You Know Nothing About Seatbelts - Part 1

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

    By nettenette, in General,

    Nailing “The Most Technical Demo Jump in Skydiving”

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

    By nettenette, in General,

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

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

    By nettenette, in General,

    Overcome Skydiving Fears

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

    By RushCube, in General,

    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,