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How to Spot In The Manner of a Boss

By nettenetteon - Read 9148 times

The Stuff You Need To Remember, Even If You Never Actually Do The Math

Image by Andrey Veselov

Have you ever gotten off at the wrong bus stop? Probably. But did you turn around and blame the bus driver for your mistake? Probably not. As a skydiver, however, there’s a good chance you’ve done exactly that--by exiting the plane at an inappropriate time, then accusing the pilot of “giving you a bad spot.” If you leap blindly out the door at the flash of a green light, it’s not the pilot who’s making the mistake--it’s, y’know. You.

1. Green doesn’t necessarily mean go.

The green light doesn’t necessarily mean that the pilot thinks you should leave the plane. This may be a surprise, but spotting is actually not the pilot’s responsibility at all. The green light’s technical meaning is that he or she has completed all of the responsibilities of a jump pilot: that the necessary adjustments have been made to speed and trim to allow for safe exit, and that air traffic control has been informed that skydivers are preparing to leave the aircraft. It is the jumpers’ responsibility to verify a safe exit point that’ll get you back.

If you’re being pushed out the door and the spot ain’t right, don’t go. Simple as that.

2. Don’t rely entirely on technology.

The presence of a GPS system on nearly every skydiving aircraft has changed the game, of course. In many ways, it has allowed the spotting process to slip quietly out of most jumpers’ minds and wiggle its way into the cockpit, which isn’t fair to the pilot (who has plenty going on up there already, to say the least). Spotting used to be a purely manual process; doublechecking the spot still must be.

3. Know your jump run.

Most pilots fly their jump runs into the wind, on a heading determined by GPS.

From there, it used to be that you needed to do some math in order to properly calculate your spot--estimating your drift in freefall and under canopy using an algorithm. To do so, you needed to know the winds aloft, as well as the forecasted wind speeds and directions. It’s no wonder most skydivers couldn’t be bothered.
These days, we have the internets on our side. Apps and (when they’re working) online calculators make it much easier to get it right--but the best practice is to check with the dropzone. If there’s no posted information available, check in with manifest and ask for their input.

4. Get your load in order.

After you’ve run the numbers, boss-level spotting requires good communication with the rest of the skydivers on your load. These days, loads are packed with different disciplines, all with different glides and fall rates. Slow-falling, long-gliding groups of wingsuits and fast-falling, short-gliding groups of head-down freeflyers share planes with high-altitude hop-and-pop canopy relative work jumpers, shredders of angles and hybrid formations of every stripe.

The general rules is that, since the upper winds push freefalling jumpers across the sky, jumpers who will be exposed to them the longest will be pushed farther away from the landing area. That said: Different dropzones follow different procedures for exit order. Learn them before you start milling around in front of the door. If you have questions or issues, ask the S&TA; about the underlying logic.

5. Get your priorities straight.

Look straight down from the door, checking for any air traffic and making a mental note of your direction of flight and of your exit point. It helps to physically point to the landing area to make a general assessment that you’re within a landable distance of it. If you’re not, don’t leave the plane. It’s not worth it.

Even if you never actually sit down and calculate a spot, you’ll be a much safer skydiver for that five seconds’ worth of mindfulness -- and you’ll make the skies safer for everyone else you share them with.


About The Author

Annette O'Neil is a copywriter, travel journalist and commercial producer who sometimes pretends to live in Salt Lake City. When she's not messing around with her prodigious nylon collection, she's hurtling through the canyons on her Ninja, flopping around on a yoga mat or baking vegan cupcakes.


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"The green light’s technical meaning is that he or she has completed all of the responsibilities of a jump pilot" - not always, not everywhere, meaning of lights installed in a plane (by a DZ) are not set in stone. Check with the pilot and or staff (and/or locals) for procedures. Also, keep in mind that you starting a knitting club in the door or whatever can f* up the spot (and safe return to the dz) for the rest (or last) of the load. If the local policy is green = go, check for traffic (!always important!) and GO!

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I always learn something new from your articles.
Good points about "underlying logic" and "pointing your finger towards the spot."
Spotting is such a huge subject.
May I add "pre-spotting" meaning keeping your eyes outside the airplane for the last two minutes before exit? Familiarizing yourself with the direction of jump-run, clouds, winds, speed across the ground, etc. reduces the number of decisions to be made immediately after the door opens.
Even better is multiple eyeballs outside the airplane checking for traffic in the pilot's blind spots.
Even better is multiple eyes outside the airplane looking for traffic in the pilot's blind spots.
Sorting out all those different groups is best done on the taxiway before that noisy airplane shows up. It speeds loading if all the different groups stand in a line before that noisy airplane shows up.

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Many of the larger DZs with large aircraft do a great job of putting the jumpers out on a good spot and green means, "go if it looks safe".
Anyone that fails to do their homework on the ground to predict a good spot should not be the person stopping in the door because the spot looks a little off.

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As a jump pilot I operate the light as it was done when I first took AFF. I turn the yellow light on a certain distance - possibly changing from load to load - depending on who is on the plane (Tis alone or fun jumpers) and my knowledge of how long it will take them to (1) notice the light (2) open the door (3) climb out after the green is given.
For me, yellow means open the door and stick your head out to spot, occasionally checking for the green. By the time I give the green you should go (assuming you like the spot and have checked for traffic).
I have no problem doing a second pass anytime a jumper wants one within reason. Ultimately, they are the ones getting out and they should be comfortable with it.
The challenge I have, as mentioned in the article, is the type that, on a green light, eats of half of the available jumprun (say, half a mile) taking their time to setup and go. I have no problem with a reasonable amount of time, but some take a bit too long.
TL;DR: For me, yellow means spot and green means go (if you like the spot you already checked).

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Riggerrob said it well. Know where you are well before the light comes on. Be checking the spot and searching for traffic well before the DZ. You should never be surprised when you open the door.
BTW, old timer tip. When needing to look "straight down" to spot, remember that the plane can easily be nose high, low, or banked left or right. Look out at the horizon, to the side or to the front, and mentally draw a line straight down from it. That will give you your true position above the ground. Don't line up on the plane's doorframe.

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