Find a reputable Drop Zone

    Be Aware of the Risks Choose a method of training Find a Drop Zone Set a date and jump! Get licensed Well, now that you've made up your mind that you want to do this you can't just rent a parachute from the costume store on the main street and take a leap out of your cousin's Cessna! Not only would it be illegal it might prove to be an unhealthy way to enter the sport!
    So where can you go? There are few ways you can find the nearest DZ to you:
    Dropzone Database The Dropzone.com Dropzone Database lists more than 700 DZs all over the world. Organized by region, country and state you can browse and search the database till you find a DZ near you. There's a lot of information on our pages and in most cases you can jump straight to the web page of the DZ for more information. You can also read reviews by other Dropzone.com members who have jumped here before. It's a great resource!
    USPA If you're in the USA, call the United States Parachute Association at 540.604.9740 or visit their web site to get the name of an affiliated drop zone in your area.
    Dropzone.com Forums Dropzone.com has more than 32,000 members and with more than 1.2 million posts to the forums you'll be certain to hear from someone. Register for a free Dropzone.com account and ask about DZs in your area in the Dropzone.com Forums.
    Google it! Yes, as you know you can find almost anything on Google. Use your city or region name and "skydiving" or "skydive" as keywords and see what it spits out.
    Yellow Pages Look in the Yellow Pages online in your local phone directory. You're bound to find some skydiving ceters under "parachuting" or "skydiving".
    Ask around You probably have some friends who have done it. Are they still alive? If so, then go to the same place they did; that way, you can feel assured of your safety. ;-)
    Skydiving clubs - If you're in college, most universities have skydiving clubs. This offers a cheaper and easier way to get into the sport. Plus, nothing brings people together better than absolute terror. You may even make some friends. How do I tell a good Drop Zone from poor one?
    Most dropzones that provide regular student training will be affiliated with the official skydiving organizing and regulating body in your country. The United States Parachute Association (USPA) is the representative body for sport parachuting within the US, and a member of the FAI (the international equivalent). Representative and regulating bodies like the USPA usually develop and monitor safety and training doctrine for the sport. In some cases they also provide liability insurance for students and DZs in the case of damage to property. Ask about their official affiliations and benefits when you contact a DZ.
    In the USA the USPA has successfully instituted rating programs for Coaches, Instructors, and Instructor-Examiners to ensure that only properly trained and qualified personnel work with students. In the USA you should insist on USPA Instructors and Coaches. If you're outside the USA, do not hesitate to ask about the rating programs for Instructors in your country and the qualifications of those people you'll be working with.
    Do not be afraid to ask to see your Instructor or Coach’s rating card. It should show the appropriate rating and expiration date. Also note that currently, most Tandem Instructors are certified by both the the equipment manufacturer and USPA.
    USPA affiliation is not required, and does not guarantee a DZ to be a "good" DZ, and non-affiliation does not mean the DZ is "bad". However, the USPA, through their diligence and caution, has compiled an excellent safety record over the years.
    Use the Internet to do some research of your own. Reading the DZ reviews in the Dropzone Database is a good idea. Remember to always take everything online (good and bad) with a pinch of salt. If at all possible, one of the smartest things to do is to visit the DZ before you make your jump. Ask if you can sit in on a FJC. Hang around, talk to some people and pick up on the vibe.
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    By admin, in General,

    Set a date and jump!

    Be Aware of the Risks Choose a method of training Find a Drop Zone Set a date and jump! Get licensed You know how we are. We plan and plan and don't get to it. Set a date, get out there and make the jump! If at all possible gather some friends together to do it with you. Doing a first jump course or any skydiving in a group is always a lot more fun and you'll have other people around to motivate you!
    When you arrive and the dropzone, all jumpers will be required to fill out a registration form and sign a liability release before jumping. This release will verify that you understand that there is risk involved in skydiving and that you freely agree to accept that risk. The legal release will usually contain a contract or covenant by which you agree not to sue the skydiving school or anyone else if you're injured. Yes we know, this sounds all too horrid but if you want to jump you'll have to sign these forms. It's part of any adventure sport.
    Freefall sounds more scary than it is. In reality you barely have a sensation of "falling" while skydiving. You'll feel the stresses and excitement of the air rushing past you. However, because there's nothing up there for your brain to use as a reference point to tell you that you're falling, it will feel more like you're lying on a column of air, floating.
    Upon opening your parachute it'll feel like you're being pulled upwards. You're not going up. You're just decelerating pretty quickly and that causes the sensation. Your parachute can be steered by a simple steering mechanism. A "toggle” in each hand will enable you turn the parachute left and right fly it where you need to go. At most modern skydiving centers you'll be able to hear instructions from the ground passed to you via a radio receiver and speakers in your helmet. At some dropzones instructors will guide you in with batons or hand signals once you get close to the ground. All of this will be covered in your FJC. In both cases your Instructor on the ground will guide you in for a nice soft landing.
    Student canopies are relatively large, docile and forgiving square parachutes. This "big wing" makes landings slow and soft. Keep in mind that the skydive is not over till you've landed safely. By far the majority of skydiving injuries happen during landings so keep your wits about you, listen to your instructor and have fun!
    That's great, but you may ask: "But what if the parachute doesn't open?" This is always a risk when skydiving, but if you keep your training in mind and keep your cool you should be able to deal with this. By law, anyone making a skydive has to be equipped with both a main and reserve parachute. Your reserve is your second chance in case of any malfunction of your main. Reserve parachute technology has come a long way and is very reliable. All reserves must be inspected and repacked every 120 days by an FAA-rated parachute rigger, even if it hasn't been used during that time. Activating your reserve is something you have to do, though. This will be taught and practiced a lot during your training.
    As an additional layer of protection almost all modern training parachutes are also equipped with a Automatic Activation Device (AAD). An AAD is a computerized release system that keeps a watch over your descent rate and altitude. If you reach a certain altitude and your decent rate is still high enough that it is clear to the system that you did not deploy your main canopy, it will automatically release your reserve. Never rely on your AAD alone. Do what you've been taught during your training but take comfort in knowing you have a guardian angel.
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    By admin, in General,

    Next - Get licensed!

    You've done it! You loved it. We know you did but don't mind you telling us anyway! We gave you a nice cheesy certificate and if you wanted them, you also got some cool photos and a video to impress the whuffos with. So what's next? Do it again! Come back next weekend, and do it again and again until you can give yourself the title of "a licensed skydiver".
    It takes about 15 to 20 jumps, each with more tasks, until the student is competent enough to jump without instructor supervision. However, if you learn with the AFF method, you can start jumping on your own after seven jumps. Each successive jump costs a little less. Once you're certified and have sold the shirt off your back to buy your own equipment you only pay around $25 for your slot on the plane. That's it, you can now enjoy jumps at any drop zone.
    Each country has its own system of skydiving licenses. The USPA has four skydiving licenses, from the basic A license (25 jumps) to the D license (which you are eligible for after 500 jumps.) You'll need to work your way up through the levels. Each level will give you access to more jump types and more difficult landing zones.
    Once you're a seasoned skydiver there are many disciplines that you can try. Each of these have their own experience and proficiency requirements. Talk to your Instructors before you try something new. It is always prudent to get additional formal training in your discipline by someone qualified. We also strongly suggest you find yourself a mentor. Approach some one whom you respect and trust and ask him or her to coach and guide you through your skydiving career and progress. It is important to have someone you can bounce your plans and ideas off just to test them and get some experienced input.
    Remember what we said up front: Knowledge, Skill and Attitude. Never stop learning and developing these. Dropzone.com is loaded with useful information at all levels but make sure to talk to your Instructors and Coaches often. Ask them about the advice you get online. They know and understand your skill levels and can help guide you safely on this journey. We'd love to hear your skydiving stories in the Dropzone.com forums, and most of all, we'd love to share the sky with you somewhere at a boogie in the near future. The forum also has a wealth of information and it's a great way to chat to other jumpers.
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    Ten things that may keep you alive

    Skydiving is a sport where you never stop learning. Even if you could, somehow, come to know everything, the sport is evolving constantly, and someone who's an expert one day is a newbie the next. Often, the learning we do isn't just academic - it can make us perform better, even keep us alive when there are problems. With that in mind, here are ten things that may keep you alive when things really hit the fan:
    1. Know your limits. Everyone's limits are different, and are based on their experience, background, physical and mental fitness, and natural abilities. Some people think well under pressure, some need to drill and drill so their natural tendency to freeze is overcome. Some are incredibly flexible, some need 'crutches' (like sleeves or weight) to control their fall rate. It's important to be honest with yourself when deciding your limits, even if it goes counter to the alpha mentality that most skydivers have. We're all human.
    2. Respect your limits. Don't do things you're not ready for, and don't let other people talk you into doing them. This comes up very often when women jumpers enter the sport - suddenly they have a lot of male friends who want to take them on 20 ways, free fly jumps, demos etc well before they'd ask a male jumper. And while it is technically possible to safely take someone with 20 jumps on a 20-way (you could do it with 19 AFF-JM's) it's usually a bad idea.
    3. Push your limits. This may seem in contradiction to 2) but it's important. Once you know your limits, and respect them, you can start overcoming them. Do you have a problem with fall rate? Find a slow (or fast) skydiver and do a 2-way, with the other jumper going slower and slower (or faster and faster.) Is your canopy control so-so? Try drills - learn to flat turn and flare turn, a little more on each jump. Follow someone else. Do no-contact CRW. Learn to sit fly.
    Pushing your limits isn't just a feel-good thing, it actually helps you survive in the sport. If you learn how to fly a small elliptical well, you will have much more control over your slightly larger square - and that can save your life if someone cuts you off on final. CRW can be fun, but can also be the difference between life and death if you have a cypres firing and have to land two canopies.
    4. Push your limits, one at a time. This is even more important. It's possible to learn to do demos, as long as you learn the basics - canopy control, obstacle landings, spotting. Trying to learn these all on your first demo is asking for trouble. Small canopies, same thing. You can certainly learn to jump a VX 97. Doing it all on one jump - going from a Sabre 150 to a VX 97 - is a huge mistake. First transition down to a smaller Sabre, then learn to fly it. Then switch to an elliptical of about the same size, and learn to fly _it_. Once you get to that VX 97, you will have the background to fly it well - and you will be much, much better prepared to fly any canopy in between.
    5. Learn flat and flare turns. You should be able to do a 180 in the air without your canopy diving at all, and you should be able to turn at least 45 degrees during your flare. Every year, several people die because they turn too low. I'm convinced that many of these aren't intentional hook turns, but accidental low turns to turn into the wind or avoid an obstacle. Knowing how to flat and flare turn might have saved their lives.
    6. Learn more about your gear. What color is your reserve? Your reserve toggles? If you ever look above your head and see four sets of risers, how will you tell them apart? What color is your freebag? You can learn all this by watching your rigger pack your reserve, and even more by doing it yourself (under supervision, of course.)
    Read up on TSO testing of your gear, and learn about the limits it was tested to. If you know that, you can keep your own flying within its operational limits. Learn about what's in a Cypres, and how it judges altitude. Learn the difference between Dacron and Spectra, and how to pack a pullout rig.

    7. Get related experience. Pilots have a distinct advantage over other jumpers when something goes wrong in the plane, because they know how to read the signs, and they know how to operate around aircraft. They have a better idea what to touch and what not to touch, and can more easily communicate with the pilot (and, in rare instances, ATC.) You don't have to get your instrument rating - even a few lessons will teach you a lot about aerodynamics, aircraft weight and balance, stabilized climbs and descents, elevator trim and its importance, etc.
    Or learn to climb. Serious climbers (except, possibly, sport-only climbers) are their own riggers, and understand the ideas behind an equalizing anchor, dynamic vs static rope, and nylon to nylon friction. Many of those transfer to the kind of rigging that gets done in skydiving, and if nothing else, will help you make sense of how rigs are designed.
    8. Get out of your drop zone. Drop zones tend to have "flavors" to them, and are sometimes homogenous when it comes to skills or equipment. Kapowsin, for example, seems to use nothing but Infinity's, and for a while Air Adventures was nearly 100% Reflex. Some drop zones are mainly free fly, some RW, some do a lot of demos. By getting away from the familiar, you'll learn more about other disciplines, other equipment, even other ways of thinking. You'll also meet some really cool people - you can't talk to Bryan Burke, John LeBlanc, Tony Domenico or Adam Filipino, for example, and not learn something. Unfortunately, not every drop zone has them, so you have to hit the road.
    9. Buy your beer. It sounds like a selfish tradition, designed to punish new jumpers. It's a whole lot more than that, though. The key is that, if you buy the beer and give it to people, they will ask you what it's for, and you will end up talking to people (up to 23) about what just happened. Since this usually happens at some significant time (say, right after your first cutaway) this is a really important time to talk about what just happened without being embarrassed about it. (Well, maybe you will be anyway, but tough.)
    On the flip side - if someone buys beer for the DZ, and you're an experienced jumper, don't just grab a bottle and run. Find out who bought it and why they bought it. That beer isn't quite free - the price is that you have to pass on the knowledge that _you_ first learned when it seemed like you were buying a case every other weekend.
    10. Teach others what you know. There is no better way to learn than to teach, and it helps others as well. If you want to become an expert at emergency procedures, teach part of a few first jump courses and watch other people screw their procedures up. If you want to learn a lot about RW, organize. If you want to learn more about skydiving in general, teach a graduate course. Just the act of putting everything down on paper and talking about it will lead you to research to make sure you're right, and you'll get feedback when you actually do the teaching.

    By admin, in General,

    Static Line Training (S/L)

    This method has evolved over the last ~30 years from its military origins into a successful method for training sport parachutists. The student gets 4-5 hours of ground training and is then taken to an altitude of about 3000 feet for the jump. The jump itself consists of a simple "poised" exit from the strut of a small single engine Cessna aircraft. As the student falls away from the plane, the main canopy is deployed by a "static line" attached to the aircraft. The student will experience about two to three seconds of falling as the parachute opens.
    Subsequent S/L jumps require about 15 minutes of preparation. After 2 good static line jumps, the student will be trained to pull their ripcord for themselves. The student then does 3 more static line jumps where they demonstrate this ability by pulling a dummy ripcord as they leave the plane (the static line is still initiating the deployment). The student is then cleared to do their first actual freefall.
    The first freefall is a "clear & pull", where the student initiates the pull sequence immediately upon leaving the aircraft. Next is a 10 second delay jump. Subsequent jumps go to progressively higher altitudes with longer delays. After 20 freefalls, and meeting certain other basic requirements, the student receives their A license and is cleared off student status.


    By admin, in General,

    Accelerated Free Fall (AFF)

    The AFF program was instituted in 1982 as an "accelerated" learning process as compared to the traditional static line progression. The AFF program will give you a true taste of modern sport skydiving.
    The ground training is a bit more extensive than S/L (~5 hours) because the student will be doing a 50 second freefall (that's right!) on his/her very first jump. The student will exit the aircraft at10,000-12,000 feet along with two AFF Jumpmasters (JM) who will assist the student during freefall. The jumpmasters maintain grips on the student from the moment they leave the aircraft until opening, assisting the student as necessary to fall stable, perform practice ripcord pulls, monitor altitude, etc. The student then pulls his/her own ripcord at about 4000 ft.
    The AFF program is a 7 level program. Levels 1, 2, & 3 require two freefall Jumpmasters to accompany the student. These dives concentrate on teaching basic safety skills such as altitude awareness, body position, stability during freefall and during the pull sequence, and most importantly- successful ripcord pull. On level 3, the JMs will release the student in freefall for the first time, to fly completely on their own.
    Levels 4, 5, 6, & 7 require only one freefall JM (less $$) and teach the student air skills such as turns, forward movement and docking on other people, frontloops, backloops, "superman" exits from the plane, etc.
    Each AFF level is designed to take one jump, and requires about 45 minutes of training. After successfully performing the objectives of each level, the student moves on to the next level.
    After graduating Level 7, the student enters a more free format stage called "Level 8" where they practice and hone their skills by themselves and in small groups until they obtain 20 freefalls and qualify for their A license.

    By admin, in General,

    How To Be A Good Passenger in a Jump Plane

    How to be a Good Passenger in a Jump Plane
    Note: Original text from an article written for April 1992 Parachutist. Since 1992 our fleet of jump airplanes has changed signifigantly. There are few planes like DC3's in use now which often have "loaders", and many pilots are now spotting airplanes with the help of the navigation equipment that is now more advanced. Please make adjustments for the changing technology. G.P. 2003
    This article is written in two parts covering some of the most typical jump plane situations you will experience. The first part will be of interest to new jumpers who are learning to spot and to jumpmaster themselves and who are jumping from small airplanes. The second part is for intermediate jumpers from a small drop zone who may soon consider visiting another drop zone or going to a skydiving event that has larger airplanes. It will also be good review for experienced jumpers who do not jump large airplanes very often and forget how to be a good passenger.
    Small Airplanes:
    Loading a small airplane will become different as you gain more experience in skydiving. You will be doing different exits than you did as a student and will need to be arranged differently in the airplane. First of all, take the advice of more experienced jumpers as to the most efficient place to be for your skydive. If you are in an airplane with students, follow the seating arrangement that the instructor specifies. Be careful as you get near the airplane if the engine is still running. The door of small airplanes is always near the prop and the airplane owner will not appreciate you bending the prop by backing into it. :) The least noisy time during your flight is during loading and is the best time to tell the pilot how high you are going and in what direction you want the jump run. The pilot needs to tell Air Traffic Control how high the plane is going and hopes you won't change your mind too many times on the way up. Tell the pilot if you will being doing Canopy Relative Work or will be opening high for some reason. Pilots don't want to do surprise CRW with canopies they don't know are up that high. The position of the seat belts in the airplane will usually dictate exactly where you will be sitting. If this position is uncomfortable just remember that the Federal Aviation Regulations state only that you must wear them only while the aircraft is in motion on the ground and during takeoff and landing. Make sure that everyone doesn't sit too far to the rear and make the plane out of balance. The pilot would not have much fun flying it in this condition. Ask the pilot for advice on loading if you do not know.
    Jump Run-
    When you know it is almost time to jump you will usually be getting to your knees and making final adjustments to your gear. In getting up, try not to pull yourself up by the pilot's rig or pull any important items off the plane in doing so. Check for any part of your gear that may have been moved while getting up in a crowded airplane, especially your hand deploy pilot chute. There should be no need to say very much to a pilot at this point if they were sufficiently briefed on the ground, but be alert and understanding about anything the pilot may say to you. Your jump may be delayed while waiting for another jump plane or from instructions from Air Traffic Control, and those instructions will be hard to hear if you are yelling about why you aren't on jump run yet.
    You will always need to wait for a signal from the pilot before opening the door. If the airspeed is too high the door will receive excessive stress and might even come off. The airplane's owner would be very unhappy with you as well as the home owner whose roof the door lands on. Giving corrections to the pilot on direction of flight can be verbal by saying "5 RIGHT" or "5 LEFT", or by simply pointing in the direction to turn. Most pilots will correct about 5 degrees in the direction you indicate and then level out and wait for further corrections. If you point, make sure your hand is up where the pilot can see it. Try to keep the corrections to a minimum because the pilot probably lined you up on jump run pretty close anyway. If you correct back and forth too many times even the pilot will get lost. :) Most pilots will cut back on the power when you get out, but it is a good idea to call for a "CUT" anyway before exiting.
    Try to exit the airplane and get into your position as quickly as possible so the pilot doesn't have to struggle to keep the airplane right side up. However, be careful not to bump things on the way out like your pilot chute. It is also not wise to lean on the pilot too much just to get that perfect exit position. If you push too hard on the pilot or lean on the yoke of the airplane you will have a very interesting sideways exit.
    Large Airplanes:
    Loading a large plane at a new drop zone or at a large skydiving event will likely be an exciting event for you. There may be several large groups on the plane and you may get the feeling of being herded into the airplane. This is just a sense of urgency on the part of the crew, after all, these larger airplanes are more expensive to operate and must be kept busy in order to make money. Try to do your share by paying attention and helping move things along.

    Although the props on larger planes are further from the door than on smaller planes there may be more of them and they may be on the sides on the plane where you are not used to avoiding them, so be careful. Many of the largest airplanes will have a crewmember called a "Loader" that is in charge of loading the airplane and determining the exit order of all the groups getting into the plane. The loader is a buffer between the jumpers and the pilot and has to keep the jumpers in line so the pilot can concentrate on more important things like flying. Pay attention to the loader because they will be able to load you as quickly and efficiently as possible. When seating yourself in the airplane you can note how the people ahead of you are seated and follow suit. Seating is usually very cozy in these airplanes even though it looks roomy when you first get in, so sit close. Somes planes have loading lines painted or taped across a rearward section of the airplane and all of the jumpers must be forward of this line. If you see that not everyone is going to fit in this area, you might as well scoot back and tighten it up before you get too comfortable because the loader is going to be mean and make you crowd together anyway. Seat belts will be available and you might have to look carefully to determine which one you should be using.
    After everyone is seated and you are taxiing out to the runway, take a look around the airplane. There may be a sign somewhere describing the plane's emergency procedures in case of engine failure. You will want to be familiar with these procedures and really follow them if the real thing happens rather than just getting up and running around all excited. Some planes might also have posted a diagram of the drop zone and the jump run for the day. This is important information for the person spotting and helpful to anyone jumping at an unfamiliar airport.
    Jump Run-
    When it is time to jump you will be getting up to make final adjustments to your gear. Check for any part of your gear that may have been moved while getting up in a crowded airplane. There may be room in a large airplane to have someone give you a pin check. Even if it is possible to completely stand up in the airplane, don't feel like you must do this until time for your group to line up and exit. This will help reduce crowding in the plane. All adjustments to your gear can be made while kneeling anyway. Try to continue to keep forward of the loading line by not spreading out too much. The airplane may climb better like this and you might just get some extra altitude. Try keeping the noise to a minimum in case you get instructions from the loader or spotter.
    On the larger planes the loader may also do the spotting for the whole load. This is another reason you should pay attention to and be nice to the loader, so you will make it back to the airport. Another possibility is that the pilot may be spotting from up front by using instruments and giving the exit command directly or by relaying the command to the loader. If the load is being spotted by looking out the door, the corrections must be relayed to the pilot who possibly cannot see the spotter. Some airplanes have pushbutton switches on a panel that turn on lights that the pilot can see, or the loader may have a headset to talk to the pilot. If you are spotting you will need to learn how these work ahead of time. If the plane does not use one of these methods, the corrections must be relayed to the pilot by someone sitting near the pilot that can see the spotter. For this to work there must be a clear line of sight up to the cockpit. Do your part by keeping the isle clear.
    Wait until the loader or spotter indicates that it is time for your group to line up and then do it quickly. If you are not in the first group, continue to stay forward until it is time for you to line up. Give the group ahead of you 5 to 10 seconds before your group exits, depending on the winds aloft, but don't be slower than that. The group behind you is using the same spot as you and larger airplanes are flying faster on jump run than smaller ones. You will know when you are taking too long to exit because the group behind you will begin objecting to your excessive delay. Everyone wants to make it back to the airport.
    This article has outlined the most common procedures that you will be following when jumping out of most airplanes. Hopefully it has given you some basics on how to be a good passenger on any aircraft whether it be an airplane, a helicopter, or a hot air balloon. If you ever have any questions about the procedures for a particular aircraft, just ask the pilot. They will be glad to help.

    By peek, in General,

    Filming your first four-way team

    First things first. I assume they're giving you some sort of compensation in the form of a free slot (since you're just starting out) or maybe slot plus a small amount of cash (maybe to cover pack jobs). Understand that since they hired you, they probably expect you to do certain things, only some of which you're actually going to be able to deliver because ... you're just starting out.
    I can absolutely freekin' guarantee that your footage isn't going to look anything like the camera flyers at Arizona Airspeed can produce. You're just not going to do 1,000 jumps with your team this season, so nobody should expect the same results. Make certain at least the team captain understands this. If your team captain or the coach of the team expects otherwise, you may want to consider walking away right now. I'm not kidding. I saw a perfectly acceptable camera flyer get psychologically and verbally burned by his team last season because they just didn't have a freekin' clue as to how difficult "Airspeed-quality" camera flying is.
    If, on the other hand, they understand where you're at in your camera-flying career and are willing to work with you, then it can be a beautiful learning experience for everyone.
    Flying 4-way camera, you're not just flying the camera anymore. The team may decide you have other duties as well. Do they want you to handle the manifest duties? Do they want you to watch the clock so they can focus more on creeping? Are you going to be responsible for the spot? Will you have to dub tapes for everyone at the end of the day? This can be time-consuming. They're off in the bar having a cold one and you're in a debrief room makin' dubs for 40 minutes! Talk to them about it. Get that stuff understood so there are no surprises. Surprises cause arguments. Arguments are not conducive to good flying!
    One camera flyer I know has been at it so long and has been burned so many times that he has what he calls his "List of Demands" and when he talks to a team he gives them a printed copy of it and says "That's the deal, take it or leave it." Now, since you're just starting out, you probably can't do this just yet, but keep it in the back of your mind. At least with him, there are no surprises. Just a thought.
    The first day
    So it's the first day of training and time to get on the airplane. Make absolutely freekin' sure that everyone knows the break-off plan. Typical might be that at 4,000 AGL the team turns and tracks while you pull in the center. (Maybe 4,500 for a newbie group.) Make certain they all understand the consequences of not tracking -- you'll eventually come down to meet them and you'll both die. I shoot my team's break-off and freeze-frame it when I dub the debrief tape just to make a point of showing which person is leaving last. I've never mentioned it in those terms, but I think it does get the point across when you see the same person not getting away as fast as the rest of the team.
    Communicate to the team that's it's not only important that they turn and track, but it's also important that they do not pull high. Pulling high is where you are, not them. They shouldn't be pulling any higher than 3,000. This ensures they have separation from each other AND you.
    What's really nice about 4-way is that certain things can be somewhat consistent and therefore I feel a bit more safe. You shouldn't have to worry about what the break-off altitude is for this jump, if the team break-off plan is always 4,000. Pretty simple, we're doing 4-way, break-off is 4,000 -- period, end of discussion. We can now focus on other things and not have to worry about break-off. Simple.
    Same deal with most of the rest of the flow. Ten minutes to boarding the plane, check your gear, put it on and walk down to the mock-up. Five minutes to boarding the plane the team arrives at the mock-up and goes through the exit and does pin-checks. Board the plane in the same order, sit by the same person, check your camera at 6,000, do another pin-check at 9,000, handshakes at 10,000, put your helmet on by 11,500. CamEye II blue light on the red light, red light on the green light. OK, that's my routine, but you get the idea. Consistency will keep you on schedule, give you several opportunities to catch small errors and correct them.
    Not all camera flyers' offices on Twin Otters are created equal! Handles come in at least three distinct flavors and steps in at least two. Placement of handles and steps varies from plane to plane even on the same dropzone and even if the A&P; mechanic was really trying to be consistent! Door frames are also inconsistent in how much they have little bits poking out that can whack into your left knee or attempt to grab your reserve handle on climbout. It may piss you off, but them's the facts. Look the planes over carefully and learn which ones to watch out for.
    The exit
    For a camera flyer, there are basically two parts to the skydive: Exit and everything else. Blowing the exit can make everything else irrelevant, so I'll start with that.
    As I mentioned before, there are several version of handles and steps you'll have to deal with. Depending on the exact type of exit you're planning on doing, your hand and foot placement as well as your posture on the step will vary.

    There are three basic exits.
    Leading - leaving perhaps slightly before the 4-way team. This is the "classic" 4-way exit you'll see from Arizona Airspeed. There are a lot of timing issues involved with this exit and I'll go into some of them a bit later. When done well, it's a beautiful thing. When done poorly, it's a disaster! Try to learn this exit as quickly as you can, but I can guarantee you some spectacular disasters in the process. I do a lot of 4-way camera flying and even after three years of really trying to nail it, I still blow it from time to time.
    Trailing - leaving perhaps just slightly after the team; it's also known as the peel. Almost bullet proof because you leave the airplane in your own clean air, but teams and coaches don't like it because it's difficult for them to see exactly how well they were presented on exit.
    Semi-peel - also known as the 3 O'clock or 90. The team really has to launch away from the airplane for this to work and it has the same team/coaching issues as the trailing exit, but the camera flyer is a heck of a lot closer and it's very easy to see the grips so I think there are actually advantages to using this for competition, but like I said, teams and coaches might think differently. This is the exit you'll most likely see from The Golden Knights.
    For each exit, it's fairly important to know exactly what to expect from the team in terms of timing and their presentation. You're a fifth member of that exit and you want to place your body in an exact location just the same as the rest of the team -- you're just not taking grips. I think it's important that you go to the mock-up with the team, find out what formation they're taking out the door and do a couple of practice exits with them every time you go up. For a leading exit in particular, find out where the tail and inside center are going to be and plan on not being in their burble right off the plane.
    Depending on the team and their skill level, you could use any of the three basic exits. For coaching purposes, almost all teams will want you to give them a perfect leading exit. In reality, this may or may not be possible due to your experience level or theirs. It's definitely something to discuss with them. The team, the coach and you should understand that a leading exit is not always the best choice for competition purposes and may not always show what they wanted to see for coaching purposes either.
    Leading exits
    Get out on the camera step as best you can. Ideally, you'll have your left foot on the camera step and your left hand on the camera handle with your body hugging the airplane, right foot trailing and right hand maybe on top of the fuselage. At least, that's the way the boys over at Airspeed do it. Me? I can't do it that way and my guess is that depending on your body type, the handles, how much you can twist your neck and a bunch of other factors, you might need to do something slightly different too. Ultimately, your goal should be to be comfortable, stretched pretty far back with maybe just a little flex remaining in your left leg with which you can spring back off the camera step.
    You may find it a good idea to have your camera sight centered on either the left wheel of the Twin Otter or maybe the butt of the tail flyer. This gives the team somewhere to go in the video.
    If you can see the exit count, cool, but don't trust it. I usually watch for other subtle signs like a helmet popping under a head jam or maybe the tail flyer's butt leaving the plane. What is GREAT is if you can get the outside center to swing his left leg in time with the exit count -- of course, that's not going to work for all the exits, but it helps. Try to explain to the team that consistency on their part with the exit count means you'll be able to get them much better footage. Some teams do wacky things for a count -- I hate wacky. A nice rhythm of ready, set, go works wonders.
    For the leading exit, I go on go. That is to say, right with the team. Me -- I'm a fat boy. If I leave too early, it's a pain in the ass to try to get up in a position where I can still see all the grips. You'll know you've left too early if you can see a lot of the bottom of the airplane and they're still in it! You'll know you've left too late in a leading exit when you whack into the team. I try to leave on go, pop my wings to get another slight bit of separation and then track up and over them as they fall down the hill. For me, what I want to see is the center of the formation falling below the horizon as quickly as possible after exit. As the team falls down the hill, drive up and over them. When I exit, I shift my focus from the before exit picture to place my ring-sight on an exact spot in the formation -- maybe the center grip on a Meeker for instance. Each formation is slightly different and will all call for a slightly different spot.
    For the leading exits, look at the dive pool and think about how they might fly on exit. More importantly, think about how they might block your air on exit. Nice roundy thingies like Meekers aren't too much of a problem. Evil longy thingies like Monopods can be a huge problem depending on what the tail does. Some nice semi-roundy thingies like Satellites might look easy, but might have a tendency to "cut in" so that you can't see all the grips. It won't always be your fault, but you might always get blamed for it if people don't understand.
    Trailing exits
    In almost the exact opposition of the leading exit, don't lean back but try to stand up on the camera step and get your body high. Go ahead and put your focus on the center of the formation and don't worry too much about the count. Just keep the focus on the center of the formation and follow it down the hill. I try to think about placing my body in the 12 o'clock position just over the point flyer. Bingo, works like a charm. You don't really need to drive your body anywhere during this exit, the team will flatten out as they come down the hill and you should already be in pretty much good position. You will, however, be facing down jumprun as opposed to up jumprun for the leading exit.
    Semi-peel exits
    If you know the team will launch away from the plane, you can try a semi-peel exit. Almost the same as the trailing exit, but you don't really wait for the team to go by you. You leave just after the center has cleared the plane. Your body comes off at a 90 degree angle to jumprun and you may want to think about back sliding a bit under the plane.
    Everything else
    Once you've exited the airplane, there's pretty much nothing more you can do about the moment, so let it go. If you left too early on a leading exit, don't think about it -- do something about it! If you've left too late on a leading exit, you need to do something about it NOW! Keep working the issue until you've gotten things in hand. Keep focusing on where the sight should be, but keep working the problem. If you're going to whack into the team, keep trying to get big and maybe you'll be able to slide out of it. If you give up and put your hands in front of you to cushion the blow, you'll only speed up and hit them harder.
    Your goal should be to get close enough and steep enough to the team so that all the grips are visible. If the team flies apart during a transition, you must get higher and try to keep them all in the frame. As they rejoin, come back down so they don't look like ants! A nice secondary goal would be to keep on heading. Pick a road in the background and keep the teams original jumprun heading relative to it. This let's the team and coach look for things like unintentional rotations of the formation. As you get used to flying with the team, try to get closer and steeper. As you get steeper, you'll find that it becomes a bit more difficult to stay on heading. Teams have a tendency to move quite a bit horizontally as they turn pieces and make transitions. Obviously, if you're right over the top, you'll have to side-slide, back-slide and do all sorts of chasing.
    Breakoff and opening
    OK, you've exited, shot freefall and it's about time to breakoff.
    On breakoff (let's call it 4,000), I might give the wings a little pop and deploy as I continue to watch the team. As I said before, I usually watch to see who has left the formation last and will show that on the debrief tape just to subtly drive the point home.
    As the d-bag comes out of the container, I begin to sit up and shift my ring-sight to the horizon in an attempt to have my head, neck and back in a straight line as the canopy opens. I feel that this gives the best protection against neck strains, but obviously, this might not work for you. It does work well for me. No matter what your body position, you want to get your hands on your risers as quickly as possible between the time you deploy and full inflation. An additional benefit of looking toward the horizon during inflation is that in this head level position, you can watch out for team members doing short tracks and high openings.
    Individual team members probably have more than enough separation from each other, but if one dumps a little high and you maybe have a little bit longer snivel and they have a 180 opening, well, it can get interesting and you need to react pretty damn fast. Looking out toward the horizon lets you see what might be coming up to meet you, and you may even be able to shift your weight during inflation to avoid it.
    After opening, look around to see who in your team is where. Give 'em a quick head count and see if there were any cutaways. If there was a cutaway, first look to see if you can spot the reserve. If the jumper looks OK under the reserve, then check to see if anyone is chasing the main and freebag. Especially watch for the freebag -- they can be a lot harder to find than the main. Make sure that at least one team member is following each piece down; main, reserve freebag and jumper. Fill in where required.
    If everyone seems OK under canopy, then unclip your wings, release your thumb loops, stow your slider, turn off your camera, release your brakes and start flying back to the landing area. Since you're probably the high opener, you should have plenty of time and altitude to scan for traffic and fit in with the landing pattern. Usually, there's no need to rush and spiral down between canopies -- try to be predictable. With the ring-sight in front of one eye, you don't have the best vision so be a little more careful.
    Once you've landed, if you can, go over and do high-fives with the team, but generally keep your comments to yourself. Generally speaking, you're not a judge and you're not their coach. They usually already know if they brain-locked or went low so additional negative comments from you aren't helpful. However, positive comments about really cool jumps are almost always welcome.
    Wrapping up
    As soon as you get back to the packing area, put your rig down, head over to the debrief room and dub the tape. You don't need to stop to talk with anyone at this point -- just dub the dang tape. Teams seem to vary on exactly what they want dubbed on their tapes, but usually I slate the first jump of the day with a date and just give them a few seconds before exit until the last guy breaks off. During competition, usually you'll slate EVERY jump. Some teams seem to like to see a slo-mo of their jump from exit to the second point, but some do not, so you might want to ask about it for team training purposes. You'd never do this for competition.
    After you dub, pack and be ready to get on the next load before doing any socializing. The key point here is that the team should never have to wait for you -- not to pack, not to get to the plane, not EVER.
    I have to admit that when I'm doing team training I usually don't pack -- I hire a packer. This cuts into my profit margin, but I find that I have a heck of a lot more energy at the end of a +20 jump weekend! I also have two rigs so that if the team wants or needs to do back-to-back loads it's really no issue. Having two rigs also means that if I have a cutaway, then I can continue to jump with minimal impact to the training.
    At the end of the training day, typically the team members want dubs of the entire day. Ugh! Well, you can cut down on this particular chore by using one of the team members' tapes as the debrief tape during the day. I also cut this chore way down by having several VHS decks in my team room. I was able to pick up VHS decks pretty cheap ($75 each) and this also means that I never have to worry about having a back-up!
    Photos: © Paul Quade

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    Book Review: Flying the Camera - by Patrick Weldon

    It would be difficult, at best, to write a complete and comprehensive guide to freefall photography. Patrick Weldon's "Flying the Camera" is the first attempt I have seen to do so, and is well worth the $34.95 purchase price for an aspiring freefall photographer. It covers a lot in a short book, and may fall just short of being 'complete,' but it sure is a great way to learn the basics. It may even save you some money by helping you avoid common 'beginner' mistakes.

      By covering a complex subject in a short book, Weldon leaves a lot out - but he does so effectively, by making the information easy to read and follow. The information he leaves out is the sort that is usually more easily learned through personal experience anyhow. Most of the missing information is of the advanced or expert variety.
    If I noticed one thing that detracted from the overall impression I got from the book, it would be the quality of the illustrations and photos. The hand drawn illustrations were crude, but effective, and several of the photos seemed ill thought-out. Specifically, in the section where Weldon chides the neophyte photographer to always keep the subjects face in the sun, the example photos show the subjects face half-shaded.
    Nevertheless, even with cheesy drawings, the book does an excellent job of making a difficult subject into a set of tasks that are easily broken down and understood. Each area is thoroughly explained, from the equipment required to safely photograph each jump, to the proper editing technique for a tandem video. Weldon tries to cover it all and does a good job of doing so.
    No book on freefall photography can avoid personal technique - and there is an endless set of variations on this. Each individual has their own style, and this comes with experience. "Flying the camera" is a great introduction, but no book can teach technique. What a book can teach, however, is method - and at this "Flying the camera" is a huge success.
    It is in the specific methods and 'tricks' that Patrick Weldon shined the brightest - the book is full of useful hints that even seasoned photographers can benefit from - I sure did. But the book also had some controversial advice, and went directly against a personal philosophy - that of what to do when you open you parachute while wearing a camera helmet.
    The book specifically recommends that you put your head on your chest and look down - I was taught, and personal experience reinforced - that you always look at the horizon during opening and keep your head level to your shoulders. The difference is in the details and I am certain there are many sides to the argument. My opinion is just that - opinion.
    In freefall photography, whatever the technique - the method remains the same - and it really does come down to personal experience. That is what skydiving is all about, and photography just expands this - it captures an intensely personal experience and allows us to share that vision with the world.
    With rapid advances in camera technology, more and more skydivers are now flying a camera. This book will not cover all of the subject areas of interest, but for a novice freefall photographer this book can provide invaluable advice and guidance - and potentially save you a lot of wasted time and money. Even where the book is less-than-perfect, it is certainly better than nothing, and Patrick Weldon should be proud of his work. "Flying the camera" fills a huge gap of knowledge and will be a great benefit to anyone interested in freefall photography.

    By admin, in General,

    Becoming a Camera Flyer

    They're out there every weekend - you see them with the students, following the teams, part of the Freefly revolution. And now you've decided to join them. So you want to be a camera flyer, huh? Here's a few tips to consider before you rush out and buy that first video camera.
    This article is intended to be a brief introduction to some of the things you need to consider if you want to fly a camera, and is in no way comprehensive. The intent is to get you to consider the choices and options available, and to try to match that with the intended use of the camera. Still cameras, camera helmets, and technique are not covered in this article.

    Flying a camera is as fun as it gets skydiving - but it can turn your fun into an expensive and frustrating affair in a big hurry, and eat away at your precious jump money even faster. What's that? You don't expect to pay for your jumps if you fly a camera?
    Well, you will - for at least the first 50 to 100 jumps, until your proficiency (NOT your flying skills) with the equipment and techniques has improved to make it worth while for someone else to pay your slot. This is an additional reason to ensure that the precious money you spend on camera equipment is not wasted due to inexperience.
    First, as with any major purchase, you have to know what you are going to do with it. The same camcorder may be useful for tandems, AFF, 4-way, and Freeflying, but if you don't know which brand and model that is, you'll likely end up with something that does not do what you expect.
    Next, start a list - are you intending to make money or just expand your fun? There's a huge difference in between those two answers, and while one does not preclude the other, you may not end up with the right tool for the job.
    If at all possible, find a mentor! Go out of your way to find an experienced camera flyer and ask for their input. Find out how they got started and why, and what equipment they bought. Ask what hard and expensive lessons they learned - any camera flyer with experience will have a few eye-opening stories for you. They may cause you to reconsider the whole idea - and that's the point. Don't expect that they can drop everything on a Saturday afternoon to help - be reasonable and try to work within their hectic schedule.
    Obviously, once you've done your homework, it's time to go shopping. In today's consumer environment, there are so many choices and options available it may seem overwhelming to know who to trust and where to go. Do you buy mail order or locally? Do you get the extended warranty they try to sell you? Do you need an extra battery? What about a wide-angle lens? How wide? This is one time it really pays to have a mentor.
    Personally, I tell every new or want-to-be camera flyer to be careful and ensure that their purchases are what they intend. If you're intending to shoot the Freefly revolution and make awesome head-down videos, a large 3-chip camcorder is probably not what you want to buy. Of course, if you plan on challenging one of the well-known freefall photographers for title of "Top Dog" you may wish to find the most powerful and feature-heavy camera on the market.
    By contrast, if you are just intending to shoot video for fun and as a point-of-view when you fun jump, then a basic camcorder with an ultra wide-angle lens(0.42x to 0.45x)may be just what you need. Most of Sony's PC series have become very popular as point-of-view cameras, with even the seasoned pros. For freeflying, they're a dream come true, offering great features, top quality images, and a fair price all in a tiny package that is easy to use.
    In between is a vast assortment of choices, manufacturers, models, and formats. With both Sony and JVC making fine models that are as small as a paperback book, Mini-DV is now the single most popular format to shoot skydiving in.
    If you intend to shoot videos for hire, such as tandems, check with the local video concession to see what they require. They can also give you an idea of what sort of experience they expect, and how to get it.
    If you buy an analog camera, even Digital-8, it may be hard to sell later, and it surely will not
    produce the clear and crisp image you're used to seeing from Mini-DV. Analog camcorders are also not nearly as small and light as Mini-DV.

    Once you've decided on Mini-DV, the usual manufacturers are JVC and Sony. There are other options, but their equipment is not as robust or well-built as Sony and JVC. They are also not as popular, and while being popular does not mean much - it does mean others have similar equipment, have experience using it, and know what works well and what fails miserably using the camera.
    Both manufacturers seem to be widely discussed on some of the Internet chat rooms related to video cameras, so there is a ready source of information for those with access. I have a personal preference for Sony - but that is solely based on MY opinion.
    Sony is without question the most popular brand of camcorder that is found in the sport today. Sony builds top-quality equipment that is small and light, yet packed with features - some of which are useful and some of which are useless. Overall, the Sony line has a reputation for quality and is widely used - therefore it will probably be the easiest for you to learn and understand.
    The models available seem to change almost daily. In 1996, when I first purchased the Sony PC-7 I own, it was a new and radical departure from camcorder design and sparked an entire line of miniature cameras from both Sony and JVC. Most of these models have very slight differences in features and functions, and are too numerous to discuss at length here.
    JVC is also popular, but many models do not offer Firewire ports (for perfect digital copies) and do not offer the same image quality as Sony.
    Prices for Mini-DV camcorders have dropped dramatically. My first Sony VX-700 cost over $2000, and the PC-7 was about the same. Today, many of the PC models from Sony sell on the street for $1000 or less. I have seen JVC models advertised as low as $750.
    Once you have narrowed your search to a specific brand and model (or models) it's time to decide where to buy. I always try to go to a local business and make a point to get to know one of the sales people. I make them show me the model(s) I am interested in, tell them I'm serious about buying it, and inquire about price. I also tell them I am considering buying mail order, and why.

    In many cases, the local retailer will not be able to match a mail order price. However, any mail order purchase has its own risks - which often outweigh the potential cost savings. Most on-line or magazine-ad merchants have large restock fees if the equipment is returned - even if it's their fault or broken when you get it.
    They may also try to charge you extra for items the manufacturer intended to be included with the basic package - including batteries! I know of at least one merchant in New Jersey who shipped me an empty box - and charged me for it. When I called to complain, I was told I'd be charged a restock fee even though the box was empty. Buyer beware, indeed.
    At any rate - wherever you buy your camera, ensure it is packaged with all of the accessories that are supposed to be included. It may require a visit to the manufacturer's web site, but the effort may save you heartache later on if something important is missing.

    Most camcorders do NOT include a Step-up ring that may be required to mount one. Again, do your homework and know what to expect and what you will have to purchase separately.

    Personally, I always buy one extra with the required adapters.
    Once you actually do purchase the unit, I recommend one more step prior to purchasing your camera helmet - read the owner's manual thoroughly! Aside from being the best way to find out what buttons do what, it is also the only place you can learn what the different indicators and icons really mean.
    Knowing that may help you later, when you're on jump run at sunset for the coolest dive of the year. There you are, fat, dumb, and happy, when your camera begins to display funny codes and weird symbols, while making grinding noises and spitting out digital tape.
    Next up is buying a camera helmet - but that will have to wait for another installment. Remember - this was your idea! You wanted to fly a camera, even after I warned you…
    About Robbie Culver
    Robbie Culver is a freefall photographer with 2800 jumps, about 1800 with cameras. Robbie's still photography has been featured in Skydiving and Parachutist magazines, the USPA Calendar, and in various industry ads. His video credits include the staff of Roger Ponce's Color Concepts at the World Freefall Convention, the 1999 Lost Prairie Boogie video, and annual dropzone highlight videos. He and his wife Brenda skydive in the Chicago area, where Brenda is an aspiring 4-way competitor and CReW dog. They can be found most weekends at Chicagoland Skydiving in Hinckley. Examples of Robbie's work and tips on freefall photography can be found on his web site, www.skydreams.net.

    By admin, in General,