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Propeller Safety For Skydivers Who Want To Live

By nettenetteon - Read 6413 times

How Not To Become Dog Food Like That Indiana Jones Guy

Image by Lukasz Szymanski

Remember that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Indiana Jones is on an active airfield. He’s duking it out with a bald, mustachioed, wall-of-meat Nazi, and he’s kinda losing. Finally, he manages to distract the dude with his puny, tickly little punches until a propeller can chop his shiny evilness into dog food.

And we cheer, and we laugh. Because ha! That guy was so stupid, he didn’t even see that propeller. Hilarious.

Well, my friends -- we could all easily be that bald, mustachioed, wall-of-meat Nazi if we’re not careful.

We’re around propellers all the time, after all. We’re accustomed to hearing and feeling them -- so much so that they’re almost invisible. Statistically, we’re in their immediate presence enough for the risk to be proportionately higher than it is for someone who’s rarely on an active airfield. So: here’s your game plan.

Always sneak up on fixed-wing aircraft from behind.

Props are located in on the fronts of fixed-wing aircraft -- either on the nose or on the fronts of the wings themselves -- so always approach a fixed-wing aircraft from well behind the wing. Teach yourself to do this every time, whether or not the plane is running. This will lessen the chance of you bumbling into the “fool processor” with a boogie beer in-hand.

Always stare helicopters in the face. (Kinda.)

Helicopters don’t like to be snuck-up-on. Think about it like you’re establishing dominance -- always approach helicopters from the side-front, where the pilot can see you. (The real reason for this is the danger posed by the rear rotor, but -- if you think about it -- helicopters kinda have faces you can stare down.) The rule of thumb is to stay in front of the boarding door, never behind it, and not directly in front of the helicopter where it tips during takeoff.

Never chat with the pilot from outside the plane.

Have manifest radio them with information, or -- if you must -- do the annoying half-gesture, half-shout thing inside the cabin. They probably don’t want to talk to you, anyway.

Never touch a propeller unless you’re filling out a timecard to do it.

Touching a propeller is like sticking your hand into a beehive. You may or may not get stung, but it’s an inarguably dumb idea. Even if the plane is tucked in for the night, it’s not okay to saunter up to a propeller and stroke, push, spin, crank, pull, lean, poke, lick or fistbump it. They’re heavy, sharp and kinda unpredictable, especially if you’ve been drinking (which you probably have been). Just leave it alone.

Don’t take the shortcut.

Is the shortest distance from the LZ to the hangar a straight shot through the loading zone (or any other aircraft operating area)? Do the right thing and walk around it. If you start cutting through the no-walk zone to save a couple of minutes, your fellow jumpers, students and spectators will likely follow suit. Restricted areas aren’t restricted unless it’s hot and you’re tired and you double-manifested, and you -- or someone who waddles along after you -- might pay a high price for the choice.

Don’t wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care on a heli huck.

...until you’re either hanging from the helicopter strut, safely landed, or mugging for a freefall photo you’ll be embarrassed about later. There are spinning scimitars up there while you’re exiting, dude.

Do your part to muddy up the gene pool.

Especially on crowded weekend days, boogies, demo events and any other place that more than two mouthbreathers are gathered in the name of skydiving, you are going to witness stupidity. If you see one of the horde wandering cow-faced towards the propellers -- almost always, led by a GoPro or smartphone -- please grab them, divert them and ask them nicely not to procreate as you lead them gently behind the signs they’ve so blithely ignored.

Maybe remind them of the bald, mustachioed, wall-of-meat Nazi guy who became dog food. (Everybody remembers that part.)


About The Author

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


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Great post. My tandem and AFF students all get briefed on propeller safety, both in the class and on the walk to the plane. Respect those props, running or not, always.

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Just lost a long-time friend to a prop strike a few weeks ago. One of my first flight instructors was missing an arm from a prop strike. A DZO I worked far a few years back walked face-first into a (fortunately stopped) Caravan prop and almost broke his nose on the sharp edge. You can never be too careful around props.

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