Unable to pull pilot chute handle during tandem progression

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Hello everyone,

I'm new to this forum, and just started my AFF course. My instructor suggested that I do 2 tandem jumps first and practice pulling (thus the pilot chute handle would be placed on my hip instead of my back).

To make a long story short, I failed to do this simple task in 2 tandem jumps. I truly enjoy the free fall and think my arch is alright, however for some reason my hand can't feel the handle. I'm guessing a few factors could be at play here (excuse my neuroscience background):
1)The positioning of the handle on my hips makes it close to a lot of the strapping, which makes me not sure what exactly I'm touching.
2)My hand's touch sensation is overwhelmed by all the air forces and so my brain is unable anymore to perceive the contour of something comparatively subtle; the handle.
3) For obvious reasons, I can't look where my hand is going, which makes it more difficult for my brain to perceive the handle, using only one sense modality (touch without assistance from vision).

My instructor doesn't seem convinced and thinks that I'm just nervous and suggested that I take a week or 2 off, do 15 minutes of wind tunnel, and then come back.

Anybody has been through something similar or has any idea of how I can overcome that problem? In other words, how do I become able to perceive that my hand is actually grabbing the handle?

Would that problem disappear in AFF Cat A once the handle is actually behind me? I'm guessing in that location, it would be far from any strapping, and my hand would be behind my body where there is relatively low air resistance.

I appreciate any advice.

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I had trouble finding hacky on student rig all through AFF and student jumps. Scared the shit outta me every time. Even got my 1st reserve ride on jump 20 cause I couldn't even find it. Once I got a sport rig that fit right and comfortable.. No problems. Listen to your instructor, Learn to relax. Everyone has some sort of issue through aff.
Whale oil beef hooked

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Mussel memory.... Takes a while to develop... Practice doing it 25 times... When I switched from keeping my pilot chute in a leg strap pouch to a BOC (bottom of container) pouch, I also had the same problem, at first. I had to change my muscle memory and that took even longer. Just keep practicing and it will happen as you want it to.

Perfect practice though. Have someone who knows what to look for watch you.

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Try applying "creative groping." This means patting (flat hand) your thigh too low and sliding your hand up to the handle.
Alternately, lay your hand flat on the harness and slide it down until you feel the handle.
Practice "creative groping" several times on the ground - with your instructor" before your next jump.
"Creative groping" is asked to teach with handles mounted on the bottom of the container.

As for your nerves and (too) narrow focus .... those will relax as you gain more experience. Tunnel time helps because you can practice without "time pressure."

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I wouldn't worry too much about it. Doing it until you get it right is the purpose of AFF. You'll be fine, but don't think about it too much and analyze every aspect. Just go out, listen to the instructor and have fun. If you screw up, you have more jumps to figure it out. You may annoy your instructors if you try to read into every situation. It's not a normal situation for your body/mind to be in...you'll adapt.

Now, in regards to tandem progression specifically, that's an awkward situation anyways. I never did Tandem progression, but when I was helping out with some recurrency jumps for the Tandem masters, I was asked to pull on the jump I got voluntold to be the passenger. I said sure, and didn't think twice about it. I had 200+ jumps and my B license and I did not find the handle - the TM pulled. Tandem progression is awkward because the handle is NOT in the same place as it will be in AFF on your own rig.

Hopefully that makes you feel better...go sign up for AFF, practice on the ground wearing the rig and you'll do fine.

FWIW...on my first PFF (Canadian version of AFF), my instructor also pulled for me, but for a different reason. I was doing all my altitude checks, practice pulls and everything spot on. When I did my practice pulls, I was so nervous about locking on and pulling the handle, that I just touched the handle each time. When it came time to pull, I reached back, went to grab the handle and it was already gone...I grabbed a whole whack of bridle after my instructor pulled for me. He said that he didn't think I was going to pull because I wasn't grabbing the handle during practice, but he also didn't give me a chance to pull and pulled exactly at my 5500' altitude. Typically they will give you 1000' to try, and then pull you if you don't. The other instructor said that he overreacted and should have given me time...but I had to repeat the jump anyways. So...I'll never know whether I would have puled or not.
"When once you have tasted flight..."

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Hello all. First post.

Ellaithy, I can relate very well to your situation but for different reasons.

For me, no amount of muscle memory, that well known technique that riggerob describes, or even half cocking the pilot chute (which isn't a sustainable solution) solved the problem. My issue wasn’t with perception caused by brain overload and being stressed but by physically (almost) no feeling in my hands caused by nerve damage.

When watching the video replays of my AFF jumps, the closest I ever got was pulling the PC out about half way but crucially, during the jump, I wasn't aware of even that “half success”. Have you had outside video on your jumps? Does the playback resonate to your thoughts and feelings during the jump?

For me after a total of 7 failed attempts it was decided, for safety reasons, that was the end of the road...for the time being.

What I just want to share here is that it wasn’t the absolute end of the road and there are (as in all things in life) other options. Everything always has its pros and cons and after a bit of head scratching, money saving and some R&D, I found a solution that worked for me. So a few years later I returned with my own rig that had no BOC handle but a front mounted , open shaped handle that operated a spring loaded PC opposite to where the standard cutaway is. In my case the cutaway handle, which resembles my main handle operates both the cutaway and reserve.

I haven’t shared this story widely on the internet because I wanted a decent amount of jumps to see how things went in various situations before recommending it to other people. It’s still very much early days. Unfortunately I recently saved for and started a mortgage so skydiving has taken a backseat for financial reasons but with close to 100 jumps I can report no problems to date. Winning!

For explanation it helps when there’s something visually to refer to and I will aim to get some high quality photos of the set up if anyone's interested?

On this laptop I’ve got a video I made for my parents which I can share now. With the exception of the headsdown part, I’m in the white jumpsuit & white helmet with the blue black rig in question. The 4 way part at the end gives the best glimpse of the set up, skip to 2min 52sec.

Ellaithy, you say you loved the free fall, I say you don’t have to give up. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Blue skies and best wishes.

Edit: video link https://youtu.be/alYz0i1Hsbs
Edit: I was under the main instruction of James Perez during AFF (both attempts) who worked at Perris and based on my experiences I personally highly recommend both him and the school.
Edit: It’s been a while since I saw this video which reminded me of another point! I use fingerless gloves with tackified palms to maximise feeling/grip/dexterity.

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Thank you for the responses everyone. It seems like most of you emphasize the importance of muscle memory and being persistent.

I did 15 min of windtunnel, and practiced on the ground with the full rig on numerous times to develop my muscle memory. I had a feeling the tandem progression isn't the best idea and that things will get better in Cat A, like Chris-Ottawa said. One of my 2 instructors in Cat A was the same guy I did my "failed" tandem progression with. He was surprised with how smooth my cat A went, considering how bad things were in the tandem jumps.

Thanks again everyone for your help. This forum seems like a great resource.

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