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Mean Rob

Mixing Glider and Skydivers

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Full disclosure: I'm clueless about skydiving.

We run a little glider club at a busy non-towered airport. There is a jump-zone up the road at a neighboring airport. No issues.

Their airport is going to shutdown for construction, this summer, and the jump zone is going to temporarily relocated to our little slice of heaven. We're thrilled to have them! But, we need to figure out how to deconflict airspace between gliders and skydivers.

I figured a good place to start would be to see if anyone here has experience doing that. Any suggestions on what works and what doesn't?



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I have experience doing CRW - canopy formation at several multi plane DZs. It may not be exactly the same as your situation but we still have to have a plan and procedures in place to keep everyone safe since our canopy formations are in the air for 10 plus minutes. 

Here's what we do: establish a "line of death" a land mark that we must stay outside of until a certain altitude before flying back to the landing area, We have the jump runs off set so the other planes aren't dropping people on top of us. The pilots also coordinate with radio so they know where the CRW formation(s) will be.

You may be able to alter these to fit your situation.  Or at least have a separate side or your air space for jumpers and gliders.

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The DZ should have an "S&TA" (Safety & Training Advisor). That would be a place to start. Otherwise the DZO (Drop Zone Owner).


Get together and discuss how to minimize risks. Skydivers can seem a bit odd, but believe me - If you approach them wanting to work together to keep everyone safe, they should be willing to work with you.

I'm going to bet that your gliders (sailplanes, right?) follow standard traffic patterns, right? So do skydivers under canopy. We have the advantage that we need very little distance to land, so we can land in almost any direction (no need for a lengthy runway). But my DZ lands almost exclusively east or west (parallel to the runway) so our patterns mirror the ones used by the fixed wing craft.

I would be surprised if you can't come to an agreement with the jumpers that 'gliders fly their patterns over here, jumpers fly their patterns over there'.

Also, do the gliders have radios? Jump pilots are supposed to broadcast over CTAF a 'two minute' call, a 'jumpers away' call and some even do a 'all jumpers on the ground' call. I understand that gliders can only come down (mostly) and once in the pattern are committed to landing (canopies are the same way). 
If you guys have radios, it would be reasonable to call out 'hold the jumpers, I'm in a bad place and have to fly through the canopy area to make it back'. Obviously, if this happens a lot, something is wrong. But again, skydivers understand this concept. 

Keep in mind that the jumpers are in free fall for maybe a minute, and under canopy for maybe 5 or so. 
Depending on the plane used (planes?) you might have only a couple canopies in the air every 40 minutes or so (if they are using one C-182) or up to 20 every 20 minutes (if they use a DH-6 Otter). 
So, while there is a potential for conflict, it's in a fairly limited time window.

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I have jumped at more than a dozen small airports where gliders, power planes, skydivers, etc. all gracefully shared the field.

Separating gliders and skydivers starts with understanding each other's flight patterns.

Since jump planes rarely carry more than 2 hours worth of fuel, they need to refuel after every 3 or 4 flights. Skydiving flights vary between 5  and 30 minutes depending upon how high they climb and how fast they climb. Minimum jump altitude is usually 3,000 feet with the top end being 12,000 to 14,000 feet or before they need to start breathing supplemental oxygen. Dependence on supplemental oxygen depends upon how many minutes they fly above 10,000 feet MSL.

Jump pilots report their intentions two or three times per flight. First as they roll onto the active runway for take-off. Then a 2 minute warning. "Jumpers away!" And some jump-pilots report after the last jumper has landed. All these reports are broadcast on the local airport frequency, plus calls to appropriate air traffic controllers.

Skydivers exit directly over the target or upwind. If upper winds are strong, they may exit two or three miles upwind. Exiting down wind of the target is silly since few parachutes can fly back to the target when surface winds exceed 15 miles per hour. Since modern jump pilots use GPs to navigate to the exit "spot", spotting errors are are these days. Jump runs are typically flown facing into winds aloft, but might be modified depending upon local ATC patterns or to avoid over-flying hazards like lakes or mountains. Jumpers are still responsible for "looking before they leap" to confirm that no airplanes are flying underneath them.

Typical freefalls last 30 seconds or a minute, though wing-suiters may fall up to 5 minutes before opening their parachutes. Standard opening altitudes are between 5,000 and 3,000 feet AGL.

Once open, parachutes are just low-performance gliders with a rate of descent about 1,000 feet per minute and lift to drag ratios around 3 to 1. Parachute rides last 3 to 6 minutes from opening to landing. Standard parachute landing patterns are just smaller versions of rectangular power plane landing patterns. Patterns start at 1,000 or 1,500 feet above the target and conclude with landing into the wind.

Skydiving targets are marked with cloth panels, etc. that are visible from 3,000 feet or higher. Targets are usually on the same side of the runway as the skydiving school and only a short walk from the boarding area. Skydivers often board the plane near fuel pumps. Smoking is strictly forbidden near fuel pumps and airplanes.

 Like glider tow-planes, piston-pounding Cessna jump planes have to be careful to avoid shock-cooling their air-cooled engines. 

For example, when a skydiving school opened at Dunnville, Ontario, they modified the traffic pattern so that all airplanes flew their landing patterns on the north side of the airport, while parachutes flew on the south side of the airport. Skydivers were told not to cross the runway below 1,500 feet. Better skydiving schools post maps/aerial photos beside the reception desk with cleanly marked traffic patterns. Visiting jumpers are briefed about local patterns before jumping at a new airport.

If skydivers land on the wrong side of the runway, they are told to look both ways before walking across the runway. Skydiving school management will warn offending skydivers once or twice. The third offence includes encouragement to "jump elsewhere."

Skydivers tend to be more social than private/glider pilots and many devote their evenings to drinking and bragging about their last skydive. Open alcohol is strictly forbidden before the jump plane takes-off for the last flight of the day (aka. the sunset load). If your airport, neighbours or town have a noise curfew, explain the curfew during your first meeting.

Better behaved skydivers clean up their pizza boxes, beer cans, cigarette butts, etc. before the next morning's class arrives.

Skydiving school management is responsible for keeping their operation clean and neat and reminding skydivers of traffic rules, curfews, etc.

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Thanks OP for reaching out and asking this great question!

You already got a lot of good advice, but I have one more thing to add. So far most advise focussus on the low altitude part, where we are flying under our parachutes, but I have also seen gliders above 3000 ft, where we are still in freefall.

From the altitude we jump at, it is very hard to spot a low flying glider. It is impossible to see if they are flying at 3000 ft or at 100 ft. And once we are in freefall, it only gets worse. Besides that, a glider can cover a lot of distance in the roughly 60 seconds that we are falling, so even if we saw it but it seemed at a safe distance when we jumped, this can change quickly.

You should expect people free falling at 3000 ft a lot, sometimes a bit lower and in some rare cases even as low as 1000 ft (in case of some emergencies). During this time we can not avoid traffic. So make sure you know where the skydivers are falling and make sure the skydivers know where you are flying. Not just the pattern, but also the area where you go looking for thermals (if that is close to the airport).  And remember, our exit point changes through the day if the wind changes.

That being said, as long as everyone involved makes an effort to understand and avoid each other , this can certainly be done in a safe way. As always, comminucation is key.



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We have an active glider club at the airport. The pilot and the DZO discuss the spot with the club and update them on changes during the day. We don't knowingly exit over the gliders, and the gliders try to avoid soaring into the area around the spot. 

It has never been a problem. I actually really enjoy seeing them looking for thermals when I am flying under canopy with a tandem. Just another great visual to add to their experience.

Edited by DougH

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