Jim Slaton is widely recognized as one of the most accomplished canopy pilots in the world. Dropzone.com spoke to him and asked him about his involvement in the newly formed Para-Performance Pro Tour. We also wanted to know more about the Evolution Canopy Control School and used the opportunity to ask him about his thoughts on the wing loading and how small he thinks canopies will shrink. Here's what he told us and some more.
Tell us about your involvement in the Para-Performance Pro Tour?
I am the Para-Performance Pro Tour event director.
Who are the drivers behind this new initiative and how did it all come together? Tell us a bit about the history.
After several years of observation, it was clear that the evolution of the high performance canopy pilot was out growing our available competition circuit. I listened to what the competitor wanted and required. Almost every Pro competitor motivated me to build a tour in one-way or the other.
What are the goals of the Para-Performance Pro Tour? What would you like to see happen in the next year, two years?
The goals of the Para-Pro Tour are simple: "Provide intense, challenging swooping competitions in the safest manner possible for the evolution of high performance canopy flight". We have set goals and we plan to see them through. For example, none of the competitions or judging on the tour will be open for interpretation. Canopy pilots on tour will be ranked and competition records will be recorded.
What do you consider to be the biggest challenges and obstacles on the road to success? What is success in the context of the tour?
Three words: Participation, Education & Motivation
Tell me a bit about the Evolution Canopy Control School.
Elsinore Evolution offers professional canopy instruction tailored for today's modern skydiver. The school offers beginner, intermediate & advanced coaching. The school is the next step in the evolution of controlled canopy flight.
Who's involved? How did you guys come on the idea?
Elsinore Evolution is made up of Icarus Canopies factory team (Luigi Cani, J.C. Colclasure, Clint Clawson, Jim Slaton, Wyat Drews). The idea of creating a canopy control school is not new. In fact, professional skydivers have been onto the idea since the early 1990s and probably before. With the rising popularity of high performance parachutes and it's extreme canopy competitions, it's a good time to offer a structured alternative to learning the old fashion way.
Any takers? Do you find that people are interested in formal canopy flight training?
We have had a lot of students taking advantage of this program. Most of the students are learning the basics and several others are preparing for their first canopy competition.
Who and how are you teaching? Who are you targeting - experienced swoopers who want to become great or will you take me too?
The Flight training program starts with basic aerodynamics and then moves on to design parameters, flight environment, psychological approach, flight training & high performance flight training. The student starts the course based on his or her experience, learning objectives, and goals, etc. The school offers training for all levels of canopy pilots.
How did you get into high performance canopy competitions?
I started competing in competitions through a canopy manufacture. Parachute testing and just fooling around with my friends.
What do you see as your greatest achievement in skydiving?
That's a hard question. I guess I have enjoyed providing an additional opportunity for the skydiving community. I've enjoyed organizing canopy competitions for my friends and fellow skydivers.
Besides swooping, what's your favorite skydiving discipline?
I would have to say freeflying. I was part of the "Orbit Punks" freefly team and operated a freefly school before dedicating all my time to canopy swooping.
What's your favorite canopy and wing load combination?
ICARUS EXTREME CANOPIES. I enjoy flying at several different wing loadings. I can't tell you what my favorite wing loading is but I will say I feel the most efficient at around 2.3..... or is it 2.6?
With your team mate Luis Cani flying a 46 sq Ft canopy and talking about trying something smaller, how small do you think we could go?
Luigi & me spend a lot of time experimenting with wing loadings and airfoil types. I have seen Luigi load himself up with weights and fly the VX46 at over a 4.7 wing loading! However, Luigi is one of the best canopy pilots in the world and has one of the best testing grounds as well. There comes a point with aerodynamics that you start sacrificing one type of performance for another. When you reach a high enough wing loading for your airfoil type, you begin sacrificing lift for speed. The smaller the wing and the higher the wing loading, the more airspeed you need to create lift. All pilots need lift for a safe and productive landing. This is why parachutes flown at very high wing loadings don't always out swoop their competition and don't always land pretty. Overloaded canopies are not always efficient and are very tricky to land. However, just because they are not efficient doesn't mean they can't be landed safely. Technological advancements in canopy designs have open new doors for pilots flying at higher wing loadings with smaller wings. Future designs will make this opportunity even more epic! I feel Luigi Cani could successfully land an Icarus Extreme down to 28 sq feet! This is a bold statement, but I know he can and probably will. Keep in mind Luigi makes over 1000 jumps each year and trains daily in high performance canopy landings. He has some of the best aerodynamic engineers in the world behind him and is backed with the support of some of the biggest canopy manufactures in the business.
What would you consider to be low, high, medium and extreme wing loading?
Low 1.2-Med 1.6- High 1.9........Extreme loading are 2.0 and above
What advice would you give someone just starting with swooping who plans to become good at it?
Take advice, choose wisely who you listen to, train hard, stay current, be patient, make a plan, stick to the plan, explore all aspects of your current canopy before you move on, practice high speed approaches and new maneuvers over water, wear a helmet, don't panic, think ahead, make a smooth approach, make smooth inputs to the canopy, pay attention to what your canopy is doing, don't force it & BREATH!
Thinking about the high number of people hurting and killing themselves under perfectly good canopies, what do you think is the most common mistake that can prevent a lot of these accidents from happening?
A pilot needs to understand some basic aerodynamics. The pilot needs to know why canopies act the way they do when they do. If you understand the performance envelope of your canopy and it's limitations, you can better understand what to ask of it or what not to ask of it. To make things worse, the wind is never constant, turbulence is always waiting, density altitude is changing and the pilot has to deal with this all at the same time during his final approach. As a wise man once said, "Never initiate a turn you won't be able to complete before you hit the ground"
About Jim Slaton
Hometown: Amarillo, TX
Home Drop Zone: Skydive Elsinore, Ca
Year of First jump: 1990
Championships: 2000 Pro Blade World Freefall Champion, Para-Performance Games 3rd place-accuracy record holder-Distance record holder (321 feet!), PSST Caribbean Challenge 3rd place, 2000 Summer Jam Canopy Challenge Champion, Pro Blade Houston 4th place, ect
Total Jumps: 3000 or so
How many cutaways do you have? 20 (I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not)
What gear do you jump?
Icarus Canopies, Precision reserves, Infinity rigs, Cypress (waterproof housing) Pro Track/Pro Dytter, Jump Shack custom pilot chutes, Firefly jumpsuits, Bonehead helmets, Gatorz eyewear
What canopies do you own or fly?
Icarus Extreme VX 60,65,69,70,84
How did you become interested in skydiving? Through the military
Who have been your skydiving role models?
J.C. Colclasure, Rob Harris, and that older guy that always jumped with his dog at Quincy!
What do you like most about this sport?
Skydiving allows us the opportunity to explore the limits of human flight.
What do you like least about this sport? Politics
If you had to quit skydiving tomorrow, what would you want to do instead?
Become an astronaut
Tell us something most people don't know about you.
I spent 10 years on active duty in the Army Airborne Ranger Regiment. In addition, I lived in Germany and spent four years as a parachute test jumper for a European company.
Anything else people should know about Jim Slaton?
I think I have said enough already, Peace!!!!