Does exit order seem like some kind of obscure semi-religious ritual? Do you go through the motions without really understanding the moving parts?
If so, yikes--but you’re certainly not alone. Luckily, understanding the logic behind the order is a pretty straightforward affair, and the entire sky will be better off if you wrap your head around it. Ready? Okay. Commit this to memory.
1. In the name of science, get the $#&$ out.
It may seem like hollow tradition to hustle out the door on exit, but it’s not. As a matter of fact, there are serious calculations behind the art of exiting the plane efficiently. On a calm day, an aircraft on jump run covers around 175 feet per second of flight (that equates to a mile every 30 seconds or so). Translated into stopwatch terms, that means that--on that same calm day--no more than 60 seconds can pass from the moment the first jumpers leave the airplane to the moment the last jumper exits.
For practical purposes, taking into consideration how much ground the average square canopy can cover, every jumper in the plane has to be out during a two-mile jump run. If they don’t, some are bound to land out (or a chilly second pass is going to be served up to the sulky remainder).
2. Don’t mess up the pilot’s math.
If your group is about to be the first big handful of meatballs out of the plane but you suddenly split up into smaller groups, you’re messing with the pilot’s chi. After all, the jump pilot has more to calculate when he/she turns on that little green light than you might realize. He/she has to calculate about how much time each group will take to exit, and make sure the green light goes on at the correct distance from the DZ to accommodate the aforementioned 60-second countdown.
As a rule, the group that will have the slowest climb-out should leave first. Big group? Light goes on farther out from the DZ to allow for a slower climb-out. Little group? The light goes on closer to the DZ.
How can you help? Jump the plan you give manifest, and the pilot can give everybody a good spot.
3. Jealously guard your real estate.
If you’re a Big Sky Theory kinda jumper who assumes vertical separation is going to save you from a meat-traffic collision, you are not working from scientific facts. Horizontal separation is the only separation that really counts up there, so make sure your group has a chunky slot of sky all to yourselves.
Never place big bets (like: your continued existence) on your fellow skydivers pulling at the altitude they swear by. A tiny brainfart (or a big malfunction) will eat up that vertical separation before you can say “what happened to pulling at 3,500, toolbox?!.”
4. Horizon-pointing belly buttons go behind downward-pointing belly buttons.
When freefly folks get out first, they tend to become part of an undelicious freefall sandwich. Here’s why: On a typical skydive, a pair of freefliers will clock a 45-second freefall and open at around 3,000 AGL. Let’s say that pair is followed by a belly group with a 10-second climb-out.
This is going to sound like a math word problem, but bear with me: If one of those freefliers has a canopy with a 30MPH forward speed (which will move forward at around 45 feet per second, assuming little-to-no wind), opens 30 seconds before the belly group and turns right back toward the DZ, the variables are stacking up for a collision. Those 30 seconds of flight will drive the freeflier forward by about 1,300 horizontal feet--a measly 400 feet from the middle of the belly folks, which a solid six-second track can cover. If you add wind to the equation and the RW group gets blown even further into the path of the freefly pair, the likelihood of a meetup gets even uglier.
When freefly groups get out after belly groups, the picture gets a lot healthier. The fast fallers get their horizontal separation, predicated on their shorter climb-out and faster descent rate. Wind becomes a positive safety factor instead of a negative one; slower fallers simply blow farther away.
5. With longer flights comes greater responsibility.
Tracking groups, high pulls and wingsuits get to snuggle with the pilot (and/or the tandem pairs) in the way back of the plane. Why? First off, they’re mobile: if they’re doing it right, they’ll use all that horizontal power to get the hell away from jump run--and get back from a longer spot.
If they’re not doing it right, however, they’re fully within their capability to truck through everybody’s personal piece of sky on the way down. The moral of the story: longer freefall (or, in the high-pull case, general airtime) requires greater awareness and responsibility on the part of the nylon pilot.
6. Don’t be the heat-seeking meat missile.
That’s the bottom line, really. Everybody in the sky is counting on you.
(Me, for instance.)