shoulder belts would have prevented.
    On July 3, 2016, a Cessna 206 out of Gilchrist, Texas had to land when an engine broke a connector rod shortly after take-off. The pilot landed upright on Crystal Beach. There were zero injuries.
    On August 3, 2016, a Cessna TU206 lost power 1,000 feet after its takeoff from Skiatook, Oklahoma (which, coincidentally, sees more than its share of aviation mishaps) and had to come down in a grassy field. The impact buckled the airframe in a major way, but everyone was belted. All seven occupants survived with minor injuries.
    Quite recently to this publication--In September of 2016, in fact--a plane out of DC Skydiving had to land right after takeoff. All 11 skydivers and the pilot wore seatbelts, and all walked away uninjured. The plane didn’t fare so well. The thing about seatbelts, of course, is that they don’t work if you don’t use them--or if you use them wrong. In the next installment, we’ll talk about how to use a seatbelt on a skydiving plane, ‘cause there are some sketchy little myths floating around.

    By nettenette, in General,

    You Know Nothing About Seatbelts - Part 2

    A Seatbelt’s Job Goes Beyond The Crash

    Think your seatbelt only helps you when the metal hits the dirt? Nope. The magic of seatbelts goes far beyond the prevention of injuries and fatalities during actual impacts. Seatbelts also help the plane fly better and move more safely during maneuvers, sometimes preventing that impact from even occurring.


    The first way seatbelts do this is by helping to moderate the weight and balance of the aircraft. Limiting the numbers of jumpers on board to the number of seatbelts limits the risk of overloading the plane, which we all know is a bad scene (slower acceleration, sloth-like climb, stall danger due to higher stall speed, and the like). It also keeps the wiggly weight of the passengers pinned in place, helping the pilot maintain control.


    Take an example. One day, a Cessna 205 aircraft ran out of fuel just after takeoff from Celina, Ohio. (Everyone on board--the pilot and five parachutists--perished in the incident, so witness reports and NTSB investigation reports are all we have to explain what happened.) DiverDriver.com explains that, of the witnesses that reported hearing the airplane during climbout, each “described smooth engine noise, brief ‘sputtering,’ and then a total loss of engine power. The airplane descended straight ahead at the same pitch attitude, then the nose dropped, a parachutist exited, and the airplane entered a spiraling descent.” That first jumper left from the student position--as the door was under the wing and not in the rear like the Cessna U206. His exit abruptly shifted the weight aft, rendering the aircraft uncontrollable. Two more jumpers attempted to exit. The all three jumpers who exited the aircraft were unable to deploy parachutes. Everyone left in the aircraft perished in the violent resulting crash.


    Another sacred duty of the seat belt: to help the pilot maintain precious, tenuous drabs of control during violent maneuvers in the lower end of the altitude spectrum. Belts hold skydivers in place during the top-gun shit that pilots have to pull sometimes in order to avoid mid-air-collisions, stopping meat from rattling around the cabin and coming down unbalanced.


    Note: As skydivers. we’re at pretty serious risk for these, because this kind of incident is statistically most likely to happen in the crowded, lackadaisically-controlled airspace around the small airports we tend to frequent.


    When two planes go head-to-head, pilots are taught to pull power and dive to the right--which slams un-belted jumpers right up into the ceiling. The landing is a mystery, but if too many of them land too far aft, the airplane will be unbalanced, stall and spin. Whee. Ugh.


    “Sure,” you say, “But that shit hardly ever happens.”


    Au contraire.


    In the next installment, we’ll take a look at the long list of recent incidents you haven’t even heard about--and meditate on the totally-coulda-been-you aspect of the thing.

    By nettenette, in General,

    You Know Nothing About Seatbelts - Part 1

    The History Lesson You Never Got
    Image by
    Lukasz Szymanski If you look at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports, DiverDriver.com, our own Dropzone.com and the world’s newspaper reports, you’ll notice something interesting: the last couple of years were bad for forced landings, but good for survivors. Since December 2014, the total has been 18 forced landings, involving more than 100 occupants--but only one fatal crash (the May 2016 tragedy in Hawaii, the circumstances of which were too violent for safety restraints to have helped). Every incident is, of course, multifactorial, but there’s a simple reason that more skydivers haven’t been grievously injured or killed in these crashes: correctly installed, correctly used seatbelts. In an incident that involves a loss of power after takeoff and forces a landing, it’s seatbelts that save the jumpers’ (and pilots’) hides.
    It hasn’t always been this way. Seatbelts for skydivers used to be just as casual as seatbelts for motorists used to be, in the good-old-bad-old days. In the late 1970s, very few jump planes had seat belts. Single-Cessna DZs flew third-hand airplanes that were gutted to reduce weight, while large "destination" DZs flew World War 2 surplus DC-3s and Beech 18s. These war-surplus airplanes had been through so many different owners, and gutted so many times, that the original seat belts were an ancient memory. A few rare jumpers counted themselves lucky if they had a frayed cargo strap to hold onto.
    A Change in Policy
    Then a series of bloody accidents in the early 1990s forced the FAA to enforce its preexisting FARs requiring seatbelts for everyone in the sky. These FARS require all skydivers to be seated and belted in for taxi, take-off and landing (as and when that eventuates). It’s easy to forget why this maybe-sometimes-silly-seeming rule was set down, but there’s lots of scar tissue to back it up. Our POPS mamas and papas learned the hard way, so we don’t have to.
    The first tragedy in this particular series struck at Perris in April of 1992. Contaminated fuel caused a Twin Otter--containing two pilots and twenty jumpers--to lose power at 200 feet over the runway. The engine failed, and the pilot feathered the wrong prop, causing a total loss of thrust. When it came back down, the aircraft over-ran the runway into a drainage ditch. The airplane slammed to an abrupt halt. The fuselage collapsed all the way back to the bulkhead at the rear of the cockpit, killing both pilots instantly and sliding the unbelted skydivers to the front of the cabin, crushing or asphyxiating each other in the process. Six skydivers were taken to the hospital with serious injuries. Sixteen died. (For a detailed account, read survivor Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld's book, "Above all Else." Make sure you have Kleenex available when you do.)
    The second pivotal crash occurred Labour Day 1992, in Hinckley, Illinois. That day, a Beech 18, full of holiday tandems, lost an engine shortly after take-off. They never climbed high enough to bail out. The pilot prepared to force-land in a farmer's field, but got too slow when he reduced power on the good engine. The Beech stalled, flipped and dumped the unbelted jumpers on their heads. Everyone on board was killed.
    At one of the many, many Hinckley ash dives, Jack Hooker brought a keg of beer and told the gathered mourners that he had been working on a solution. He had installed prototype seatbelts in the Cessna 182 that hauled jumpers during slow days at Hinckley. He sewed custom seatbelts for aerobatic, glider and warbird pilots.
    It’s a good thing he was on it. Over the winter of 1992/1993, the Federal Aviation Adminisration laid down the law for the USPA: either make seatbelts fashionable, or suffer industry-crushing regulatory consequences. From there, the USPA did a commendable job of popularizing seatbelts among skydivers. During the first AFFI course of January 1993, candidates were told to belt themselves in before taxi or they’d fail the evaluation dive. At the time, it was revolutionary, but the policy was vindicated a few months later--in the spring of 1993--when another Twin Beech crashed near Xenia, Ohio and everyone onboard survived. Soon, seatbelts became the new norm almost everywhere.
    No Guarantees
    “Almost everywhere,” unfortunately, hasn’t been able to save everybody.
    In July of 2006, a Twin Otter crashed in Missouri. There were some seatbelts involved, but they were incorrectly installed and incorrectly used. Unrestrained skydivers slammed into belted skydivers at high speeds. All but two skydivers were killed; the two survivors were critically injured. One of those survivors, an American Airlines pilot, was paralyzed in the accident, therefore losing his career. He took his own life.
    On August 3, 2008, a Lodi, California-based King Air had a forced landing near Pitt Meadows, Canada. Because the plane had been fitted with just enough seatbelts to satisfy the FAA, but versions that were too short to wrap around the jumpers’ waists. As a result, only the pilot wore a lap-belt--and he was the least injured, because he had a proper seat and seatback. In the hard landing, all seven skydivers slammed forward in the cabin. Nobody died, but everyone on the load suffered grievously, and the jumper on the bottom of the pile ended up with a life-changing list of brain injuries.
    These days, seatbelts are de rigueur on non-sketchball dropzones around the world--and that’s a relief, because their importance goes well beyond their stopping power in the event of an actual-factual crash. In the next installment, we’ll talk about how seatbelts affect everything from general flight efficiency to wild evasive swerving.

    By nettenette, in General,

    Nailing “The Most Technical Demo Jump in Skydiving”

    At Work With Kenyon Salo and Team Thunderstorm
    Kenyon Salo stays pretty busy. When I talk to him, he’s been -- well -- kinda slammed.
    “I’ve been doing a lot of skydiving, a little bit of BASE jumping, lots of wingsuiting, building the brand of The Bucket List Life, a dynamic lifestyle design community, doing a lot of keynotes, running a bunch of seminars and trainings...” He pauses for a moment. “And I’m leaving for Cozumel in half an hour to go scuba diving for a week. I should probably pack.”
    Kenyon’s also a professional exhibition skydiver. He’s an athlete on not one, but two skydiving demonstration teams. He’s on the Mile-Hi Demonstration Team (the home team for his dropzone, Mile-Hi Skydiving), which does high-profile demo jumps all over the state. He’s also on the official Denver Broncos parachute team: “Team Thunderstorm.” Thunderstorm is unique in the world: no other team in the NFL has their own team of professional parachutists. The team jumps into every single home game.
    That would be impressive in and of itself, of course -- but there’s more. The Broncos stadium is as unique as the team that jumps into it. It’s one of the steepest, tightest sports stadiums in the United States. Oh -- and the entire stadium is criss-crossed with metal cables during the high profile games (which is more often than not, since the Denver Broncos are Super Bowl Champions).
    “As far as exhibition jumping is concerned, the Bronco’s stadium -- or “Sports Authority Field,” as it’s known officially -- is the diamond. There is a not a harder stadium that’s being jumped right now,” Kenyon explains. “A lot of the older stadiums are really splayed out, where the Bronco’s stadium is really upright. And then there are the cables, of course. This is the most technical demo jump in skydiving.”
    To do what Kenyon and his team do on game day, you have to have quite a resume: you have to be a competition-level swooper, you have to be able to speak eloquently to the media, and you have to land a tiny parachute in wicked conditions. Perfectly. Every. Single. Time. That is, to say the least, a difficult job position to fill. Understandably, Team Thunderstorm is small. It has six members, no more, no less: Jimmy Tranter, Stuart Schoenfeld, Justin Thornton, Kenyon Salo and Allison Reay. The number never changes. If one of the jumpers is unavailable on the day of the jump, that jumper is not subbed out.
    “The six of us know each other’s flying with great precision,” Kenyon explains, “And we can predict each other, every time. That safety is worth its weight in gold.”
    The Air Force used to get into that stadium with 250- or 260-square-foot canopies, navigating the stadium’s unusual topography by sinking their big canopies perilously in and executing a low turn before setting them down. It worked. But then the stadium installed more cables and the pre-game show wanted a higher-speed exhibition. Team Thunderstorm had to envision a better way -- and they did.
    “We decided to jump 97-to-120-square-foot Spectres,” Kenyon says. “The reason we jump those is because we have to dive the parachute across the crowd while still keeping a mandated 50-foot distance above them. We do hook turns into the stadium, down the stands, carving right. We pop a toggle at something like 150 feet, then carve across the field, then land.”
    “Basically, it’s like parallel parking a Ferrari at 60 miles an hour,” he laughs. “And 99% of the time, we stop between the 20 yard line and the end zone.”
    The first time Kenyon made the jump he describes as a moment of “terrifying confidence.” He knew he could do it -- after all, he’d made dozens of successful jumps into the empty stadium before he got the green light to join the team on game day.
    “Prior to being accepted as a team member,” Kenyon says, “I’d take advantage of any practice day I could get. I did a lot of practice when there were no actual games on the field. But I was also practicing at the dropzone. I would fly that canopy as much as I could -- work hard on the turn -- and work with Jimmy Tranter, a phenomenal canopy coach for brand new jumpers as well as for Team Thunderstorm, who gave the final okay to DZO and Team Thunderstorm Organizer Frank Casaras, for me to join the team on game days. Jimmy has got 25,000 jumps. When he speaks, everybody listens.”
    That constant practice is vital for a jump like this. Even without the dizzyingly steep sides and cable obstacles at the Broncos stadium, stadium jumps are so legendary that they have their own classification in the taxonomy of exhibition jumping. (The classifications are, in order of difficulty: Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 -- and “Stadium.”) This is true because of the super-challenging conditions a stadium creates. The rim of a stadium creates puckering turbulence as the wind hits it from the outside, spilling rough air down into the bowl. These conditions are not for the faint-of-heart.
    “When we come over that rim,” Kenyon says, “We have to be prepared for anything and everything. You can easily have 12 mile-an-hour wind at the rim and no wind on the field, so that means within 300 feet of difference in altitude you have got a huge difference in wind speed. And it’s often in different directions.”
    “Our small canopies help with that,” he continues, “Because, as we dive through the stadium, speed equals lift -- and the fluid dynamics also make the canopy rigid for smooth flying and landings.
    In the Bronco’s stadium, time runs in milliseconds. From the point you come over the rim -- and by that time, you are going very quickly down the field -- you are flying through and underneath a netting of metal cables.
    “There’s a single place you can enter,” Kenyon explains. “As soon as you do, you’re moving across the field very quickly, and you’re avoiding those cables. All the cables for the field goal cameras sit at 150 feet. The skycam cables come from the top corners and extend down diagonally; there’s around 350 feet of cable there, stretching down to a point the ground from two directions.” He gives a sideways grin. “It’s very challenging, yet every team member is absolutely prepared mentally and professionally for this demonstration.”
    Challenging, yes. Injurious -- not so far. At time of publication, Team Thunderstorm boasted a 100% safety record. Every team jumper has landed on the field on every single jump, with no close calls.
    “We have strict parameters that we must follow that are set forth by the USPA (United States Parachute Association) for how demos of this level and caliber must be handled,” Kenyon continues, “Sometimes we have to call it because the cloud ceiling is too low or the winds are beyond our limits. It’s those moments that make this team professional because we always err on the side of caution to make sure safety is paramount.”
    “Something Jimmy Trantor taught us, which I hold in the highest regard, is that we must constantly update our mental map on these jumps,” Kenyon articulates. “It’s a running inner monologue that focuses your awareness. ‘I made the turn; ‘the winds have changed;’ ‘I’m going down the crowd now;’ ‘I’m getting a little crosswind over here;’ ‘I’m a little bit over the sideline, I’m bringing it back over the center;’ ‘the field is a little wet;’ update, update, update. We spend the entire jump updating our mental patterns and adjusting. Immediately.”
    It’s a zen exercise to keep a high-quality inner monologue going in a stadium situation -- sometimes at night, with pyro; sometimes in wild conditions; always, with the throbbing energy of a massive, excited crowd.
    “There’s nothing like jumping out of the plane at 5,000 feet and already hearing the crowd beneath you,” Kenyon exudes. “The crowd sees us exit and just erupts. They are screaming and yelling, and you’re suddenly filled with the knowledge that you’re doing it for them -- the fans that have supported you for seven seasons running; for the camaraderie of the team around you; for the guys playing great football.”
    And for the love of skydiving, of course.

    By nettenette, in General,

    Parachutes to Paragliders: How Skydivers Can Keep It Up Without Crashing Out

    The author launches her Ozone Firefly into the Lesotho sky Paragliding (and its zippier cousin, speedflying) owes much to skydiving. From the early footage of a group of 1970s skydivers ground launching their parachutes off of small hills to the early ram-air skydiving canopies used for quick descents by French mountaineers, the sports have had innumerable points of crossover. The sports only truly split in the later 1980s, when engineers started to redesign the ram-air canopy to stay in the sky like its triangular free-flying cousin, the hang glider.
    The modern paraglider (and speedwing, for that matter) is, indeed, similar in some points of design to a steerable skydiving canopy. That surface similarity leads a lot of athletes to throw themselves bodily into the mission of crossing over--often, by buying a secondhand wing and hauling it up a hill for some trial-and-error training.
    I can’t even start to tell you what a bad idea that is.
    To the untrained eye, a wing may look similar to a skydiving canopy. The differences, however, are plentiful. They are important. Ignore them at your peril, dear reader.
    Any skydiver looking to kick off a career under a paraglider or a speedwing must be crystal-clear on one concept: the two airfoils have very different flight characteristics, which require completely different pilot technique in order to fly well and safely. Here’s how.
    1. Know this: This nylon, she is a stranger to you.
    First, let’s get one thing out of the way: paragliders and speedwings are not parachutes. They are foot-launched airfoils, only packed into a bag for storage and transport, then laid carefully out on the ground at the launch and coaxed into the airflow by a strapped-in pilot. Among other things, neither paragliders nor speedwings have drogues, sliders or containers.
    The wing attaches to the system with carabiners. They have thinner, more complicated risers. They have many, many more cells than their parachute cousins. Make no mistake: these are different beasts almost everywhere you look, once you’re really looking.
    Most importantly: Unlike a parachute, a paraglider never has to deploy. Therefore, designers are able to focus on building much higher-performance flight characteristics into the wing than a skydiving canopy can deliver.
    2. Check your ego.
    Do not make the mistake of thinking that, since you’re a skydiver, you’ll be able to pick up a paraglider and teach yourself to fly. You can not, meat muppet. It is vital to seek out proper instruction.
    As a student paraglider pilot, you won’t throw yourself into the air right away. Instead, you can expect to spend plenty of time on the ground, ground handling (“kiting”) and launching a beginner wing in various conditions.
    You’ll also be learning how to manage an airfoil that is very large (and very opinionated) compared to the wee little scrap of nylon that saves your life when you jump from a plane.
    Example: This author knows one very famous, legendarily talented BASE jumper and world-champion skydiver who has suffered exactly one bad injury in his airsports career. The mechanism of injury was a self-taught paragliding kiting session gone terribly awry. Guaranteed, this was a guy who had way more of a right to insist that he was going to be fine than you do. Ow.
    As a student learning under a licensed PG/speedflying instructor, you’ll learn the procedures for managing these dynamic changes in flight characteristics. Often, the appropriate response is entirely different to the actions you’d take as a skydiver. You are going to need these hot tips as you progress.
    3. Shake your bad habits.
    If you ask a PG/speedflying instructor what it’s like to teach the sport to an experienced skydiver, they’ll tell you that such students tend to have a few bad habits:
    Immediately running for take-off instead of kiting the wing (which is one of the best ways to gauge the conditions and “warm up” for the flight)
    Over-reliance on the brakes as opposed to weight-shift, leading to dangerously “toggle-happy” behavior
    Poor handling of collapses and stalls, which results in painful forehead-slapping injuries on the part of the instructor
    Little patience for the important work of learning aerodynamics and meteorology
    Reduced caution regarding flying conditions and personal limitations If you see yourself exhibiting these traits, chickity-check yourself posthaste. Don’t be a “typical skydiver” on the hill and give the “real” pilots more reason to refer to themselves as “real” pilots.
    4. Become an amateur meteorologist.
    If you’re an experienced skydiver, you’re undoubtedly used to knowing exactly two things about the weather: if it’s too windy to jump, or if it’s too cloudy to jump. Once you take up paragliding and speedflying, get ready to add, like, hundreds of layers of complexity.
    Launching, landing and flying a paraglider or a speedwing isn’t the end of the game. The heart of paragliding is lots of time spent in a very active sky, so students of the sport must learn a lot about both macro- and micro-meteorology. You must learn about the effect of terrain – literally, from mountains to molehills – on wind patterns, about the different types of clouds, about atmospheric stability, about daily weather cycles and about thousands of other subtleties of the sky you play in.
    5. Get used to “parawaiting.”
    On the launch, there will be no announcement from manifest telling you to get your gear on. You and you alone will make the call as to whether or not it’s safe and appropriate to fly. Especially if you branch out into the solo-launch-intensive hike-and-fly side of the sport, your individual skill, judgement and discipline will rule the day.
    In many cases, your judgement will tell you to sit down and wait – sometimes, hours – for conditions to improve. In other cases, you’ll have to bin flying for the day. Hike-and-fly pilots may have a long, grumpy hike back to the car. Parawaiting is part of the sport. Accept it.
    Sure, it’s not skydiving – but that’s why you want to branch out, no? Done intelligently, cross-disciplinary training will only make you a better, stronger, smarter extreme athlete. Rise to the challenge.

    By nettenette, in General,

    Overcome Skydiving Fears

    Your palms are sweating, stomach turning…no this isn’t a scene from the movie 8 Mile this is your first skydive jump, but don’t worry we’ve all been there. We understand the gut that it takes to make that first jump, and we take every tandem jump seriously, first-timer or not, so RushCube put together our “5 Ways To Overcome Skydiving Fears”
    1. SEE FEAR FOR WHAT IT ACTUALLY IS.
    It’s all in your head. You’ve heard the saying “FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real” and that’s what your concerns are. Statistically skydiving is safer today than it’s ever been.
    2. THE BIGGER PICTURE
    What seems like a couple of minutes is actually a life-changing moment that YOU experienced, a fear that you overcame and no one can take that from you. Who knows this could be the start to a list of fears you overcome.
    3. BE PROACTIVE
    Take that fear/negative energy and use it as fuel to push forward. Like to be in control? Ask as many questions as you need, remember your safety is our number 1 concern. Why not volunteer to help pilot the canopy, taking your mind off of fear.
    4. BRING YOUR FRIENDS
    What’s more relaxing than some familiar faces along your journey, who’s knows you might be overcoming a fear together.
    5. ALL IS CALM
    You more you know the more at peace you’ll be so do some research before heading out. While at the drop zone you’ll notice many skydivers on their phones, packing (para)chutes, or eating a sandwich, but none will be nervous this is because they all did their research and paid attention to the instructors. Again your safety is our concern.
    Skydiving is the most adrenaline-packed sport that there is. Nothing is more exciting than taking that first step off of the plane. After the parachute is open and you take a deep breath, you’ll have a moment to realize what you have just accomplished, and a few minutes to enjoy a breathtaking view. These moments are what fuels our passion.
    More Articles Found @ http://rush-cube.blogspot.com/

    By RushCube, in General,

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