Jump to content

Teaching Students To Navigate The Landing Pattern

By coreyangelon - Read 9078 times

A skydiver at the Oklahoma Skydiving Center pointing out their landing pattern. Image by Corey Miller

When we teach students how to skydive, the lessons do not just stop after the first jump course. One important skill all skydivers need to know is how to navigate through the landing pattern. I have heard instructors refer to talking to students on the radio as “remote controlled skydiving” because they guide the student where they want them to land, and they tell the student every turn to make. If we are supposed to teach our students how to pilot their canopy, then we must ask ourselves, “How is this enabling the student to learn?” In this article I will discuss a method of teaching the student how to pilot their canopy that is not only easy to use, but also allows the instructor on the radio to remain in control if the student needs additional guidance while descending under canopy.

Teaching the student piloting skills starts in the classroom. Of course we teach the students the SOPs and to make sure they have a canopy that is Square, Stable, and Steerable; but now what? Do we just give directions to the student over the radio? Realistically, for the student who just opened their canopy for the first time we, as instructors, will probably have to do that. The student has emotions of excitement and fear going through their mind while adrenaline is going through their body. This mixture can make anyone confused, so don’t be surprised if the first time in the landing pattern you are flying a “remote controlled skydiver”. Having said that, let’s discuss how we are going to teach the student to navigate the pattern and eventually, be removed from radio status. I like to start this process with a laminated picture of the landing area and a grease pencil.

With a laminated picture the instructor should sit down with the student and first, have the student draw an arrow showing the direction of the wind. Now we know that the student is aware of the wind direction and we do not have to assume that they do. Next, have the student point out where their “playground” is going to be. For those who do not use the term “playground” that is the area where the student can fly their canopy, while they are descending to the proper altitude to enter the landing pattern. Next, have the student make a mark showing where they will enter the downwind part of the landing pattern and at what altitude this is supposed happen. This is the time the instructor can discuss at what altitude to leave the playground and to start thinking about the landing procedures they covered during the first jump course. Additionally, let the student know that next time things could be different due to wind direction and speed. Next have the student show where, and at what altitude, to make their turn for the base leg of the landing pattern.

Since an aerial picture of the drop zone is be used, the instructor can point out hazards and landmarks at this point. For me, I like to point out a grass runway at the drop zone and to tell students not to go pass it figuring it is better for them to have to walk back a little bit than to risk getting too close to the hanger or the active taxiway. Finally, have the student show where, and at what altitude, the final turn would be.

At this point the instructor should reiterate the importance of the wind sock, what altitude to stop turns and to do only small corrections, and of course, when to flare. Since the student is making marks on a laminated picture, it is a good training aid to keep and to use when debriefing the student after the jump. The instructor can point out how the plan and the actual landing pattern were different. The instructor then can talk about how safety could have been affected and discuss a plan for improvement. After the debriefing the student, just wipe the photo clean and use it for the next student. Now, let’s talk about our first jump student some more.

When teaching a first jump student, I do not advocate going through all of this in great detail on their first jump. Instead, have them look at the picture. Ask them about where they would want to be at 1,000 feet. Where would they turn for the base leg and final leg of the landing pattern? If we, as instructors, get into too much detail for the first jump the student can have a sensation overload and forget everything. Additionally, a sensation overload could make the experience less enjoyable and possibly hinder the chances for repeat business and some good word of mouth advertising. By just showing them what will be happening we can reduce the student’s anxiety by reducing their fear of the unknown. Additionally, if there should be a radio failure while the student is under canopy, having shown them on a photo of the landing zone and discussed where they should be in relationship to various ground features we have just increased the chances for the student to land safely.

Author Bio:

Corey Miller is a C rated skydiver who held both coach and IAD instructor ratings. He holds a Master in Aeronautic Science degree with specialties in Teaching and Human Factors. He currently works as an Instructor/Quality Assurance Inspector in the Aerospace Industry. He calls the Oklahoma Skydiving Center his home DZ.

0
0

SIGN UP OR LOGIN

Create a free account or login to comment on this article.

Sign Up Login

User Feedback




rogerkern
we revised our fjc last year and this exact item was added and for each jump the student does, our overhead is printed out for this purpose and last season had much improved students and noticed we talked less on the radio to the students. and yes every once in a while there was always that one student that didn't get it but over all it was one of the best changes we made. loved the article and good to see we are on the right track.
Roger Kern, Coach/IAD and S&TA.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
coreyangel
Thank you for the feed back Roger, I'm so happy to hear that your students are responding well to the changes you implimented. If you ever have any ideas for something that should be added, or changed, please feel free to let me know. I love hearing about different ways to improve training and safety.
Blue skies.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
gaskydyvr
We started having students (Cat. B and above) and non-licensed jumpers fill out flight planners. With the posted winds they need to show the jump run, freefall drift, playground, and landing pattern with landmarks at the start of each leg. It has reduced the number of runway/tarmac landings, lol. Bruce, AFF/IAD and S&TA

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
BrianSGermain
It is interesting to me that in the US and other countries where radios are always used, the case is made why we absolutely need them. The idea that a first or second jump student is emotionally incapable of flying a pattern to a safe landing is unthinkable in this cultural context.
In countries such as Norway and Sweden, places that tend to have the most favorable incident statistics, radios are rarely used at all. Is it possible that we are using radios in the States to mask our hidden agenda of not wanting to spend the time to teach our students how to fly their parachutes? Is it possible that the human factors argument, for most people, is not valid, and has merely been a mechanism of a litigious society once again impinging on human freedom?
Philosophical discussion aside, it is my agenda to make sure that everyone who flies a parachute knows how to do it safety. It is through articles like this one that we can get skydivers thinking about HOW to teach safe parachuting methods. We need to create responsible canopy pilots who understand the dynamics of the situation on a very deep level, and your article is another part of that puzzle. Thank you for writing it.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
coreyangel
Bruce, it sounds like your DZ has a great program. Just to ask a question, have you had any feedback from jumpers that learned this way and visited another drop zone? The reason why I'm asking is because I'm curious if it was easier for them to make the transition to landing at an unfamiliar area.

When I was a newly licensed jumper I went to a boogie. It was my first time at a big drop zone and I was overwhelmed. One of the things that had me overwhelmed was the landing pattern. I was used to my home DZ and I knew what land marks to look for when I was in the landing pattern. Now I had to figure it out all on my own because I couldn't do what I had always done. I think that by having jumpers do exercises, like yours, helps newer jumpers make that transition easier, safer, and more enjoyable. What do you think?

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
coreyangel
Brian,

Thank you very much for your comments, they mean a lot to me.

I haven't been fortunate enough to visit a foreign drop zone and I was not aware that they did a lot less radio work than we do. I would like to ask you, do you think the reason is more philosophical or do you think it could be rooted in the way instructors are taught and certified? Like I said, I do not know first handed how other countries certify their instructors and I'm just asking this to create a discussion, but could the reason why we sometimes over do the radio is out of our own fears as an instructor? When the student is under canopy we, as instructors, are responsible for their safety. Could we be over thinking the situation and not letting the students learn because of our own fears? If this could be the case, could there be, or should there be, something added to the instructor certification course to address this? Is this a topic that is addressed in the certification courses conducted in other countries?

I would love to hear anyone’s views on this.
Corey

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
peek
I don't know if posting a message here alerts all of the other people who have posted, so maybe you all will just need to check back.
To answer Brian's questions, yes, I think that many DZs and instructors are not willing to spend the time needed to teach the canopy control needed for a first-time or low-time jumper. It is easier to treat them like "radio-controlled students."
I know of one drop zone that I used to frequent where the DZOs often used very tight control over the radio rather than letting the student make small errors and therefore learn. I think they wanted to have the student land very close in the nice grassy landing area because they thought that this was giving the student better "customer service" than landing them further away. (It is also possible that the DZOs thought that there was less possibility of a landing injury if they landed in the nice level, grassy area. This is a valid concern even if the students have been taught to PLF well, especially if the fields surrounding the landing area are rough.)
The times that I was the instructor on the radio, I tried to say very little so that they could learn. I had several students thank me profusely for not saying much on the radio.
I have been noticing a very good trend in instruction now where students are not even told about the radio until very late in the first jump instruction. This causes the student to pay more attention to the instruction about landing rather than assuming that someone will be doing it for them.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
dthames
Corey, I did a few student jumps at Pegasus and I really liked the way Bob had students walk out the pattern over his little model turning points that he would lay out in front of the hanger. Walking it out helps the student demonstrate they understand the pattern concept. They can shake their head yes, but if they can’t walk it out and pull imaginary toggle for the turns, they have not “got it”.
I agree with some of the comments about the radio being a training obstacle. It might be good as a fall back if things are going to pot, but as a student, I didn’t want someone to tell me what to do in the air, after they had taught me what to do before the jump. Just let me do it, please. I was lucky that most instructors that I had were very willing to let me fly the pattern on my own. I have seen a few students do dumb stuff because they were waiting for the radio to tell them to avoid the concrete and steer to stay over the grass. No one wants to tell the guy at 100 feet on final that he/she needs to steer away from less desirable landing spots, but once you train the student to listen to the radio, it is like their “life line” and they sometimes stop making their own decisions. I am not an instructor but you can just watch and see those things happen to students when no one tells them, “You do what you think best for you, because it is you will get hurt otherwise”.
Thanks for the article.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
BrianSGermain
Corey, I think that fear of mistakes on the students part is the fundamental to being a caring instructor. It is just like being a parent, in that the desire to prevent harm is often so strong that we prevent learning through direct experience. It is true that the paradigm from which instructors come creates a tendency to continue in that direction, nevertheless evolution is part of the quest for higher levels of safety. If we find a balance between the two ends of the spectrum, and say, have radios but only use them to serious situations, true safety can be achieved. We can use the radio to teach, through asking good questions of the student under canopy that lead to understanding, rather than just giving them the answers, we will be on the road to an expanded model. That, I believe, is where we are headed.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
coreyangel
Dan,

I have to admit, over the years I have been a huge critic of Pegasus, but you are correct, he did have a good method for teaching the landing pattern. One thing he also did for the new students was to place signs on the ground with altitudes on them. On sign would read 1,000 another 700 etc. This method would allow a student to look down and see what altitude they should be at. This worked really well, along with the walk through drills he did, in part due to the size of his drop zone.

This is not a dig against his method, his drop zone met all USPA size regulations, but it was smaller with close obstacles. As the students are walking through the mock up, they can look up and see the obstacle that is being referenced. This allows them to create a mental image that will be close to what they see in the air. On the other hand, a larger drop zone could have a group of trees or a building that is a mile away. Now, it wouldn't be an obstacle but maybe it is a navigational aide that a student on the ground may not be able to make a mental image of. In that case it may be a good idea to use both a mock up and an aerial picture.

Thanks for mentioning Pegasus Dan. I do believe that this is one area where his training method was spot on.
Corey

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites



Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account. It's free!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×