The Art of DZOing

    Meet the Forces of Nature That Turn Your Loads
    Originally published 2014. Postscript follows.
    Dan McNulty - Skydive the Wasatch
    When I call, it’s 7:00 p.m. for me. It’s 6:30 a.m. in Afghanistan, where Dan McNulty is talking to me (presumably, with a big mug of coffee in-hand).
    Dan’s about to become the proud owner of a brand-new drop zone in Nephi, Utah – a quiet little one-horse town about an hour south of Salt Lake City along highway 15. The airfield is sized just-right for the easy-going, mom-and-pop affair Dan envisons: four tidy hangers, a well-maintained runway and acres of green grass for soft landings. Mt. Nebo, the highest point in the entire Wasatch and the snow capped centerpiece of the southern range, rises to a majestic 11,928 feet just alongside. Dan closes on his hangar next week. He’s stoked.
    He’s never actually seen the airfield, but that doesn’t bother him a bit. He’s already named it, even: Skydive the Wasatch, naturally.
    The season starts the second week in April. He gets home from Afghanistan March 26th.
    In just weeks, then, he’ll be adding a three-letter acronym to his name that only a few hundred other humans can claim: “DZO” – Drop zone Owner.
    Skydive the Wasatch didn’t happen overnight. Dan’s been working on this for almost two years – almost entirely remotely, patching it all together with emails and phone calls. Seeing little growth on the horizon of his current job as a security contractor in Afghanistan and being very familiar with the skydiving industry, he decided that opening a drop zone was, in his words, a “natural progression.”
    After an abortive attempt to set up shop on an airfield in the Heber Valley, which ended up effectively denying skydiving access with a combination of prohibitive policies and price-outs, Dan discovered the pretty little airfield in the placidly agrarian town of Nephi.
    “It turns out that Nephi is perfect,” Dan says. “It has everything we need. It’s close to Salt Lake City and Provo. And the city is really excited for skydiving to come to town, which is really rare and really important.” When the papers were signed, Skydive the Wasatch was effectively born (though it won’t be open for business until springtime).

    Dan McNaulty To run a skydiving operation, you need a plane. Working from Afghanistan, Dan sourced an aircraft from Skydive New Mexico, a DZ with – uniquely – the same altitude as Nephi, 5,000 feet ASL. He knows, then, that this particular souped-up Cessna 182 can do the same trick for him as it did for them: climb 11,500 feet in a crisp 20 minutes. The pilot is a Moab expat with a few hundred hours flying skydivers at Skydive Canyon lands, another high-altitude drop zone.
    “We’re starting streamlined,” Dan says. “The basics. We’ll build as we grow. And we do intend to grow.”
    John Hamilton - Skydive Elsinore
    John Hamilton, the owner and General Manager of Skydive Elsinore, knows all about growth.
    Though Skydive Elsinore has been an operating drop zone since 1959, the landscape of the sport has changed almost unrecognizable since he bought Skydive Elsinore with business partner Karl Gulledge. Since then, “Elsi” has burgeoned from its previous status as a small-but-historic airfield to one of the largest, highest-grossing drop zones in the world. To date, Skydive Elsinore hasn’t just hucked hundreds of thousands of skydivers over the rolling landscape aside the soaring Ortega mountain range. It has been a key partner to the advancement of parachuting technology and aerospace at large, hosting scientific studies for JPL, Pioneer Aerospace, Airborne Systems, Vertigo Inc., JSAF, Cirrus Aircraft Recovery Systems and a great many of the world’s elite air force parachuting groups.
    “When I first became a DZO, big surprises were a daily occurrence,” John remembers. “I guess in the beginning I can look back and say that ignorance was a form of bliss.” He laughs. “I don’t know if I ever would have taken on the challenges that awaited me if I really knew what I was getting into.”
    Part of John’s blissful ignorance was that he was about to become an unwilling expert in the formation of companies, legal issues, governmental regulations, employment challenges, marketing, accounting, customer service, budgeting, banking regulations, web development, social marketing, online community-building, search engine optimization and a long list of other non-skydiving-related subjects. He also had a crash course in effective communication, which he hails as the most valuable weapon in his DZO arsenal.
    “At the beginning, I felt like I was eating an elephant, one small nibble at a time,” he says, his smile wry.
    John’s relationship with skydiving has evolved from a “pure passion for the sport” to a round-the-clock focus on the business. He admits to sometimes losing sight of that original passion – he was a BASE jumper and a competitive 4-way skydiver, after all – in the thick tangle of ownership responsibilities. As he relates them, he peeks out toward the sky, a grin suddenly playing at the corners of his mouth.
    “You have to keep the balance. When I get lost in all this, the plane is right outside my office. I can always make a sunset load. It does the trick.”

    John Hamilton While skydiving remained relatively predictable in its equipment and disciplines for many years at the beginning of John’s tenure, the pace has picked up significantly. “In today’s skydiving industry, challenges arrive almost overnight,” he asserts, “And they change just as fast.” Modern DZOs must constantly adapt to the logistical, safety and economic challenges posed by the sport’s ever-changing pantheon of disciplines.
    “With the advent of horizontal flight – wingsuiting, tracking, angle flying, etcetera – we have had the challenge of integrating a whole list of new safety policies, while at the same time working with the governmental agencies who govern our sport.”
    “The feedback from our jumpers varies widely,” he continues, “and much of it makes me think that the vast proportion of jumpers don’t understand the hard work we must do in order for them to enjoy these new methods and technologies. It’s about so much more than the sum of its parts, and jumper cooperation is key, but I am ultimately responsible for the safety conducted on the drop zone.”
    John refuses to create an atmosphere that influences younger jumpers to push their own abilities too far. He’s known for his tireless encouragement of Elsinore’s instructional staff – and experienced jumpers, too – to lead by example, even as the community undergoes exponential growth.
    “I understand the thrill for newer skydivers to want to push the limits of disciplines in the sport. Trust me, I do. But it’s important for those jumpers to understand that keeping a safe culture lets us all continue to skydive.”
    Elsinore’s track record, for the number of jumps made here, is stellar. However, it’s a numbers game – and it doesn’t always work.
    “The biggest headaches of my job are, almost without exception, those that stem around the many legal risks and challenges associated with running a skydiving center – the intersection of personal responsibility and DZ responsibility, for the most part.” John pauses. “For example: a student will turn themselves into the ground, then will doggedly challenge the waiver and try to find blame in everyone else, without taking any responsibility for their own actions.”
    “It’s challenging, yeah. It can be a Herculean undertaking.” He pauses. “However – I get to see people’s faces after they land from that first tandem skydive. I get to know that I was part of that life-changing event for every one of them. It brings a huge smile to my face, every time. I get to help the next generation of skydivers grow as athletes and as people. It is absolutely worth it.”
    In passing, I tell John about Dan McNulty and his new drop zone in Nephi. John leans in.
    “Here’s what I’ve learned from my experience: Find a good lawyer. Then find a good accountant,” he says. “Also: It may seem unnecessary – counterproductive, even – but do things by the book in all cases. You may think you’re saving money, or even making money, by doing one or two things in the proverbial grey area. You’re not. Trust me.”
    He continues. “Learn to accept the rule of thirds: one-third of the people you deal with will like you, another third will tolerate you – and the last third won’t like you one bit. That doesn’t matter.” He takes a level breath. “When you’re dealing with a difficult situation, forget about public opinion and ask yourself the following before you communicate a response: am I doing this because it’s the right thing to do, or because I want to prove myself right? The answer is almost always obvious.”
    Lelo Mraz & Claudia Blank - Skydive Taft
    It’s unsurprising that John inspired others to follow a similar path: specifically, two good-looking Brazilian kids with megawatt smiles.
    Lelo Mraz and Claudia Blank have been beloved members of the Southern California skydiving world for a couple of decades. Recently, they joined business partner Michael Choi to become the proud new owners of their own facility: Skydive Taft.
    Lelo and Claudia arrived in Redondo Beach in the early 2000s from different small towns in their shared native country, and promptly fell in love. Lelo had started jumping seriously in Brazil back in 1995; he’d logged hundreds of hours in the Perris sky and tunnel by the time the two showed up to Elsinore as a pair. Claudia, on the other hand, hadn’t made so much as a tandem. Suddenly, in 2008, she decided offhand to do a jump. Naturally, Lelo ran outside video. By 2009, Claudia was an inveterate skydiver and, like Lelo, had a full-time job at the Skydive Elsinore DZ.
    The pair loved their jobs. They loved the Elsi community. They loved the skydiving. But they’re also clever, enthusiastic folks who love a challenge, and Lelo knew they couldn’t stay there forever.
    “I came up with the drop zone idea a couple of years ago,” Lelo remembers. “I’ve always known that I wanted my own business, and I know skydiving really well, so I was kicking around business plans, trying to come up with numbers that would be workable.”
    “I first looked into wind tunnels, but the investment is around ten million dollars. When I started to investigate drop zones, the money part started to make sense.”
    He started talking to mentors: not just John Hammond, Karl and Laurent “Lob” Lobjoit from Elsinore, but Rich Greene from Oceanside, as well as other pros who had walked the mine-strewn path before him.

    Lelo Mraz & Claudia Blank It took time, of course.
    “I spent a lot of time looking into airfields around California – we love California, and definitely didn’t want to leave. Nothing seemed to work, though. Then one day I was joking with my partner, Michael Choi, that maybe we should go check out Taft – even though it’s in the middle of nowhere – and that day, I saw an ad that it was for sale. It seemed like it was meant to be.”
    From there, things moved quickly. There were signatures on the paperwork by last October, and the new crew took over the DZ on November first.
    The Taft airfield is surprisingly big for its slightly out-of-the-way location. It has several hangars, a paved runway, two parking lots, a huge landing area and plenty of room for an active community of jumpers to settle in. So far, the pair is strategically running a small plane and slowly, thoughtfully rolling out a master plan for the DZ to be a regional center for training, rigging, courses and ratings.
    It’s no easy task for young entrepreneurs – especially, for longtime members of the skydiving community – to take over a dropzone that’s been operating for as many years as Skydive Taft. Over the facility’s 24-year history, it had accrued a small-but-very-loyal following of fun jumpers who hadn’t seen much in the way of change before Lelo and Claudia appeared smilingly in the office. Ever.
    “Most people like us, and we try hard to be fair, but we had to implement some policies that we felt to be extremely important from a safety standpoint,” Claudia explains. “A lot of the people who have been at Taft for so many years feel like it's their drop zone – like they own it. We don’t want to lose them, but some people get angry if we even move a couch.”
    She continues, “We decided to make changes little by little, taking a more careful approach than we thought we’d have to take.” Claudia gives a wry smile. “So far, so good. But it isn’t easy.”
    Leaving the tight community at Elsinore, too, was a struggle – and remains so, as the move is still fresh.
    “I can honestly say that I had no complaints at all about our ‘old life’ in Elsinore,” Claudia muses. “It was so hard to completely walk away from what was already a dream job. I made money on the weekends and jumped for fun on the weekdays at one of the most beautiful DZs in the world. I loved it, and I loved my coworkers.”
    “I was in denial until we finally had the paperwork,” she continues, “I knew that as soon as I made it official and quit, there was no turning back, even though they made sure to tell us that the door would always be open. This process – it changes something inside of you.”
    The Elsinore team threw Lelo and Claudia a huge, very-well-attended farewell party, popping up with little surprises all day long, paying for as many jumps as the couple wanted to do and dedicating one of the drop zone’s signature paving tiles to them as a memento of their long service. There were tears.
    It’s hard to spend time in nostalgia, however, when you have so much on your plate. For example, the first big boogie for the new drop zone is just around the corner: the Cal City Reunion, on March 22nd. Taft is sporting a bigger plane for the event and getting ready to welcome its biggest-ever crowds.
    “For now, we're really new. We have a lot to learn. We have been going with the flow, but being very strategic with funding. We're not going into debt; we're working with savings. It was a leap of faith, but now – even though it’s winter – business is picking up, and money is coming in, so we feel OK.”
    Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, Dan McNulty is working on the final details of the Skydive the Wasatch process. The tandem rigs are already bought and inspected,
    Today’s checklist includes arranging for delivery of the plane and closing on the hangar.
    “This has been a very creative process, so far,” Dan notes. “When I set out to do this, I was sure about one thing – that I'd never work for anyone else, ever again. It means that I am 100 percent responsible, for better or for worse. But it means that everything I do means something.
    John Hammond seconds the sentiment. “Just when I think I’ve seen it all,” he laughs, “I am quickly reminded that I haven’t. Each and every day I run this dropzone brings new people, new challenges and new surprises.”
    There is, clearly, an art to DZOing.

    ----------- Postscript: In the seasons since this article’s first publication, both Skydive the Wasatch and Taft have, predictably, thrived. Claudia and Lelo are hosting the full-on Liquid Sky Free fall Fest in August. Dan McNulty has even picked up another drop zone: Piedmont Skydiving, in North Carolina.
    Go jump with these guys and give ‘em a high-five!

    By nettenette, in General,

    Turbulence Is Trying To Hide From You - Here’s Where to Look

    Image by Brian Buckland Remember hide-and-go-seek? Well: you’re probably better at it than turbulence.
    So why are so many skydivers still caught off-guard?
    The answer is probably--predictably--complacency. After all, skydivers aren’t as vigilant about rough air as, say, paragliding pilots. That said: the devil’s invisible rodeo remains a serious hazard for every single person in the air, whether or not their ram-air is meant to get them down instead of up.
    Most of the time, you’re gonna be lucky. You’ll meet turbulence under a skydiving canopy high enough above the ground that you’ll just rumble around for a little bit before cruising into smoother air.
    Sometimes, though, your luck will run out. When those bumps happen in close proximity to the ground, turbulence tells a very different (and sometimes quite painful) story. Don’t despair--you can use your grownup-level hide-and-go-seek skills to stay in one piece.
    Let’s start with the key takeaway: Like the dumbest kid on the playground, turbulence near the ground tends to stick to a few predictable hiding places.

    They’re gonna hide downwind of solid objects.
    This includes trees, buildings and anything else that’s tall, sticking out of the ground and wider than a flagpole.

    They’re gonna hide above differential ground features.

    You can expect different surfaces--such as the lawn of the landing area and the asphalt next to the hangar--to reflect heat differently. You will feel that difference as, y’know, bumps.

    Also notable: when the sun heats two dissimilar surfaces to different temperatures, dust devils have the conditions they need to form. These “baby tornadoes” are standbys of desert dropzones, and they can form from uneven heating even when the winds are otherwise calm.

    They’re gonna hide behind spinning props.

    Remember shielding your pretty little face from the prop blast as you hopped on the plane? Well, that wind doesn’t go away just because you’re now landing. Keep your parachute (and everything else you care about) well away from the spinning propellers of airplanes chugging away on the ground.

    In fact, keep as clear of any propellor as you can, whether it’s spinning or not, always.

    They’re gonna hide behind other parachutes.

    Parachutes chum up the air (especially behind them) just as much as any other airfoil would. Don’t be surprised when you’re thrown around when you tuck into an ill-advised CReW move--or chase somebody too closely in your landing pattern. Not so bad? Okay. Stop smiling so smugly, though: there are a few factors that make the situation way, way worse. If you bumble into the bumps thrown by these suckers, you’re going to have a bad time.
    Stronger wind. If the wind is pretty much zero on the ground, you can generally get away with landing closer to a turbulence-throwing obstacle than you would if the wind were hauling (or even moderate). If you see movement in the wind indicators, do yourself a favor and keep clear.

    Bigger obstacles. The wind will pretty deftly wrap around a narrow tree. A hangar, however, is another story. Tall walls, outbuildings, silos -- they’ll all be bubbling, toiling and troubling on the lee side when the wind is pushing. According to the USPA: “You can expect to feel the effects of turbulence at a distance as far as 10 to 20 times the height of the obstacle that the wind is blowing across.” Do the math: wind blowing across 50-foot-tall trees can cause turbulence 500 to 1,000 feet downwind. Yikes. One of the first diagrams you’re forced to stare at when you get your initial paragliding license (and every skydiver should, by the way) is one that describes rotor. Since paragliders are basically riding the wind that’s coming off of very, very big obstacles, those rotor diagrams are a good macro view of the turbulence that pours into any wind shadow. As an object gets bigger, those diagrams pretty handily describe the way wind tucks around and churns into the empty space on the other side of it.
    Are you ready to play? Thought so. Now count down from 13,500 and find turbulence before it finds you.

    By nettenette, in General,

    How To Organize Your Sky

    7 Expert Tips For New Skydivers to Get the Most Out of Load Organizers

    Remi Aguila organizing a festive Christmas-boogie jump at Skydive Arizona

    Photo by Alex Swindle The portrait wall next to manifest is confusing for a brand-new skydiver.
    Who are all those people, anyway, with the smiling faces and the discipline names printed in all-caps underneath them? What’s an “Organizer,” really? If you don’t know the etiquette, it can be a little daunting to get on those loads without fear of a forehead-slapping faux pas.
    New skydivers, make no mistake: you are invited.
    Remi Aguila has been organizing belly jumps at one of the biggest, busiest dropzones in the US – Skydive Arizona – since around 2008. Since then, he has organized thousands of skydives for jumpers of all levels, nationalities, aptitudes and proclivities. You can be certain he’s seen your kind before. Here’s what he says you need to know to have a successful experience in the organized sky.
    1. Don’t be shy.
    “Newbies have this tendency to find me in the bar after the day is over and say that they wanted to get on a jump but that they didn’t want to intrude; didn’t want to ‘ruin the skydive.’ That’s missing the point entirely, guys. If there are organizers on your drop zone, go talk to them. Maybe the jumps they’ve currently got going aren’t a great match for your skill level, but a good organizer will find a way to get you in. Most organizers will be happy to split groups into smaller factions that fit more of the jumpers’ goals. They’ll be happy to design a jump for people with less experience – but you have to ask.”
    2. Know who you’re talking to.
    “An organizer is not the same thing as a coach. An organizer’s job is really to get people jumping, and to make sure that people who want to jump with other people can find somebody to jump with. Organizers exist because, even though there’s a lot of casual organizing that goes on between jumpers, most people like – to a certain degree – to be told what to do. An official organizer can facilitate that without being too authoritarian, but still the presence of an organizer on a jump puts a nice bit of structure into the mix.
    A dropzone representative usually hires the organizers at any given DZ. Basically, that hiring manager looks for people that hold a coach rating, that demonstrate skill in their chosen discipline, that have a friendly attitude and that show a solid record of experience in smaller formations. (Most organizers end up doing between two- and eight-way jumps.)
    Don’t get tripped up by the specter of compensation, either. I have never been on a drop zone where somebody who was called an organizer was expected to be paid by the jumpers. There may be some out there; I don’t know. However, I have been jumping for 25 years, and I have never come across a dropzone where somebody who was called a load organizer was expected to be paid directly by the jumpers. At boogies, you generally pay an extra fee to cover the load organizers in general, but you won’t be paying for slots or paying organizers as you would a coach.”
    3. Communicate clearly.
    “You need to start the conversation; the organizer probably won’t approach you first. When you do, introduce yourself confidently. Tell the organizer your skill level and your experience. Tell them what you want to learn.
    I don’t personally know a single organizer that’s going to turn a newbie away out-of-hand. They may, however, tell them that – at the moment, at least – there are too many people on a given jump, or that the jump sits outside of their current abilities, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for them. That said: if you’ve made it clear that you’re new and you’re looking for a jump you can join, then you’ll be on their radar.”
    4. Get the timing right.
    “Where I jump – at Skydive Arizona, in Eloy – showing up on a weekday is your best bet if you’re fresh off student status. It’s a lot less busy, and organizers will more often have the time to do one-on-ones or two-on-ones with new jumpers. You may even get lucky and score some free one-on-one, non-structured coaching from them, whether that’s belly or freefly. Personally, I think that’s a great way to get some foundational experience.
    For instance: If it is a very quiet day and somebody approaches me, I’ll certainly ask what their experience level is, but it’s not going to be a deciding factor as to whether or not I’ll jump with them. If we’re doing one-, two- or three-ways, it doesn’t really matter what the experience level of the person is. They’re going to get on the jump, and they can expect much more feedback than they’d receive on a busier day.”
    5. Be honest.
    “As an organizer, it’s important for me to get a realistic idea of a jumper’s skill level and general awareness level. When you tell me how many jumps you have, I need you be honest about it. If you have 20 jumps, say you have 20 jumps. There’s no point in misrepresenting yourself. If you have 20 jumps and 3 hours in the tunnel, be clear about that. Jump numbers are no longer the absolute measure they used to be, with the introduction of tunnels. However, somebody with 20 skydives is going to have a different skill and awareness level than someone with 200.”
    6. Be open.
    “If you’re a brand-new skydiver, there’s a good chance that you don’t know what you want to do on the jump. A good organizer will have a few basic jumps that are two-ways and three-ways that are ready-made for people that don’t have a lot of experience. These tend to be kind of coachish and workshop basic skills. That’s what really you should be doing at this point.
    For these jumps, we tend to focus on basic turns, slides and levels. The aim is to keep it fun, but also to add factors that build on the basic freefall skills: like procedures for exiting the plane and for separation.
    Some people expect a full-on coach experience, and other people just expect a smile and a high-five. I advise shooting for the middle of that scale.”
    7. Ask for feedback.
    “Immediately after the jump, approach your organizer for a quick debrief. This is key to your development as a skydiver. Make it specific: ‘What do you think I should improve? What do you think went well? What do you think didn’t go well?’ This debrief may not involve video; it may just involve some basic feedback on how the exit went, what aspects you can work to improve and general notes on the jump flow.
    On busier days and on bigger jumps, it’s going to be a little more challenging for your organizer, because he or she might have 20 people that want notes. When that’s the case, it’s incredibly hard to give individual feedback because of the number of people we’re looking out for.
    Always ask. The worst an organizer could say (and I would be very surprised if they did) is that they’re sorry; that they have to run to another load. In that rare case, just brush it off and try again next time. We’re here to facilitate your experience, after all – and to help you have the most fun you can have in the sky.”

    By nettenette, in General,

    Almost 25 Years Later: Some Hazards of Resurrection

    After almost a 25-year hiatus, I came back into the fold, enabled by the last child having gone off to college, and prompted by arthritic hips that were making it too painful to play tennis. I figured some things may have changed, but that I had been aware of them, having kept up my USPA membership and subscription to Parachutist. Well, it’s one thing to be aware of something, and quite another to learn to handle it in real time. In my first year back, I jumped at 5 different dropzones in three countries, so that I saw how the changes have been implemented in some different environments. Here is a list of the things that had changed that awaited my return, and had implications for my safety and the safety of others.
    1. There are seatbelts in these jumpships—a good idea in the event of an unanticipated landing, but one has to learn where they are, remember to take them off, to stow them (especially in small aircraft), and be aware of where they are to avoid entanglement on exit.
    2. Spotting is a thing of the past in many dropzones—just keep your eye on the colored lights! Still, it is a good idea to check where one is, in the event a pilot was tracking the wrong line.
    3. Turbine aircraft now have doors! No more freezing on the way to altitude, or clinging to one’s neighbor to avoid falling out. However, one has to learn when they go up and down, how to secure them, how to close them gently.
    4. Everyone wears their pilot chute above their butt—making deployment a little slower, if one manages to find it (remember the advert in the Parachutist: “Looking for something?”), but avoiding a few other problems. Be sure to practice deployment with the gear you will be using many times on the ground, in a prone position, to develop some muscle memory before going up. And check it constantly—my too-loose BOC pouch let out my pilot chute when I rose from the floor and caught it on something, much to the consternation of the planeload of jumpers whose lives I had just endangered.
    5. Parachutes come in many flavors, and many sizes—gone are the days of one canopy fits all. Most of today’s canopies are very touchy, and downright skittish, react to the slightest input, and take far more concentration in the last few hundred feet of descent. Everybody swoops, to some degree, and some DZs have abandoned upkeep of their pea gravel because nobody uses it. I found it easier to land an original Sabre 170 than a Sabre II 190, and I am sure I will not be going for a fully elliptical canopy—at my age, I have to avoid the 1-in-500 jump mishaps that can maim one for life. Essentially, skydivers have invented a whole new way to die—turn low, and drive into the ground at 60mph.
    6. There are many minor innovations in skydiving gear, too many to mention—just make sure you know how everything works on your rig, and why it is the way it is.
    7. Everybody PRO-packs, or uses some variant—although I had had several people show me how to do it, and watched all the videos, etc., in my first dozen attempts, I packed one malfunction, and had to get more private instruction in a quiet place.
    8. People fly landing patterns—e.g. left-hand, with turns at 1000, 600, 300 feet--in the old days, even with 20 jumpers in the air, we all did pretty much what we wanted and hoped for the best; now, even a 4-way requires paying attention to the landing pattern.
    9. Breakoff for belly-flying is much higher—instead of separating an 8-way at 3500, now 4500 or even 5000 is the time to say goodbye. Coupled with the higher minimum opening altitude of 2500, this makes for a much more reasonable margin for error—and as humans, we are prone to error.
    10. There are now many different skydiving disciplines, and you have to learn about them, and pay attention to exit order, as one jump run may let out belly flyers, freeflyers, angle flyers, trackers, wingsuiters, and tandems, as well as people who haven’t made up their mind before boarding exactly what they are planning to do.
    11. AADs are now required most places—no longer shunned as devices that might blow up in your face. RSLs are also ubiquitous—both systems have saved many, many lives.
    12. There are lots of old jumpers now—few old bold ones—and they have learned a lot about how to be safe over their last quarter century, while I’ve been taking kids to soccer practice. Pepper them with all sorts of questions, and do not rush to emulate the 22-year-olds out there. They likely have gone through a much more comprehensive training program than you have, including courses on canopy control and instruction on equipment safety.
    My personal rule, which I have not seen enunciated elsewhere:

    On any given jump, DO NOT INTRODUCE MORE THAN ONE NEW PIECE OF EQUIPMENT, or new way of using a piece of equipment. Of course, your first couple of recurrency jumps will necessitate breaking this rule—but don’t go out of your way to put a camera on, or add anything other than what is absolutely necessary. Example: If you get a new jumpsuit, don’t also try a new helmet on the same jump. Or, if you do, go out on a solo jump.
    Addendum: Do your homework. I recently was caught in a dust devil at 100ft or so, which completely collapsed my canopy, and I credit my reactions and walk-away landing to a video and a book, both by Brian Germain, which I had studied in detail.
    Larry Moulton, C-11371, EET #22, is a professor of international health and biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University.

    By lhmoulton, in General,

    How to Approach Your Recurrency Skydive

    Image by Joel Strickland What’s the second-scariest thing in the world? Probably, it’s the open door of a plane at altitude as seen through the eyes of an AFF-1 student. Remember that moment? Most of us do.
    What’s the first-scariest thing in the world? Arguably: the open door of a plane at altitude, seen through the eyes of a skydiver doing a recurrency jump after a long hiatus.
    Coming back to skydiving after a long time on the ground is an inarguably intense experience -- possibly even a bit more so than the first time your feet left the plane. First of all, you know a lot more about what can go wrong. You’re likely to feel a lot more pressure to perform “like an old pro,” which never helps matters. And -- if you took that time off to heal an injury that grounded you -- you’re getting back on the horse, cowboy/girl, and that ain’t no easy thing.
    How do you approach recurrency with the best chance of a successful reintroduction to the wild blue yonder? The same way you do everything else in airsports: mindfully, methodically and with a lot of sensitivity to your unique position in the sport and emotional biome.
    1. Know the actual rules.
    The United States Parachute Association gives these guidelines for recurrency in the Skydiver's Information Manual. (Non-American skydivers may have different exact guidelines to follow.)
    A License
    “USPA A-license holders who have not made a freefall skydive within 60 days should make at least one jump under the supervision of a currently rated USPA instructional rating holder until demonstrating altitude awareness, freefall control on all axes, tracking, and canopy skills sufficient for safely jumping in groups.”
    B License
    “USPA B-license holders who have not made a freefall skydive within the preceding 90 days should make at least one jump under the supervision of a USPA instructional rating holder until demonstrating the ability to safely exercise the privileges of that license.
    C and D License
    “USPA C- and D-license holders who have not made a freefall skydive within the preceding six months should make at least one jump under the supervision of a USPA instructional rating holder until demonstrating the ability to safely exercise the privileges of that license.”
    2. Lay the emotional groundwork to support your success.
    You’re not the first recurrency-seeker to freak out. Recurrency jumps are often hard -- especially if you're a newer skydiver. Many a lapsed skydiver has turned the car around on the way to the drop zone rather than get back in the sky.
    You’re going to need to use your tools. Call a friend -- even a non-skydiver -- to meet you at the DZ and keep you accountable. Watch videos of your past jumps to remind yourself that you'll be fine (and you'll be ecstatic when you land). Listen to music that gets you stoked. Read journal entries from the time that you were actively skydiving and having an awesome time up there.
    If you were out because of an injury or a medical issue, make sure to chat to your doctor about your intention to reenter the sport. If you need to, get a second opinion -- but hear them out.
    3. Make sure your gear is up to the challenge, too.
    Has your gear been stored for more than a season? You’ll need to take a close look at it before you call it back into action. Parachutes don’t like to sit on the bench, y’know.
    After a longer period of time -- especially if the rig wasn’t stored unpacked in a climate-controlled environment with the stow bands removed -- the materials themselves may start to break down. If your rig has brass grommets on the main d-bag, the metal may have reacted with the rubber of the stow bands (making them hard, brittle, and incapable of doing their snappy little jobs). The ZP coating might have “glued” the cells together to the point where the canopy needs to be manually fluffed out.
    If your magical backpack has been in storage for any extended period of time, it’s smart (and confidence-inspiring) to have a rigger put it through its paces. Get a thorough inspection of all the nylon, the harness and the container, as well as the reserve repack that’s surely due. When it comes back, you’ll know that it’s airworthy (or you can get your hands on something that is).
    4. Recognize your “aliefs” (and how to handle them).
    Coined by philosopher Tamar Gendler, an “alief” is another form of belief, but it’s not the same thing. We hold beliefs in response to what things are. An alief is a response to how things seem. Knowing and feeling that difference on a recurrency jump can bring you a lot of relief. Here’s how it works.
    As a skydiver, you have probably put in plenty of hours packing, gear checking, loading into a plane, exiting a plane, freefalling, flying your canopy and landing. With enough repetition, your brain has stored all these behaviors and recognizes them. On a conscious level, you believe yourself to be perfectly capable of performing the actions of a skydive. However, when you come back after a long hiatus, alief rears its ugly head.
    When you believe you can make a skydive but your body has become unaccustomed to the physical sensations of skydiving, you have an alief. The mental state of alief is a primal form of fear that underlies a moment you know you are safe in your head but your body's not on the same page (i.e. standing on a pane of rock-solid, clear glass, hundreds of feet over a canyon floor).
    Alief is a funny thing: it’s what makes people refuse to drink soup from a factory-fresh bedpan, eat fudge that looks like poop, or pull the trigger of an empty gun with the barrel against their head. It might also keep you from getting on the plane because damnit it just feels wrong.
    If you understand what you’re experiencing, though -- it might not. Let me be the first to high-five you back into the fold, friend.

    By nettenette, in General,

    Employee Development: The Often Ignored, Yet Very Important Aspect of Training

    Image by DeltaBravo As spring draws near it is time once again to start thinking about the summer jumping season. Most drop zones will start to organize their safety day activities, gear will be inspected, and repacks scheduled. However, what many of us forget to do is spending some time developing our coaches and instructors after all, professional skills can be forgotten during the winter months just as easily as safety rules and regulations.
    For many drop zones, instructional development stops after the candidate’s progression card is signed off and the certification is issued. What we fail to realize is that instructional skills are perishable and everyone can benefit from annual employee development training. What I would like to discuss here are some methods the average drop zone can use to develop their instructors. Understandably not all of these are possible at every drop zone, and individual drop zones may have to modify these methods to fit into their procedures, but these are simple and can be done with little imposition on the drop zone. Before I talk about training techniques I would like to discuss certification and training records.
    I am not about to suggest that drop zones start massive files on their people, but the drop zone owner is an employer and even though most of the employees are classified as independent contractors, the DZO/DZM should have a basic training folder for each instructor. Some things that might be useful to include would be copy of class 3 medical certificates for tandem instructors, copies of CPR/First Aid certification cards, awards, and even the latest logbook entry once a year (I’ll discuss the last two more later on). Although none of these items fall into the privacy act, the DZO/DZM should still keep the files locked up and they should only contain the document copies, never the originals. This will prevent the information from being passed around or discussed publicly. Now that we have the staff, and their records are in order, how are we going to mold them?
    To renew an instructor certification, the individual must attend an instructor’s seminar. The majority of the time that seminar is the annual safety day, but instructors need something more. I have heard many DZOs/DZMs make the comment that the requirements to become a certified instructor should be made more stringent. I even heard one person advocate that a coach should have a minimum of 500 jumps. Although that sounds great in theory, logistically it is almost impossible. Instead of just forgetting about instructors and coaches after they have become certified, get them all together once a year. Pick one of them to give the ground portion of the First Jump Course while all the other instructors are the students. This will allow for all of the instructors to provide constructive feedback to each other and it will give the instructors a chance to relearn something they may have forgotten. One thing that is frustrating for a new student is when one instructor says, “Remember? In class you were taught to….” When in fact that was something the other instructor forgot to teach in class. By holding annual employee development training not only will the instructors benefit, but so will the students.
    Free Fall Drills
    Another technique is to practice free fall drills. It happens to all of us. We, as humans, can get sloppy with our techniques overtime. Two instructors or coaches jumping together would be in a position to debrief each other. This can be done as a fun jump, but as long as it is not a free fly jump or a “zoo” dive. After all, we are not free flying with first jump students and they are jumping exact dive plans. I do want to stress at this point that instructors must help each other out. If it is in the plan for one person to act like a first jump student, then act like one, but let’s be honest, how many first jump students actually put their helmet on backwards and start playing with the aircraft controls as soon as they get in the plane? Although I’m sure it does happen on occasion, not to the extent that I see people acting it out when teaching new instructors. Discuss with each other what you have seen over the past year, but don’t make the training so unrealistic that it is ineffective.
    Have an instructor day at the wind tunnel. Since wind tunnels are beginning to spring up in more places take advantage of it. Video the time in the tunnel and spend some time doing dirt drills working on areas that need improvement.
    Emergency Training
    Many DZs will invite the local rescue squad out on safety day and there are others that don’t like to do this because they do not want to scare the new jumpers. I can understand both sides of this, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a dangerous sport. It is a good idea for all instructors to have basic first responder training specific to the types of injuries that could be experienced at the DZ. Subjects such as C-Spine immobilization, when to move an injured person and when not to should be taught to all instructors. What about the injured person’s helmet? Should it be left on or taken off? How do you safely remove an injured person from the swoop pond? When the call is placed into 911, what information is the most helpful? Does the staff know the address to give the 911 operator (that is a good thing to type up and put by the phone, by the way). This brings us back to the training folder.
    One of the things that would be a good idea to keep in the folder would be copies of awards and maybe even a copy of a recent logbook entry. If there is ever an accident or fatality at the DZ, the DZO/DZM will have to deal with the media. By having key information handy, the DZO/DZM will be able to make a quick and informative statement to the press if needed. For example, if someone were to get hurt during a tandem jump, the DZO could say, “This is a very unfortunate accident and we are looking into the cause right now. The instructor is highly experienced and has over 10,000 jumps, 9,000 of them being tandem, and just two months ago was awarded the USPA badge for 50 hours of free fall.” Many people don’t like talking to the press, and that is the subject for another article, but the fact remains; by just saying no comment you leave the uneducated alone to make up their own answers based on hearsay, rumors, and their own fears.
    As you can see, there are various ways for a drop zone to develop their instructors. Although not every way is possible, nor has every possible way been covered, we must remember that drop zones are businesses, instructors are employees, and once in a while, employees need refresher training too.
    Corey Miller C-38834
    Corey has a Master’s Degree in Aeronautical Science, specializing in Human Factors and Education.
    He has over 30 years of experience in both aerospace and military aviation.

    He is currently the Quality and Safety Manager for the ATM Program in Kabul Afghanistan but he calls the Oklahoma Skydiving Center his home.

    By coreyangel, in General,

    Hearing Safety For Skydivers: It’s A Thing

    What Skydivers Don’t Know About The Holes in the Sides of Their Heads

    Image by Lukasz Szymanski There are plenty of things in this life that you don’t want to hear. I know.
    Your girlfriend telling you she’s leaving you for her co-worker who buys roses instead of jump tickets. The wind tunnel peanut gallery tittering at your epic layout biff. The dude at the bonfire yammering on about his siiiiiick proxy flight in his brand-new sponsored Air Mattress 4.
    But what if you never got to hear anything at all anymore? And what if it was your fault?
    If you want to keep the good sounds coming in to your skyward-tilting brain, you’d better take some responsibility. There are probably some things you don’t know about the holes alongside your head, after all.
    1. Hearing loss is forever.
    Once you’ve damaged the lining of your inner ears, there’s nothing that can be done to bring it back. There’s no medication to bring your old ears back -- nor is there a surgery that sets things straight.
    Hearing loss that’s attributable to skydiving happens because of damage to the cilia of the inner ear. (Cilia are the tiny, hair-like cells that vibrate with the pressure of sound waves and tell the brain about it.) Too much exposure to those waves wears them right out. Once they can’t wiggle anymore, it’s over. They don’t bounce back.
    2. You might go crazy, too.
    Alongside general hearing loss, you might get a bonus symptom: tinnitus. If the cilia are bent or broken due to excessive sound exposure, they can dribble out random electrical impulses to your brain, causing you to hear sound where none exists. Basically, this results in a constant ring/roar/buzz/hiss/squeal that lives inside your head 24/7. If that sounds like hell, you’re absolutely right.
    3. It’s louder up there than you think.
    Decibel levels are not linear; they’re logarithmic. Linear measures are measured with addition and subtraction (for example: four miles is twice as long as two miles). Logarithmic measures ratchet up by factors of ten. This means that every increase of 10 on the decibel scale represents a 10-fold increase in the intensity of the sound it measures. Noise that clocks in at 20dB is 10 times louder than a sound of 10dB. 30dB? 100 times louder...so look differently at decibel measures than you do at the numbers in your bank account.
    The noise we’re subjected to on the ride up hovers over 90dB -- which government standards decree is only healthy for around seven and a half minutes. We’re in the tin can for 20-30. You do the math.
    4. Monotony is worse than variety.
    I used to produce music videos for a living (which is less fun than you’d think, but that’s another, boozy story). The production team was always required to provide the crew and talent with earplugs; if the production assistant forgot them, it was crucifixion time. That’s because OSHA, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, enforces requirements limiting workers’ exposure to a time-weighted average noise level of anything over 85 dB.
    As skydivers, we don’t have to listen to that same damn godawful excuse for a song over and over (thank god), but we’re actually exposed to something that’s actually worse for our health than boy bands: level monotony. A long exposure to a same-pitch drone -- such as engine noise -- is more damaging than sounds that change in pitch, like loud music. The droning sound wears away at the cilia with the same sound waves, like waves crashing on the same part of a beach over and over in the same way.
    5. You can plug your holes.
    Many skydivers wear earplugs from gear-up to landing. Some take them out for freefall; others take them out for the canopy ride. Figure out what works for you and allows you to reliably receive information from your audible. It takes some discipline (or self-tricksiness) to remember, but it will help you in the long run. Try keeping a pair taped to your altimeter to help you remember to put them in.
    Helmets with padding over the ears are less effective than earplugs, but they can still help.
    6. You don’t need expensive earplugs to skydive.
    The drugstore cheapies will do. When you place them, make sure they’re snug -- but that you can still feel them move around when you slide your jaw around (so you can equalize pressure, if necessary).
    7. You can still pretend you can’t hear.
    When Siiiiick Wingsuit Proxy Guy looks at you, ever hopeful for adulation, you can still give him back a confused “huh?” and wander off.
    Better yet: take your earplugs to the bonfire.

    By nettenette, in General,

    Is Your Rig Freefly-Friendly or Preemie-Prone

    How to Set Yourself Up For Success

    Image by Joel Strickland It’s time. You’re ready.
    You’re going to point your belly button away from the ground when you fall out of a plane. YES.
    You’re gonna point it at the horizon. You’re going to point it at other people. You’re going to sit around and look at it while you slide backward. You’re going to take your belly button on an amazing adventure.
    But wait: is your container ready to join you on this journey?
    The discipline you’re about to enter -- freeflying -- makes more demands of your skydiving rig than belly flying does. Now that you’re going to start moving around at a full range of angles in the relative wind, you need freefly-friendly equipment.
    But what is a freefly-friendly skydiving rig?
    The simple answer is that it’s a skydiving container, with all of its flapping bits under control, that fits close to your body. To get a little more specific, we’ll look at a few examples of non-freefly-friendly rigs -- and we’ll see how to get them fixed.
    The “Reclining Chair”
    What’s the difference between making a great skydive and hanging out in a poolside sun lounger?
    If your leg straps are slippy, your sitfly might end up looking like a lounge-fly -- and the resultant harness ride-up might put your chest strap into your throat. SO importantly, this look is also humorously unflattering in photos and videos.
    This might be the easiest issue to fix -- it could be a simple issue of improper strap adjustment. Before you send your kit in for surgery, see your S&TA;, rigger or instructor to check your current gear-up method and adjust accordingly. If it’s truly an issue of fit, your rigger can amend your harness, leg pads and leg straps accordingly -- and add one of those fetching little butt-bungees to keep your leg straps managed.
    The “Incredible Floating Container”
    If the laterals on your rig are too long or the leg straps are too loose, you’re going to have one of these -- a container that floats away from your freefallin’ body while air rushes in to separate the two of you.
    The fixes for the Incredible Floating Container are similar to the Reclining Chair -- first, check with an expert to make sure you’re kitting up correctly; then, if the problem persists, send it to the loft.
    The “Flippy Floppy Flapper”
    Guess what? Your pin flaps -- and riser-cover flaps -- love to flap. They just love it. They’ll use any excuse to get out there and do their name proud.
    To keep the flaps under wraps, you’ll need to look closely at the condition of each component. Make sure the stiffeners aren’t broken, warped or loose. Check for weak Velcro and/or magnetic closures. If you find something, don’t despair: Your rigger can revitalize wiggly tuck tabs, replace ragged-out Velcro, install (or replace) magnets and/or repack your reserve to adjust where its bulk places pressure on the system.
    The “Premature Popper”
    If your BOC doesn’t hug your pilot chute snugly enough, the multi-orientational pressures of freeflying make it much more likely that said pilot chute is going to make an early escape. Even if you’ve gone ahead and bought yourself one of those fancy low-profile freefly puds, that’s not going to save you if your BOC is loose, holey or inelastic. Note: if you’ve recently downsized in addition to switching up your discipline, be extra careful -- the BOC system relies on a snug, correctly-fitting main in the tray.
    Another pop-preventer: maintaining a frayless closing loop of the proper length.
    The “Put Me In, Coach”
    The Put Me In, Coach is another variation on the Premature Popper. It’s an even less-fun one: an instantaneous reserve ride without the screamy good time of a malfunctioning main. It happens when the Velcro on your handles is weak, or when you bumble into a limb or foot that grabs your D-ring.
    Make sure that the Velcro on your handles is strong and mated completely on both sides. It should take a moderate tug to separate the handle from its cozy home. Also: it’s not necessary to replace your D-ring with a pillow when you transition to freefly, but there’s a reason it’s so commonly done: that capital D is a big, shiny, shoe-sized liability.
    The “Velveteen Rabbit”
    If your rigger tells you that your rig is impossible to freeflyify, you may be the soon-to-be-ex owner of a Velveteen Rabbit rig. Don’t be too sad: it has probably been very loved for very many years, and it’s ready for retirement. Give it a viking funeral if you want, but don’t insist on flying it -- let it go. Making the hard choice to get rid of it might just save you -- and your wandering belly button -- a lot of unnecessary misery.

    By nettenette, in General,

    Propeller Safety For Skydivers Who Want To Live

    How Not To Become Dog Food Like That Indiana Jones Guy
    Image by Lukasz Szymanski Remember that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Indiana Jones is on an active airfield. He’s duking it out with a bald, mustachioed, wall-of-meat Nazi, and he’s kinda losing. Finally, he manages to distract the dude with his puny, tickly little punches until a propeller can chop his shiny evilness into dog food.
    And we cheer, and we laugh. Because ha! That guy was so stupid, he didn’t even see that propeller. Hilarious.
    Well, my friends -- we could all easily be that bald, mustachioed, wall-of-meat Nazi if we’re not careful.
    We’re around propellers all the time, after all. We’re accustomed to hearing and feeling them -- so much so that they’re almost invisible. Statistically, we’re in their immediate presence enough for the risk to be proportionately higher than it is for someone who’s rarely on an active airfield. So: here’s your game plan.
    Always sneak up on fixed-wing aircraft from behind.
    Props are located in on the fronts of fixed-wing aircraft -- either on the nose or on the fronts of the wings themselves -- so always approach a fixed-wing aircraft from well behind the wing. Teach yourself to do this every time, whether or not the plane is running. This will lessen the chance of you bumbling into the “fool processor” with a boogie beer in-hand.
    Always stare helicopters in the face. (Kinda.)
    Helicopters don’t like to be snuck-up-on. Think about it like you’re establishing dominance -- always approach helicopters from the side-front, where the pilot can see you. (The real reason for this is the danger posed by the rear rotor, but -- if you think about it -- helicopters kinda have faces you can stare down.) The rule of thumb is to stay in front of the boarding door, never behind it, and not directly in front of the helicopter where it tips during takeoff.
    Never chat with the pilot from outside the plane.
    Have manifest radio them with information, or -- if you must -- do the annoying half-gesture, half-shout thing inside the cabin. They probably don’t want to talk to you, anyway.
    Never touch a propeller unless you’re filling out a timecard to do it.
    Touching a propeller is like sticking your hand into a beehive. You may or may not get stung, but it’s an inarguably dumb idea. Even if the plane is tucked in for the night, it’s not okay to saunter up to a propeller and stroke, push, spin, crank, pull, lean, poke, lick or fistbump it. They’re heavy, sharp and kinda unpredictable, especially if you’ve been drinking (which you probably have been). Just leave it alone.
    Don’t take the shortcut.
    Is the shortest distance from the LZ to the hangar a straight shot through the loading zone (or any other aircraft operating area)? Do the right thing and walk around it. If you start cutting through the no-walk zone to save a couple of minutes, your fellow jumpers, students and spectators will likely follow suit. Restricted areas aren’t restricted unless it’s hot and you’re tired and you double-manifested, and you -- or someone who waddles along after you -- might pay a high price for the choice.
    Don’t wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care on a heli huck.
    ...until you’re either hanging from the helicopter strut, safely landed, or mugging for a freefall photo you’ll be embarrassed about later. There are spinning scimitars up there while you’re exiting, dude.
    Do your part to muddy up the gene pool.
    Especially on crowded weekend days, boogies, demo events and any other place that more than two mouthbreathers are gathered in the name of skydiving, you are going to witness stupidity. If you see one of the horde wandering cow-faced towards the propellers -- almost always, led by a GoPro or smartphone -- please grab them, divert them and ask them nicely not to procreate as you lead them gently behind the signs they’ve so blithely ignored.
    Maybe remind them of the bald, mustachioed, wall-of-meat Nazi guy who became dog food. (Everybody remembers that part.)

    By nettenette, in General,

    Highway To The Dangerzone

    Image by Lukasz Szymanski Headin' into twilight

    Spreadin' out her wings tonight

    She got you jumpin' off the deck

    And shovin' into overdrive...
    When I was learning to wingsuit, I sang it in my helmet. Every time.
    True story.
    We can all agree that -- in addition to fun, of course -- skydiving is about pushing personal limits and building personal skillsets. We might also agree that skydiving is not necessarily about putting yourself directly in the path of actual mortal danger. There are inherent risks (and, if we’re being honest, we kinda love them), but we don’t love the idea of spending a couple of seasons healing up from a broken pelvis. Right? Right.
    There are multiple danger zones in skydiving, and it’s actually something of an autobahn -- in that there are no posted speed limits to reach them. To put it another way: most of them exist as much for brand-new skydivers as well as battle-worn multiple national champions. As a skydiver, it’s important to take these just as seriously, no matter how much of a n00b or dropzone hero you might be.
    Danger Zone 1: Meat-Based Collisions
    If you’re not flying on proper level with a group, you’re officially in Danger Zone 1. Flying on level keeps you out of the broken-bone zone if a member of the group suddenly corks or prematurely deploys. It keeps you out of pesky burbles, and it helps you keep meaningful awareness of where everybody else is flying around you. Invest in the coaching that will help you get (and stay) on level in formations of any kind.
    Also important: don’t just fly on level. Fly on-heading. Off-heading collisions hurt more than same-heading collisions. And never risk a 180-degree collision, even if you’re totally sure there’s nobody on your six -- it’s just not worth it.
    Danger Zone 2: Nylon-Based Collisions
    Once you’re dangling from your fabric, you have another danger zone to contend with: potentially crowded skies. According to the USPA, the most likely moments you’ll veer into oopsie territory here are:
    a) right after deployment and

    b) after entering the pattern.
    Instead of putting yourself in a place where you’re nimbly avoiding (or tragically not-avoiding) other jumpers at close quarters, be smart about it. Break off from other jumpers with room to spare. Create horizontal and vertical distance from everybody else in the sky (including the guy who’s almost certainly lurking behind you). Finally, keep your head on a swivel -- especially during that troublesome base-to-final bit, where everybody will be trying their best to kill you.
    Danger Zone 3: The Basement
    The basement is the biggest, baddest danger zone there is. It is, after all, where the ground lives. The ground is a monster that’s just waiting for you to stop paying attention because it wants to eat you.
    You’re going to enter this danger zone every time -- there’s no avoiding it. When you do enter it, you’re going to want to be under a canopy you’re controlling, over a landable bit of dirt, with a plan that accommodates as few obstacles as possible. This means that you must get that first canopy out at an altitude at which a second canopy is an option. It means that you must make sure that your equipment is maintained to prevent preemie brake releases. It means that you must either avoid or manage the hell out of low turns. And it means you’re going to need to know how to land that thing in water.
    The ground is waiting for you to make a mistake -- and it’s hungry.
    So, if you happen to be on the highway to the danger zone, try taking the next exit. Most people will indeed say hello to you, even if you never get it on the red line overload.
    I promise.

    By nettenette, in General,