Skydiving Gear - Avoiding and Solving Problems
This article is about learning how to “Understand parachute equipment so you can avoid and survive dangerous situations”!
Important gear concepts exist and are always valid, regardless of who makes the gear, where it is used or what someone is telling you about it!
The best way to solve a problem is not to get in a situation where you are forced to solve one, but if you do, you still need to know what to do. How can we do that? The answer is- understanding the equipment and knowing what you can do with it.
Example- being aware that the Reserve pilot chutes can experience spring lock/pilot chute partial malfunction/, will prepare you for the moment if this happens. What can you do in this situation?
There is no one else to rely on up in the sky except you, with your knowledge, skills, and experience. Understanding the equipment can help you avoid and resolve situations.
Equipment concepts have been around since parachutes came into existing and they are the principals that define how and why equipment is designed, manufactured, and used. Therefore, they are independent of arbitrary opinions and politics.
1. Must be a Mechanical system
2. Must be Functionally sound
3. Must be Safety compliant
Do these concepts feel familiar in any way?
They are pretty much the principles you follow on every jump to ensure the equipment is safe while doing your checks, post deployment procedures, flying the canopy, etc. etc. All these actions ensure that 1. The mechanical system/parachute/ is 2. Functional and 3. Safe!
This particular article will look at what are the factors defining the parachute equipment as a Mechanical system.
Parachutes need proper environment/atmosphere, gravity, fluids resistance etc./ to work. Even though they were designed on Planet Earth, parachutes successfully worked on Mars, using the same principles https://mars.nasa.gov/news/8875/testing-proves-its-worth-with-successful-mars-parachute-deployment/
The Parachute used for Mars landings
Airplane equipped with emergency parachute
What defines a Parachute as a Mechanical System?
1. The system needs to comprise all its parts!
Learn what are the parachute components of your main and reserve and how they work. Are they all what they should be? Here you can start with your parachute manual!
“Parachute assembly normally, but not exclusively, consists of the following major components: a canopy, a deployment device, a pilot chute and/or drogue, risers, a stowage container, a harness, and an actuation device (ripcord)”. All the parts mentioned are vitally important for the parachute operation. If the pilot chute gets separated from the D bag on deployment, it won’t be able to extract the main from the container causing a malfunction. However, sometimes parachutes can operate with missing parts -D bag can be extracted and thrown on the wind flow manually if the PC is in tow; you can pull the RSL lanyard on some models for a reserve activation. As you can see, knowing all the parts and their function will give you the advantage of extra ability to avoid and solve problems.
When you inspect your gear, you check if all the visible parts are present and connected. Sometimes you are not able to inspect all the parts inside the container, for example when someone else has packed for you but you trust your packer or rigger. That’s where teamwork and cooperation come in to play!
2. The system is real- nothing magical happens up there
Investigate the reasons for accidents and learn the reasons that caused them. Consider what you would have done with your gear to avoid each one of them! Consult with knowledgeable person!
Parachute is a physical system; laws of mechanics and aerodynamics apply. Higher windspeed under the canopy creates lift. Pulling a toggle, creates resistance on this side of the canopy, and it turns in the same direction caused by that increased resistance. Uneven body position contributes to line twists/mains or reserves/, high speed on deployment causes hard openings. There are reasons for everything that happens with the equipment and the consequences. Sounds logical, right? Learn what causes line twists so you can fly your openings and avoid them, learn what causes hard opening so you can pack better and avoid them, learn which canopies fly better in turbulence and get one of them, learn what causes pilot chute in tow and you can avoid them.
Have you personally investigated all accidents that have happened to learn what to do to protect yourself in the future? Really, have you done that, at least for the fatalities you have heard about recently? If you have not- you have holes in your knowledge how to save your life. Take a minute to think about it now! Why haven’t you done that? There are officials that should be able to answer all your questions and are also people on the field that have a lot of answers.
3. Mechanical systems malfunction, both- main and reserve.
Learn what has caused mains and reserves to malfunction or would. Then, think what you can change or do to avoid malfunctions!
Yes, parachutes malfunction, both mains, and reserves. Understanding the equipment can help you identify potential malfunction and reduce the anxiety.
Before jumping, we should know how the canopy we jump would react in different situations. Knowing the difference between 7 and 9 cell canopies, we can anticipate what surprises we can get on opening or while turning with them.
What settings enable your canopy’s optimum glide ability- flying it with rear risers, on 50 % brakes, how effective they are downwind, into the wind? Knowing all that before returning from a long spot can keep you out of troubles.
Most reserves are usually built as 7 cell F-111 square canopies. Why is that? You should know what could contribute or cause reserves to malfunction and avoid these situations. In case the reserve malfunctions, you should know what is possible to do to rectify the situations. Take a minute to think about your options if this happens. What is the design and materials of your reserve? If you have questions- ask someone that knows, not someone of authority that thinks they know.
Ask yourself- are my knowledge, skills, and experience where they should be? Am I doing everything I can to improve them?
It is not manufacturer’s job to tell you everything you need to know, so they don’t, they are companies and have different priorities. Often, federations and associations can be slow with bringing to you the education you need. More than 80% of fatalities are result of human error, don’t become part of this statistic. Educate yourself!
In skydiving there is always someone that knows more than you! Find them and ask! Start with:
Every time, looking or handling parachute equipment, think about it in the context if- 1. The mechanical system/parachute/ is 2. Functional and 3. Safe!
Understanding the equipment will enable you to know what to do in situations you don’t know what to do! A real advantage when it is time to save yourself.
To be continued!
Are You Ready?
This article is about today’s crucial importance of education in Skydiving and Rigging and what part of it are procedures and rules.
“You have to be ready for every situation!”- this is a popular expression lately and it makes perfect sense. But what does it mean, how do we prepare in order to be “ready”, what training is necessary, where do we get it, what knowledge do we need, is the training from our first jump course enough, etc. etc.? All good questions. Here, we are going to answer some of them. Obviously, it all comes down to EDUCATION! The right EDUCATION!
In order to survive a skydive we need- knowledge, skills and experience! There is nothing else we can rely on when it is time to resolve any situation up there than ourselves and what we know. Interestingly, in recent years, the concept of “following procedures and rules” has been pushed through Skydiving more and more and now it wrongly has been assumed as the main way of dealing with difficult situations. “Following procedures and rules” is very important, actually it is extremely important. Following procedures and rules means that certain important things are going to get done in the necessary order. This evidently ensures the safety in skydiving to a big extent. Is that enough? Both, the short and the long answers are -NO.
The definition for “Procedure” is- a series of actions are conducted in a certain order or an established or official way of doing something. It is a term coming from the mechanics, and it works well in the factories. Following procedures there ensures things are done the correct way in order a certain process to be carried out. Skydiving, Rigging, training and education are not manufacturing processes. There simply cannot be procedures that cover what will happen on a jump. Every jump is different to some extent, done by different people, from different altitudes, different airplanes, and with different equipment! Equipment checks, packing procedures, post deployment procedures etc are good examples for procedures we use today. They are just part of the education and should not be mistaken for sufficient good training in Skydiving and Rigging. Also, “Procedures” can and have to change often, when situation requires that, especially in emergencies.
So, what exactly is the difference between Procedures and education- following procedures covers only several things that need to be done in specific situations while good education is what prepares us to resolve a wide range of problems in wide range of different situations. There is a big difference between the two!
Unknown situations, Extreme weather conditions/phenomenon/, Unknown equipment and other factors/mostly human ones/ are important part of the education in Skydiving and standard “procedures” do not cover wide range of what happens in these. The insufficient training in these areas is a reason for a big part of the serious injuries and deaths.
Unknown situations- well they happen, and we must deal with them. It is important to know what can help us. Broken control line on deployment, 3000 ft height, no line twist, steerable canopy and the canopy turns. Do you have to cut away? Yes, there’s many answers, and they all depend on the particular situations. Winds, distance from landing area, main canopy, spot, etc, etc, etc.
Unusual and extreme weather conditions/phenomenon/- looks like a good idea to know how to handle strong wind gusts, turbulence, dust devils, etc. Let us say you are at 2000 ft under a good canopy and there is sudden wave of strong wind- 30-40 kts on the surface. This changes your original plan, but you still must land, nobody stayed up there. What is the approach you need now, can you fly your canopy backwards facing into the wind, what are the implications flying the canopy crosswind? Now your knowledge comes to play.
Unknown equipment. What constitutes unknown equipment? Well, obviously the equipment you do not know, and If you do not know what is in your reserve tray- that makes it new when it’s time to use it. A good example is using MAARD systems. After cutaway, RSL opens your reserve tray and initiates the reserve opening sequence regardless in what position you are, sometimes spinning, spinning on your back etc. Any other position than belly to earth, slightly head up is less favourable for the reserve opening.
What is the difference between untreated Spectra lines /PD reserves/ and treated/stiffer/ Spectra lines?
Other factors/mostly human ones/- yes, very important to know how you would react when you are first time in particular situations. If you lack the necessary time and resources/knowledge/ and you are to deal with situation that you do not know how to resolve, the “freeze, fight or fly” response takes into action, and you could forget even the things you knew.
Nowadays, these factors are sometimes left outside the scope of the things considered important in training and in operations. Again- knowledge, skills and experience is what we need, and only good education and training can provide them. Following standard operating procedures are not enough!
Well, if you create a system to do something- do not be surprised it does it!
It is not a big surprise these factors are important and ignoring them causes problems.
Turns out there is a huge amount that can be done, and education is very important.
“The ability to generate and then select the appropriate course of action is based on the decision maker’s “reading” of the situation—in other words, our ability to assess the situation and predict how it will evolve over the next few seconds. “The more knowledge you have on how things work- better chance of reading the situation. Knowing what is in the reserve container, what the closing sequence is, how and when the MARD works, why the RSL was invented and implemented, what the reserve pilot chute is, can affect the way we read and PERCIEVE emergency situations. These things are important and being familiar with them could save your life. In emergency, people have reacted in different way depending on how they see the situation. As a result, if you know how all the equipment works and what you have, often you do not need to stop, think and then act. Action becomes inbuilt into your reflexes- we jump out of the way of fast approaching car before we even think about it. The same thing happens when you are driving a car- you are not constantly thinking how much input you should apply to different muscles of your limbs in order to maintain a straight line- it is all done subconsciously. You need to think only when you the situation changes, and you need to decide which way you need to turn at an intersection.
The alternative is when you do not know how equipment works in emergency situation- you execute only what you are told- pull some handles, hopefully in the right sequence. If this does not go well- you will need a lot of luck because you do not have time! If we are not sure exactly what is the problem, we need time to realise exactly what is happening, to run different simulations and to decide what course of action to take and execute it. In skydiving- we DO NOT have time. Unfortunately, the current Skydiving “Emergency procedures” diagram-based education here simply fails in many aspects.
All these- “Unknown situations, Extreme weather conditions/phenomenon/, Unknown equipment and other factors/mostly human/ factors” are interrelated. Educating ourselves in one of them, significantly improves the overall outcome as this positively affects all other factors. Let us say we significantly improve our knowledge in “Unknown equipment” /how equipment works/, this significantly improves our ability to handle weather phenomenon/very important/, unknown situations/extremely important/, Human factors/increases the competence confidence loop and anxiety level/ and this improves following procedures as they are understood better.
Getting back to- “You have to be ready for every situation!”- it means that we must be prepared as much as possible for what is coming at us in skydiving. We must know how to prevent and handle situations that have happened before, and we need to be able to tackle even situations that have not happened to us or in general.
Unfortunately to me it looks like we were closer to the right education 30 years ago than today. The reasons for that are complex, however the education providing the necessary knowledge, needs to reflect the modern equipment we have, the already gained experience in skydiving, educational psychology etc.
Luckily, we know all this! We just need to implement what we know again!
It is every skydiver’s personal responsibility to learn how to survive after passing their student status.
Do not wait! Ask! Seek information! Learn! Request a good education, your life depends on it! Ask WHY and HOW! If whoever is teaching you, cannot explain WHY and HOW, ask someone that knows!
Where do we start?
You can start with the manuals for your parachutes and AAD!
Photo, courtesy of “Jump Dogs Display Team”
High stress situations- what's the deal?
This should be a relatively simple question, right? After all we learn them before we even go for our first skydive. Some people find it easy and some very difficult to deal with Emergency situations. So difficult that they couldn’t. It all depends how procedures are thought and consequently perceived. Motivations set goals and goals define perception, therefore instructors, manufacturers and riggers might give you slightly different versions on what would work best. Who decides? Education is the key, but only the right education! However, different opinions should be seriously considered as things change. This is very important as we have a strong tendency to reject ideas that fail to fit our preconceptions, labeling those ideas as unworthy of consideration— nonsense, irrelevant, weird, or mistaken
“Of the 308 fatalities that were reported between 1993-2001, 264 (86%) were categorized as Human Error, indicating that human error was deemed to be the principal causal factor in the mishaps”, this study was done in the USA. So 264 people executing emergency procedures during this period made a fatal mistake. The same study concluded that- “Within skydiving training and education programs, specific attention should be given to human error, and training should be deliberately aimed at reducing human error mishaps.” This was concluded 20 years ago. What do you think has been done with relation to this? Not much, and in regards to reducing human error things have gotten even more complicated.
In order to execute the correct emergency procedures, we need to identify the malfunction correctly and perform the correct action from all the available options.
Here’s an example of one way to teach them:
This is just an example. Looks good and it’s in color too, well presented and not that difficult to understand. There are many different types of these around. Are they the real deal?
They should be, if they are around. And are they what the education needs? This type diagrams are consequence of the typical industrial type of education. The idea with the diagrams is that you learn it and when you need to respond to a malfunction situation- just execute the actions! That’s how computers work. Fast and accurate. But that’s not what happens in our heads. We are organic creatures. Skydiving is a high pace activity and we don’t have time to freeze, bring out the diagram with situations from the library, pick the right one and execute it. According to Adler (1991) and Schramm-Nielsen (2001), the decision-making process is comprised of specific stages including the recognition of the problem, search of information, alternatives, assessment of alternatives, selection of an alternative, implementation, control and feedback. Stress can also have an impact on each stage of the decision-making process (Moschis, 2007). Janis and Mann (1977) conclude that perceived stress in the decision-making process is a major cause of bad decisions and errors. And this is understandable- if we don’t know or understand what’s going on- the brain puts us in the pray response- freeze, fight, flight.
Consequently, the following issues arise from the diagram way to learn emergency procedures- our nervous systems are not fast enough and humans are not “Stimuli response machine” when skydiving, nor while acting under any pressure or stress. This “Stimuli response machine” theory of human behavior was from the middle of the last century and it says that when you are presented with a problem, you consider it, make a decision and act. However, this mechanism is true and works ONLY when everything that happens goes to plan, we have time, we are not under pressure and have enough time to think. This rarely happens in real life, let alone when dealing with emergencies in skydiving.
More importantly, diagrams and words are not how we think in skydiving and in general. What? What am I talking about?
A new study led by Elinor Amit, an affiliate of the Psychology Department, shows that people create visual images to accompany their inner speech even when they are prompted to use verbal thinking, suggesting that visual thinking is deeply ingrained in the human brain while speech is a relatively recent evolutionary development.
“This suggests that we can’t really go beyond the here and now and think in abstract ways about other people, places, or times,” Amit said. “This is the way our brains are wired, and there may be an evolutionary reason for this [because] we haven’t always been verbalizers. For a long time, we understood our world visually, so maybe language is an add-on.
“That has important implications because if we are truly grounded in the here and now, what does that mean about how we develop public policy?” she added. “Do we need to help people overcome their bias to focusing on the here and now? This is something we may need to be aware of.”
This is relevant to skydiving as when we think about skydiving we imagine pictures, frames, short clips. Human life and behavior is organized around our vision. This is another fact that separates us from animals as they have their life organized around smell. This is very important as it gives us the ability to build images in our heads and run simulations. But this is only possible if the training goes past the diagrams and involves video or photographs. Hey, it’s not really possible to see what’s exactly happening after you throw your pilot chute so we feel and build pictures in our head of the developing opening sequence. If our brain detects any mismatch with what’s supposed to happen- we are alerted to get ready. RAS is activated.
Visualization is widely used in skydiving. So why did we stop using it for emergency procedures training? I know people that haven’t seen any emergency procedures visual aids since they finished their AFF course 10 years ago. Even worse, it’s actually hard to find updated video of emergency procedures done right in real situation.
If things do not go as planned, the emotional system- the ancient brain takes over and acts. The systems that are activated in the stress situations have been studied in depth. More details are to be in different publication but one good example is the RAS- reticulate activating system, located mainly in the hippocampus. It keeps track of everything that doesn’t go to plan so we can react. This is the system that wakes you up at night if something wrong is happening- loud noise, anomaly in the environment, etc. The same system helps you drive your car when you are brain wondering and think about something else, whatever it is. It will alert you and help make a decision when the traffic light gets red so you can stop in response. What actually happens when things go wrong is – the hippocampus modulates the process there, primes the amygdala in case things go really wrong and it primes the hypothalamus, the part of our brain responsible for exploration /we need to find a solution/. The result is you are ready! The question is how worried should you be? And that depends on how ready you are for the emergency.
The “Stimuli response machine” emergency procedures diagrams have some other inbuilt problems. One is that not all situations that happen are described, so they don’t give you a course of action for them. These should be resolved with the help of autonomous and divergent thinking. In order to do that we need have the necessary information. In skydiving, the necessary information involves equipment education and how parachute systems work. Unfortunately, there’s practically no formal education incorporated for licensed skydivers in this area. In other words, licensed skydivers unless they are riggers, luck the resources they need to deal with some situations. This can lead to developing of negative emotions in skydivers. The chronic overwhelm caused by these negative emotions can also harm the hippocampus, which is crucial for learning: this is where short-term memories, like what we've just heard or read, are converted to long- term memories, so we can recall them later. The hippocampus is extraordinarily rich in receptors for cortisol, so our capacity to learn is very vulnerable to stress. If we have constant stress in our lives, this flood of cortisol actually disconnects existing neural networks; we can have memory loss. We must learn to make our own interpretations rather than act on the purposes, beliefs, judgments, and feelings of others.
So, what should we do? Practice and science show that the more prepared we are, the faster the solution and better the outcome is. How we perceive the situations in skydiving has immense influence on the outcome and the perception depends on our knowledge and experience. The ability to generate and then select the appropriate course of action is based on the decision maker’s “reading” of the situation—in other words, their ability to assess the situation and predict how it will evolve over the next few seconds. If equipment knowledge and understanding the process is in play, then dealing with emergency situations is significantly simplified. “In general, for freefall emergencies they come down to- If your main canopy is out or there’s a reason to believe it can come out- jettison the main and deploy the reserve. If the main parachute is not coming out- deploy your reserve! All these should be done high enough.” Knowing your equipment and how it works also fits the biological reasons to perceive the emergency situations as challenge and not as threat and to get into the competence/ confidence loop which means -less stress. In other words- we perceive the emergency situation as challenge, not threat.
The right education? Well, looks like we need to work on it!
All the above is just scratching the surface on the subject. It doesn’t explain everything and nothing in our brain does one thing only. Also, there are other factors in making decisions under stress too. However, humans have the necessary response abilities to act in high stress situations. They have been developing in the evolution for more than 300 million years. These abilities are very effective and we use them daily in our lives, in sports and even in skydiving. All these should be deeply utilised in the skydive training, not ignored!
Maybe it’s time the available knowledge to be implemented for updating the skydiving education. Skydivers’ safety depends on that!
Parachute Landing Fall, AKA: The PLF
When first learning to skydive, at least in the US, you attend a first jump course (FJC) that usually lasts between four and five hours on the ground, then you go up in a plane and jump. There are several methods of instruction including Accelerated Free Fall (AFF), Instructor Assisted Deployment (IAD), Static Line (SL), or a combination of the three called the Integrated Student Program (ISP). While all of these methods of instructions are different, they all have one thing in common: gravity. You have to land your parachute. This is where the PLF comes into play. It is also where numerous accidents happen, sometimes due to sliding in, rather than doing a PLF. This is understandable, since tandem pairs land this way for safety reasons. Besides standing up the landings (the preferred method), this is the landings students see most often.
When skydiving first began, all of the equipment was military surplus. This included round canopies, so naturally the PLF was brought along as the safest way to land. Over time, and thanks to the innovation of early pioneers of the sport, the equipment evolved into the square (and now elliptical) canopy, which brought its own problems, like needing a slider to control the opening, and also alleviated the issue with hard landings, mostly. Now, rather than falling more or less wherever the wind blew you, you could steer and fly the canopy much the same as a glider, since the canopy is now a pressurized wing. When you want to land, you fly a landing pattern and pull both steering toggles down and flare, much the same as an airplane would by using flaps. This allows you to bleed off forward speed and land softly standing up (theoretically). Like all things skydiving, when it works, it works really well, but when it doesn't work, it can kill you.
I was a skydiver before going airborne, so when it came time to learn how to PLF, I thought I had an advantage since I had been taught how. Boy was I wrong. They had a platform you climbed on and rode a zip line to gain forward speed and then you let go to learn how to PLF in a simulated landing. I could not keep my feet together, so the Blackhat (instructor) tied my boots together. I had to hop around all day, but I have not had a problem keeping my feet together since.
In airborne school, they take two weeks to train you how to jump out of planes compared to five hours in skydiving. Most of that time is preparing you to land. As there is no way to steer the round canopy other than slipping on landing (pulling the risers to go sideways a little) or facing into the wind, and no way to flare or slow down the speed, the PLF is needed to prevent injury. I have seen a jumper fall about 50 feet and do a PLF and walk away with a few bruises.
While I understand that time is limited and it is hard to prepare a student for all possibilities, I feel that more time should be spent on PLFs during the FJC, at least an hour, and that students should do at least five correct PLFs before every jump. This is standard procedure before doing an airborne jump, and includes all jumpers being led through the entire jump by a jumpmaster, including their emergency procedures. If we put every student through this before every day of jumping, it would help prevent injuries.
The reason students choose to slide in rather than PLF is observation. Since this is the way a tandem pair lands in order to prevent injury, it is assumed to be safe. It is, when properly taught. It is easier to injure yourself sliding in or trying to run out a landing than doing a PLF. I know of at least two serious injuries sustained sliding in that a proper PLF would have prevented. One case ended with a cage around the lower vertebrae.
I made a jump at an unfamiliar DZ on rental gear and the winds were a little high, about 15 mph, so I ended up landing long. When I turned on final, there were some power lines in front of me and I was headed straight for them. I turned around and did a downwind landing, and a PLF into the hard-as-a-rock, newly plowed field, ending up with some scratches when I landed. I was going about 20 mph forward speed. Had I slid in or tried to run it out, I would most likely have broken something. Another time I jumped at an unfamiliar DZ, I chose to PLF instead of running it out, and while walking back stepped in a gopher hole. Had I hit that while running out the landing, I would have broken my ankle.
A proper PLF has five points of contact: the balls of the feet, calf, thigh, buttock, and pull-up muscle (deltoid). When you prepare to hit the ground, keep your feet and knees together, slightly bent, in preparation to absorb the impact. When you fall, hit all the points of contact in order, while rolling on the ground. A proper PLF will allow you to absorb all of the energy and dissipate it by rolling, rather than staying stiff and breaking bones or tearing ligaments and tendons. I kick my feet together when approaching my landing to ensure my feet are together and knees bent, ready to hit the ground and roll. That way, if I don't bleed off enough speed to land standing up, I am already prepared to roll and do it without thinking. If I am going slowly enough, I have a nice stand up landing. Although the goal is standing it up, it is best to be prepared for a PLF, especially if you are fond of your ankles and spine.
Article written by @sfzombie13
How safe is your reserve
Well, it’s a fair question!
“Parachutist”, the official publication of the US parachute Association published:
Malfunction, Malfunction, Malfunction—The 2017 Fatality Summary
by Paul Sitter
Sunday, April 1, 2018
“Reserve systems—which include the reserve container, pilot chute, bridle, freebag and canopy—are extremely reliable, but there are no guarantees in skydiving. Looking at the last 10 years, reserves failed to save jumpers in about 6 percent of the fatalities. “
The assumption that properly executed emergency procedures at the right height is enough for the reserve to open is just not entirely true! Reserve malfunctions are fact of life!
We learn something every day in skydiving…..if we want to…Which brings the question- how familiar are you with the reserve parachute emergency situations and procedures?
There are numerous factors that affect the reserve openings- container, pack tightness, container materials, body position, MARD systems and packing techniques. Nowadays more skydivers use MARD systems that put them in not that favourable position for the reserve to open.
The following PIA investigation gives some clarity and recommendations on some reserve openings:
But can something be done while packing reserves in order to reduce the risk of malfunction?
Skydiving history has shown that neat pack jobs open better than messy ones! The ones that are packed with consideration for the opening, add even more to the safety. That’s why we don’t pack reserves flat pack, it just doesn’t make sense anymore and It used to be the standard.
Reserve packing techniques that take into consideration the development of the sport and parachute designs are possible, available and can make the sport safer! They involve techniques that significantly increase the reliability of the reserve parachutes openings! Here are some of them:
1. Realistic way of placing the slider during packing. This has several functions – ensures the slider is inflated at the same time or even before the rest of the canopy. It is very important, especially in terminal openings and also ensures slider is not launched down the lines immediately after coming out of the freebag. This also ensures the slider is inflated symmetrically, allows proper separation for the four line groups and time for the load on the lines to be more evenly distributed!
2. S- folding the reserve canopy before inserting it into the Free bag that ensures the least form memory is present on the lines above the slider! Form memory, stiff lines and uneven line tension are the main reasons for tension knots. The specific canopy S folding also ensures the least changes in the canopy alignment when inserting it into the free bag.
3. Additional separation of the line groups, ensure their full separation before stowing them into the Freebag!
4. Freestowing the lines using figure 8 pattern that doesn’t allow the different bights to mix disorderly lines between each other! It is used for high bulk lines with form memory that need to be stowed in small compartment stowing pouch! This ensures orderly extraction of the lines from the free bag!
Skydiving as well as skydiving equipment, materials and rigging are in constant evolution!
We challenge the status quo because skydiving equipment, education and techniques can be improved in order to increase safety. Equipment development and modification are driving force in the evolution of our sport.
Habit is Stronger Than Reason
Have you ever realised that you feel something is not right in the system and something must be done about it? The question is how many times you did something to improve things…..?
The purpose of Education in Skydiving and Rigging is to facilitate learning. Nothing else! All things learned are important and often vital to the skydiver- our sequence emergency procedures, wrong decisions under pressure and improperly done maintenance and repairs can end in disaster and they have. If there is any other interests involved in the education system- the process is ineffective. Also there is a difference between education in skydiving and public schools. If students in public education are to experience the result from what they learned in school or college years after graduation, skydiving students will need what they learned literally the same or the next day.
A study was carried out by Hart, Christian L. and Griffith, James D. (2003) "Human Error: The Principal Cause of Skydiving Fatalities". Here are a couple of points:
“Of the 308 fatalities that were reported between 1993-2001, 264 (86%) were categorized as Human Error, indicating that human error was deemed to be the principal causal factor in the mishaps. The remaining 44 (14%) fatalities were categorized as Other Factors, indicating that human error did not play a principal role in those mishaps. Therefore, human error appears to be the principal causal factors in the great majority of skydiving fatalities.
Within skydiving training and education programs, specific attention should be given to human error, and training should be deliberately aimed at reducing human error mishaps. In the design of parachuting equipment, attention should be given to designing systems that increase skydiver situation awareness and increase the probability of correctly carrying out deployment and emergency procedure while under stress and time pressure.”
I find it unacceptable that in the 21st Century with the level of science and experience in the sport we have 86 percent fatalities that have resulted from avoidable mistakes.
In skydiving, critical situations require making correct decisions and executing proper action. This causes increases in pressure and cognitive load, beyond the state of flow that impairs our ability. When the cognitive load increases, our limited cognitive capacity is exceeded and we become overloaded. Our brains cannot process the large volumes of information being generated by the situation and we can fail to make accurate decisions. Example is tandem bag lock malfunction- requires very fast thinking, change of standard emergency procedures, reaction and execution when RSL is connected. However, if RSL is not connected- things are way easier- action is as usual- cutaway and reserve deployment. This is just an example where correct training can significantly reduce the pressure or lead to positive outcome. Knowing that there is direct connection between the previous training taken and how the skydiver would react under pressure is vital. Namely our gut feeling is what determines our reactions under pressure and lack of time. It all happens simultaneously before we put everything in words. So someone that has never used RSL as a backup system would go first for the reserve handle after cutaway and will almost never check for main risers clearance.
In the late 80’s and 90’s of the last century, there were significant discoveries in phycology that explain a lot how and why humans make certain decisions under pressure. Unfortunately skydive training still has not caught up with psychology. Mirror neurons is one of these discoveries. For example, neurons in our brain fire symmetrically to match our instructor’s emotions. So, if the instructor is very positive, enthusiastic and smiling, about 20-30% of the neurons in the same area in the student’s brain, responsible for these emotions fire as well. The result is that students assume that if the instructor is that positively charged- everything must be in order. It is the same when the instructor looks negative, unhelpful, concerned- the student is experiencing a grade of freeze, flight response and the performance goes down. This is just a generalisation but it explains why students love enthusiastic instructors, regardless how competent they are. However, students also can identify incompetence hidden in positive attitude. There is also an explanation for that recently discovered.
In this article, I will try to scratch the surface on training. Combining psychology and training in skydiving is going to be part of a different publication.
In skydiving we have two types of Education- Safety education and skills improvement training. They overlap and mix all the time but they stay different things. Example is the training during the new skills courses- initial AFF, Tandem and AFF Instructor certifications. They all have two parts- the Safety part, which teaches the student/candidate/ how to survive the skydive with the new equipment and procedures and the Skills improvement part- how to do it well. This is very important since decision making is heavily influenced by the level of competence and skills in these separate areas. Both, the student and the teacher/instructor/ should know where they stand in that- at what stage of the training and learning process they are. Even more, the training for a particular skill must match the psychological reasons influencing how the student will react in this situation. It’s important to know why people make fatal mistakes and how to avoid them- you never know when a simple flight back to the landing area can turn into a situation that requires emergency procedures.
Approaching Education Differently
Looks like education in skydiving suffers from a bit of amnesia! It is based on the industrialised system of education. This system came out during the industrial revolution and it was designed to serve the needs of the manufacturing process- to produce a workforce that follows algorithms. Basically, it’s a system that tells you how to do things, without much explaining. The student is instructed not thought. This all works well when in the manufacturing! And we have all seen the big emergency procedures charts that look like wiring diagrams like they are designed for a computer processors to follow. However, people are not machines but organic creatures and in addition they have to make their own decisions under pressure. Industrialised system is based on standardisation and conformity! It is true that these principles are a must in skydiving and they define the skills necessary for surviving the skydive with- must know, must do and must not do. But there must be a clear line where they begin and finish because any irrelevant and wrong information or negative emotions significantly affect the decision making process. The fact that a student does not understand what causes our bodies to turn in freefall creates negative emotions and can cause them to fail the stage.
Conformity and standardisation also contradict the principles on which skydiving and life for that matter have flourished over the years- diversity and creativity. Every single person is different. Not a single person’s life is the same as anybody else’s. There’s no two persons on this planet that are the same. So why skydiving training is standardised to that extent? One of the results is that year after year there’s a great amount of people that give up skydiving after they get their A licence. And the reason is that they don’t want to spend a long time and a lot of money doing relative work with B rels. Most of the students started skydiving because they wanted to do something else- usually freeflying or swooping. There is a great amount of students that never complete the AFF course as well. If a private company was losing such an enormous amount of their clients every year, they would say- “Maybe it’s not the customers, maybe it’s something we do”.
If equipment and training courses were put under the compatibility lid some time ago, they would never advance more than the static line course and round military parachute stage!
People are also curious and creative. They want to learn. Everyone knows that students and instructors start their career with a great amount of curiosity and want to learn and keep this going forever. Curiosity is the engine of achievement. One of the effects of the current culture, has been to de-professionalise instructors. There is no system in the world that is better than it’s instructors. Instructors are the lifeblood of the success of drop zones, but teaching is a creative profession. Teaching, properly conceived, is not a delivery system. Instructors should not be there just to pass on received information. Great instructors do that, but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke, and engage.
Another big problem with the industrial based system is that it never covers everything that we need to know because it is based on what has happened so far. Especially in recent years, it presents you with a list or diagrams with possible situations. What happens if you get into situations that are not on the list?! Then you need creativity! A good example is the tandem fatality resulted from a turn initiated at about 200ft and the control line and toggle got hooked on the disconnected side passenger connector. The tandem pair entered into a continuous diving turn. The tandem instructor ran through the given emergency procedures diagram but there was nothing for this particular situation. The most he could think of was- cutaway and deploy reserve. Unfortunately it was too low. However, there were at least two solutions in this case that were not on the diagram- cut the break line and try landing with risers or counter the turn with the other toggle and land on deep brakes. Compliance in this situation didn’t equal safety but provided a false sense of safety. Situations like this require some creativity or divergent thinking. And we use divergent thinking all the time in skydiving- when we exit and fly different tandem clients, when different aircraft changes the inflight procedures, when tailoring the stage for a particular AFF Student, when packing reserves or repairing equipment etc. “Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, "non-linear" manner, such that many ideas are generated in an emergent cognitive fashion. Many possible solutions are explored in a short amount of time, and unexpected connections are drawn.”
There is another system of education, which is based on reasoning, where cause and effect are the significant element. This is the system to which we owe the development in skydiving and skydiving equipment- people trying different things and improving the ones that work. With this system, understanding how and why things happen is the driving force. That’s how basic military parachutes were improved for sport parachuting to get to the current state of the art canopies and harness containers. This is how we all got where we are now. With this system, the student’s safety and progression are the important thing, not the standard of “pass or fail” and the learning process can be tailored so the students can learn effectively. In this system both- student and instructor are aware of the level of competence /unconscious incompetent, conscious incompetent, conscious competent, unconscious competent/ the student is in. Right now there are thousands of consciously incompetent skydivers and instructors about their own equipment but they are expected to deal with extraordinary situations with competence. They simply do not know how their reserve system or components exactly work and what potential problems they can cause them. As a result, these licenced skydivers are not ready to deal with a number of issues. If you knew that if the Cypres fires in head position and the reserve might hesitate, how materials and body position affect the reserve openings, what the reserve pilot chute is, etc. you would consider your actions. The level of competence/competence- confidence loop/ directly affects the performance and decision making in every situation- challenging or threatening. The more competent you are with equipment and situations, the more pressure is reduced and it is easier to make decisions.
All this is not that new and there is wonderful work done by instructors and dropzones. However, it is happening not because of the current standardisation and command and control culture but despite it. Yes, sometimes habit is stronger than reason, but reason always prevails eventually. Maybe it’s time the available knowledge in the 21-st century about learning, training, psychology and the connection between them to be implemented accordingly. While doing that, some accidents could be prevented.
After all, skydivers are organic creatures and parachutes are just mechanical systems operated by skydivers. Nothing magical happens up there! The magic we feel is only in our heads!
Jumps - 25 000+
AFF, Tandem Instructor, Freefall Photographer
Rigger- FAA all types, APF Rigger Examiner
Master of teaching, Biology and Chemistry
Wingsuit Skydiver Saved by AAD After Collision (Video)
The following video was posted on social media last week and shows a harrowing scene of a wingsuit jumper suffering a collision shortly after exit. The collision appears to knock the jumper unconscious, as he then begins to spin uncontrollably as he descends in freefall. The spin amplifies the lower he gets - until finally his AAD activates and saves his life by crucially firing while he is seemingly unconscious.
You can follow or contribute to this conversation in the following forum post:
A forum post from a Dropzone.com user has shed some light on the situation...
"If I remember correctly group of 4. Leader fumbled exit a little. The 2&3rd guys start flying the planned direction right on exit. The 4th guy has the time and awareness to see the leader and starts diving to the leader. Guys 2&3 now correcting from intended flight path toward leader, intercepted by guy number 4. None of them are new guys. Super lucky that the guy who had the AAD fire walked away with no major injuries. The guy who hit this guy is a good friend of mine and is very heads up and a skilled 4-way flier with more WS jumps than FS. The example here is that if it can happen to guys like him it can happen to you." - Slimrn
The topic of AADs can sometimes be a controversial one, many experienced jumpers believe they don't need them and some even view dropzones that have AAD requirements negatively. However, this event goes to show that sometimes the AAD can play a crucial role in saving your life, especially in the case of midair collisions which result in a loss of consciousness.
Three People Narrowly Escape in Tandem Collision (Video)
Three people were lucky to be left alive after a collision between a TI, tandem client and a cameraman. The incident, which was uploaded to Facebook, shows an initial clip of the cameraman's point of view as he makes contact with the top of the TI's canopy. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the cameraman was supposed to be recording the next tandem but had insufficient exit separation between himself and the previous tandem.
The cameraman involved in the incident commented on the video on social media with the following:
Regardless of fault, this video serves as a good lesson as to why exit separation remains a crucial factor in reducing collisions in flight. There were no reports of serious injury from the incident, which was only inches from a very different ending.
The Importance of Ear Protection While Skydiving
Not wearing earplugs on every skydive? Hear me out (while you still can): It’s pretty damn important to add a pair to your every-jump kit, and your excuses probably don’t hold up to expert scrutiny.
What expert? A lofty one. Last week, I got to talk to Dr. Anna Hicks* at length about the thorny matter of skydiving with a cold (watch the February issue of Parachutist for that one). At one point, our conversation took a slight diversion towards hearing damage. The content of that more than deserves its own moment in the sun: Our delicate soundholes, and the damage we don’t have to do them.
So: Why aren’t you wearing earplugs on every jump?
1. Because it’s not that big a deal.
If you like listening to things other than phantom roaring, then sorry. It kinda is.
Each of us is born with 15,000 sound-sensing cells per ear. (I like to think of ‘em as magical hearing hair, because that’s kinda what they look like.) Hearing loss occurs when they die. It’s not just noise exposure that kills them; certain medications and other environmental factors and do it, too, but those are freak deaths by comparison. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. Birds, fish, and amphibians have the ability to grow back magical hearing hair. Mammals, like your average skydiver, lack the ability to regenerate these cells. All we can do is stick in a hearing aid and hope for the best.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Talk to anybody who suffers from tinnitus and ask them if they’d have taken precautions to prevent it.
2. Because I don’t jump that much.
Dr. Hicks begs to differ.
“I see so many skydivers that have damaged their hearing,” she notes. “Even if you’re just doing 100 jumps a year, every time you jump, the engine is noisy, and the freefall is noisy, too. Over your skydiving career, that adds up to a lot of noise exposure.”
“I still find some people that can’t be bothered with ear plugs even in the wind tunnel,” she adds, “but our hearing is too important not to take ten seconds to put them in every time. You don’t want to end up not able to hear your friend at the pub because you knackered your hearing from too much noise exposure.”**
3. Wearing earplugs in freefall is dangerous.
If it’s not just laziness that’s keeping you from protecting your hearing, it might be a misplaced sense of safety. Dr. Hicks wears hers from ground to ground, and she recommends that you do too, even if it’s just on the way up to altitude.
“I am a big advocate with any patient I see,” she says, “especially those whose job is skydiving, to wear ear plugs at least on the way up and ideally on the way down as well. Earplugs do not prevent situational awareness, stop you from being able to talk to your students, or to hear shouts under canopy. You can hear what you need to hear, usually you can actually hear your audible altimeter better because the background freefall crackle is reduced, and vitally, [wearing earplugs] reduces the longer-term damage we can experience from our sport.”
Some people discover that they find a problem equalizing if they have earplugs in on the way down. Dr. Hicks’ advice: If equalizing is a problem for you, try using the vented plugs (which you can buy from a pharmacy for a few dollars) to better equalize during descent.
4. I can’t afford the nice ones and the foam ones cause ear infections.
According to Dr. Hicks, that is not a thing. As long as the plugs are rated, they’ll provide the protection you need. “You can wear posh ear plugs or the cheap foam ones like you get in the tunnel,” she says. “Either-or.”
According to a study of sixty long-range patrol-aircraft crew members, the idea that disposable foam earplugs cause ear infections is a total myth. The crew members were randomly divided into three groups: one wearing fancy custom-molded earplugs, the second using foam earplugs that they washed after each use, and the third group using foam earplugs washed only once per week. The study lasted eight weeks and included examinations by a medical officer as well as skin scrapings for bacterial culture and fungal examinations. The results indicated no fungal infections or clinically significant bacterial infections, and no differences in positive bacterial culture between the groups.
Moral of the story: roll ‘em up and stick ‘em in. They’re going to prevent a heck of a lot more damage than they could possibly cause, and 50-year-old you (who doesn’t have to have the TV on FULL BLAST ALL THE TIME) will thank you.
*Dr. Hicks is a certified badass. An active-duty Aviation Medicine specialist in the British Regular Army, she has logged more than 4,000 jumps over 15 years in the sport, many of which as the Outside Center for the multi-medaled British 4-way team NFTO. Dr. Hicks is also a British Parachute Association Accelerated Freefall Instructor and formation skydiving coach, as well as a Skydiving Instructor at Britain’s legendary Skydive Netheravon. Oh: and she was Tom Cruise’s personal aviation doc during the filming of the latest Mission: Impossible reboot. ‘Nuff said.
**Confused? Ask a British person for a translation.
By nettenette, in Safety,
Boogie Turmoil Survival Tips
Boogies, skills camps and destination events are now available in the farthest reaches of the globe - taking place in countries that range from reassuringly orderly to exhilaratingly shambolic. Wherever you are heading, be sure to bone up on all the information you might need before you go - and prepare accordingly. Background research both specific to skydiving and for travel in general will aid your journey under any circumstances, favourable or otherwise, but the more you know in advance the better off you will be when things get complicated. Somewhere that is putting on a skydiving event might simply operate very differently to what you are used to, and the more you can do in advance to set yourself up for success the better. If any appropriate information has been overlooked by the event organisers and you are left in the dark without adequate briefings and knowledge, then ask around - skydivers love to quack on about stuff and those that have previously attended a particular location will tell you the things you really need to know.
Skydiving events of any size contain a lot of moving parts that must all work harmoniously to keep people jumping safely. Myriad financial and logistical puzzle pieces require being carefully pulled together over the course of many months to successfully stage a gathering above and beyond the scope of a dropzone’s usual activity. These numerous variables mean there is a lot that can potentially go wrong - the weather might totally crap out and leave everyone fighting for whatever slots that might become available, a broken thingumy may ground an aircraft and significantly reduce lift capacity (or even scratch it completely) or someone can easily enough pick up the kind of injury that demands all jumping operations be shut down for a bit. The list of things that can cause problems and inefficiencies is long and unpredictable - and while the likelihood of the event organisers doing anything other than their very best is slim, they simply might not have the available mental power to stay on top of a snowballing situation.
So, what should you do when you are at an event where the wheels are coming off?
If you are used to jumping in a country with lots of rules that must be adhered to while parachuting you can quickly land well outside of your comfort zone in the sketchier corners of the map. Teaming up with another human who can watch your back, both during jump procedures and on the ground in more general ways can provide a measure of reassurance not formally provided. Someone more experienced is good, but anyone who can objectively and reliably keep an eye on you is a solid plan. Check in with each other before and after every jump and at various points throughout each day. Also let one another know how to access vital documents and important personal items should anyone end up taking a trip to the hospital or the police station or the loony bin.
Use Your Skills Wisely:
Always keep both eyes on your own safety. At any boogie it is very easy to get swept up onto jumps where you are really less than comfortable. If a boogie is running away from itself it is more important than ever to correctly asses and manage the jumps you are doing. Nobody is going to do that for you. Remember that the real rewards are in the endless journey. A nicely formalised and arranged skills camp is the time and place to stretch your legs. Understanding you current limits and working sensibly with them is the path to a great time and safe jumps. Wisdom is calling things to heel when everyone around you is getting looser by the minute.
Take Responsibility For Your Data:
You can pretty much guarantee that by the time the boogie kicks off any dropzone internet will be down for the duration. Whatever reliable bandwidth the facility has available will likely be reserved for the running of crucial operations, and not for you to WhatsApp photos of each other of someone with a bottle of Jaegermeister duct-taped to their face. A local pre-paid mobile bundle is often the most reliable and affordable choice, but whichever way you want to sort it out some personal phone data is well worth the money. The more overwhelmed an event becomes, the higher the chances are of someone going missing or taking a trip to hospital - you can use the navigation and location tracking services of modern smartphones to find your way back to the airfield or to help look for a lost person. A active messaging group for all of your party can enhance a group experience but can also provide a valuable safety net for communication when everybody is getting shitfaced and things are getting weird.
Impending chaos will likely first show itself as wildly inaccurate call times. A twenty-minute warning might mean you will be jumping either right away or hours from now - so the best plan is to always be ready. If your group can rock and roll at a moment’s notice not only will it aid the quality of your jumps, such exhibitions of professionalism will possibly ooze out of you and influence those close by who are less coherent.
If things are frantic, offer to help. If you have some local knowledge and are surrounded by disgruntled people who have travelled far to attend, then perhaps round them up and show them a good time. Chipping in even with seemingly insignificant things such as making the tea might free up other people better positioned to get stuck in with that broken aeroplane problem or downed computer network.
A spoonful of patience goes a long way. If things are devolving into chaos aim to ease through it rather than throw wood on the fire. Try to remember that planning and executing a boogie takes a lot of work from all the people involved with the DZ and they rarely (if ever) make any money - and certainly not more than the usual daily business of the place. Not getting all up in people’s faces might help things to run smoothly again and shouting at the staff will help no-one.
However! Don’t be afraid to speak up if you can see that something is dubious or outright dangerous. Stick your chin up and your chest out and say “What the fuck is this, you clueless morons?” Those responsible for an event that is going to shit may well be under fire from all angles, but if something is wrong they are required to honour everybody’s safety and fix it.
All told, if your life allows you to own a parachute and use it recreationally then things are pretty good. Any kind of skydiving jamboree you attend will most likely be filled with treasured experiences you will talk about for years to come. If the odd one does not pan out exactly as you were hoping, then attempt to handle it in the most positive way possible - try not to make things worse, help others be safe wherever you can, and wring every bit of knowledge and experience you can from it to apply going forwards. If you do find yourself at an event that devolves into the kind of chaos where you are genuinely worried about making though with your personage and sanity intact - you can always simply walk away.