Downsizing checklist (long)

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While I was an S+TA, I spent a considerable amount of time telling people they shouldn't be loading their canopies so heavily. 90% of the time it didn't work. Skydivers can have a bit of an ego, and when I told them they probably shouldn't downsize yet they heard "I think you're a crappy canopy pilot who can't handle a smaller wing." So they downsized and broke their legs, backs and pelvises with some regularity.

A few years back I met up with Brett, one of the people I'd been lecturing to whle I was an S+TA. He told me that he wished he'd listened to me back then. He had broken his femur during a botched landing, been out of the sport for a while, and then came back and really learned to fly his canopy. He took a canopy control course and actually _upsized_ to get more performance out of his canopy. He ended up coming in first in one of the events at the PST that year.

That started me thinking. Maybe the approach I was taking was wrong. Since jumpers tend not to listen to other people who tell them they're not as good as they think they are, perhaps if you could give them better tools to evaluate _themselves_ they could make better decisions about canopy choices. It's one thing to have some boring S+TA guy give you a lecture about not having any fun under canopy, quite another to try to perform a needed manuever under canopy - and fail. In that case there's no one telling you you can't fly the canopy, it's just blatantly obvious.

So I came up with a list of canopy control skills everyone should have before downsizing. Some are survival skills - being able to flat turn would have saved half a dozen people this year alone. Some are canopy familiarization skills - being able to do a gentle front riser approach teaches you how to judge altitude and speed at low altitudes, and how to fly a parachute flying faster than its trim airspeed, a critical skill for swooping. It's important to do these BEFORE you downsize, because some manuevers are a little scary (turning at 50 feet? Yikes!) and you want to be on a larger canopy you're completely comfortable with before trying such a thing.

The short version of the list is below. Before people downsize, they should be able to:

-flat turn 90 degrees at 50 feet
-flare turn at least 45 degrees
-land crosswind and in no wind
-land reliably within a 10 meter circle
-initiate a high performance landing with double front risers and front riser turn to landing
-land on slight uphills and downhills
-land with rear risers


1. Flat turn 90 degrees at 50 feet. This is the most important of all the skills. The objective of this manuever is to change your direction 90 degrees losing as little altitude as possible, and come out of the manuever at normal flying speed. Coming out at normal flying speed means you can instantly flare and get a normal landing. If you can do this at 50 feet, and come out of the manuever with normal flying speed at 5 feet, you can flare and land normally.

Every year people die because they decide they simply _have_ to turn at 100 feet and know only one way to do it - pull down a toggle. The parachute dives and they hit the ground at 40mph. To prevent this, not only do you have to know how to flat turn, but you have to practice it enough that it becomes second nature. Then when you do need it, you won't have to think about it.

To pull off this manuever, start by toggle turning the parachute gently. IMMEDIATELY follow that with some opposite toggle. The idea is that you want to flare just a little to counteract the canopy's desire to dive. Continue adding opposite toggle until you've stopped the turn. At this point let both toggles all the way up. If you feel the parachute accelerate after you let go of the toggles (i.e. it feels like you just flared) use less opposite toggle next time. If you feel like the parachute is diving, like you just did a toggle turn, use more opposite toggle next time. Basically you want to start the turn with one toggle, stop it with the other one, and use just enough toggle to keep the wing from diving but not so much that it does a flare.

It should go without saying that this manuever should be practiced up high before you ever try it down low. If and when you do try it out low, start at lesser angles (i.e. try a 15 degree turn first) make sure the pattern is clear and make sure conditions are good (soft ground, good winds.) Work up gradually to a full 90 degree turn. I do think it's important to try at least a gentle flat turn very low; we are horrible judges of exact altitudes when we're at 1000 feet, and it's hard to tell if you've lost 50 feet or 200 in a turn. By trying it out down low, you'll get a better sense of what it can do for you, and you'll have the "sight picture" better set in case you have to use it for real one day.

A variation on this is to go to half brakes and then let one brake up. This gives you a flat turn, but by flaring first you "use up" some of the canopy's energy so you can't turn as effectively. On the plus side the turn happens more slowly. If you are about to hit a tree and want to make a last minute turn, this variation might be the way to go, as it combines a turn and a flare.

2. Flare turn at least 45 degrees. This does two things - it gives you another tool in your arsenal to dodge last minute obstacles, and teaches you to fly your canopy all the way through to the landing. The #1 mistake jumpers with new HP canopies make is to "reach out to break their fall" while they're flaring; this of course turns the canopy in the direction they are reaching. Most people decide that this is due to a side gust just as they're landing. I remember one jumper at Brown who, amazingly enough, experienced a side gust seconds before he landed (and always from the right) 40-50 times in a row! Learning to flare turn will help eliminate this problem.

To flare turn, start with a normal flare, then flare _slightly_ more with one toggle. The canopy will turn. Bring the other toggle down to match it, and the canopy will straighten out. It's a dynamic process; rather than put the toggles at a certain position, you have to speed up one toggle for a second, then speed up the other to match it, before you level them and finish the flare. If you balloon upwards, then don't flare as quickly. If you drop to the ground, bring both toggles down more aggressively when they are 'split.' One thing that helps people is to think about where your canopy is rather than what it's doing. Use the toggles to put it off to one side for a moment, then use them to put it back over your head.

This can be hard to practice with a large canopy. I can pull off a 45 degree turn on a Manta, but the flare is over so fast that it's hard to explain what I just did. It's much easier on a canopy loaded around 1:1, so you may want to wait on this one until you get to that loading.

Note that if you combine a flare turn with a flat turn, you can pull off nearly a 180 degree turn at just above 50 feet. Also note that knowing how to do flat and flare turns doesn't mean you can always turn at 50 feet and get away with it - sometimes it's better to accept a downwind landing than make a turn at a dangerously low altitude. But if you do have to turn low (say, you're on course for the electrified fence around the pit bull farm) a flat/flare turn will let you either turn and land normally or turn and minimize the damage caused by landing in a turn.

3. Land crosswind and in no wind. These are straightforward. No wind landings are pretty easy; the only issue is that your perception of speed and altitude will be off. Since you seem to be moving faster over the ground when there's no wind (which you actually are) it can seem like a good idea to add just a little brake to 'slow you down' before you land. Resist that urge! Keep that speed in your canopy; you can turn the speed into a good flare only if you start the flare with decent (i.e. full flight) speed.

Crosswind landings can be a little more tricky because of that strong tendency to want to "reach out to break your fall." Counter this by flaring with your hands in towards the center of your body. You may have to PLF on these landings, since you'll have some decent forward speed _and_ have some sideways motion from the wind. If you want to get fancy, try a flare turn after you start your flare on the crosswind landing - you can easily pull off a standup landing if you get turned enough before you put your feet down.

If these work well you may want to try a downwind landing. The benefit to doing that is it will prepare you to accept a downwind landing in the future; you won't be tempted to turn too low to avoid it. Choose an ideal day for this one, with a slippery landing area (wet grass is perfect) low winds and a clear landing area. Prepare to PLF, and think about "laying it down" on your thigh as you land to start sliding. You can slide across grass at 30mph without getting hurt, but planting your feet and cartwheeling at those speeds can be very dangerous.

4. Land reliably within a 10 meter circle. This is essentially the PRO requirement. This is critical because your accuracy skills are what will keep you from _having_ to turn low. It's very comforting to know that you can land in any 50ish foot clearing if you find yourself having to land out; it's especially important as you get to smaller canopies that need longer and longer runways to land well. Your only option may be a section of road, and you may have to hit the beginning of the road dead-on to have enough room to slow down.

The subject of canopy accuracy is too long to do justice to here, but the top 3 hints I've heard are:

-If you're not sure if you're going to make it over a wire or tree, look at what it's doing with respect to the background. If more background is appearing from beneath the wire or tree, you're probably going to make it.

-As you look at the ground, most points will seem to move away from a central point. Some will rise, some will fall, some will go out to the side. If you look long enough you'll find one point that's not moving - that's where you're going to land if the winds don't change all the way in (which is rare.)

-Going into brakes usually makes you land short in high winds, but can extend your glide in no wind. Front risers almost always make you land shorter.

5. Initiate a high performance landing with double fronts, and a front riser turn to landing. I am pretty convinced that front riser high performance landings are a lot safer than toggle turn high performance landings, and double fronts are the safest of all. If you do it too low, or become worried about the landing - just drop the risers and you're back to normal flight.

For double front riser landings, set up a normal landing, aiming for a point a little farther away than you normally do. At 100 feet or so, pull down both front risers. Your canopy will drop and accelerate. At some point above the ground (30-10 feet depending on your canopy) drop the front risers. Your canopy will begin to recover. Before it completes the recovery to normal flight, you should be at flare altitude. Start the flare normally. You may need to use less toggle than normal, since the canopy is now going faster than you're used to, and the same amount of toggle gives you more lift. You will also plane out farther, since you have more speed you have to bleed off before you come to a stop.

For front riser turns to landing, first try front riser turns out above 1000 feet and get used to how your canopy recovers. Then start by coming in 10 degrees off the windline, and making a gentle front riser turn to line up with the wind at ~100 feet. The canopy will dive and accelerate, so be prepared to drop the front riser instantly and flare if you have to. Also be prepared to steer in the flare, since the canopy may not have stopped turning completely before the flare begins. Done correctly, you'll start the flare with more forward speed, giving you a longer planeout.

Make sure your flares are smooth for this! A smooth flare generates more lift for a longer period of time than "stabbing" the brakes. However, don't start the flare at 30 feet - starting the flare that high will slow the canopy down, negating the effects of the front riser approach. If you do find yourself stabbing the brakes to prevent hitting the ground, move the altitude at which you start front risering up.

Probably the most critical skill you will get from this exercise is the development of the "sight picture." Below 200 feet your altimeter is pretty useless, and you should be looking at traffic and the landing area anyway. Eventually you'll develop a sense of what "picture" you should see just before you start that riser turn. The picture will vary with wind, landing area etc. If you arrive at the point where you would normally start the front riser turn, and the picture's not right - abort it and land normally.

Once you have the picture down, and are doing front riser turns that transition to gradual flares, then start increasing the angle. Once you get to 90 degrees you're going to be gaining a lot of speed, so be sure to adjust your sight picture up to compensate. As always, bail by dropping the risers if you feel like there's anything wrong. Once you drop the risers, level the wing with your toggles and prepare to flare. At worst you'll have to land crosswind - but that's a skill you should have by this point anyway.

6. Land on slight uphills and downhills. Often, land away from the DZ isn't perfectly flat; sometimes you can't tell this until you're at 20 feet. To prepare for this, find a place in your LZ that's not perfectly flat, scope it out, and plan on landing there. There's not too much magic concerning landing on a slope. You flare more aggressively to land going uphill, less aggressively to land going downhill.

Obviously not all DZ's have slopes. If you don't have a good slope on your DZ somewhere, you may have to put this one off until you're at a DZ that does have one. Beaches are a good place to practice this, since they have pretty predictable slopes down to the water, and overrunning the landing just means you get wet.

7. Land with rear risers. Knowing how to land with rear risers can help you deal with a canopy problem like a broken or stuck brake line, and can help you make a better land/cutaway decision when you do have such a problem.

Again, this is best practiced up high. See how far you can pull the rear risers before the canopy stalls. It will stall _much_ earlier with rear risers; memorize where that happens so you don't do it near the ground.

When you try it for real, choose an ideal day - steady moderate winds, soft ground, clear pattern. Be sure to try this for the first time on a largish canopy (one of the reasons you should do these things _before_ downsizing.) Leave your hands in the toggles and wrap your whole hand around the rear riser. That way if things go awry you can drop the risers and flare normally. Start the flare at a normal flare altitude, and prepare to PLF. You may get the sort of lift you're used to, but you probably won't slow down as much before you're near that stall point. Make sure your feet are on the ground (sliding preferably) before you get there.

On smaller canopies, you may want to start the flare with rear risers. Then, once the canopy is leveled out, drop the risers and finish the flare with the toggles (which are still around your hands.) That way you get your vertical speed to zero, which is the critical part of a safe slide-in landing, and can still stop the canopy without hitting the ground going too fast. (This is also a technique used by swoopers to extend their swoops BTW.)

As I mentioned in the beginning, these are skills you should learn _before_ you downsize. If you can't do some of them yet? Get some coaching; it makes a lot more sense to learn them on your larger canopy, before you start jumping a smaller canopy that scares you. Once you can do them all, then try the smaller canopy. And if someday someone cuts you off under the smaller canopy, you'll have the reactions you learned under the larger canopy. Even if you haven't completely adapted those manuevers to the smaller canopy yet, those reactions will more likely than not save your life.
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>Bill, this is good stuff, can you make this post sticky and lock it for a
>while? Oh, and delete my post from the bottom.

I figured I'd leave it up to see if anyone has any comments. After a bit I'll probably move it to the Safety and Training articles area.

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this sounds like you put a lot of work into it, good job.

I have a question though... I assume the part where they need to do a high performance front riser landing is for people with at least a little experience, right? I don't know if you want a student with 15 jumps downsizing from the manta 288 to like a 230 doing front riser landings.

MB 3528, RB 1182

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Thanks for this invaluable information. I was recently moved to a 190....the canopy I was hoping to be on and it's great. I love it. And, yet...I'm itching for just one more downsize. Soon.

I'll be taking Scott Miller's canopy control course this weekend. That combined with the skills you've outlined should help me get to where I want to be safely. It's hard telling the eager skydiver in me to slow down....that urge to downsize is strong. But, I want to do it right. I just discovered the sky, but it's not going anywhere. No rush. And I know to listen when people talk....like you, so thanks!
Take me, I am the drug; take me, I am hallucinogenic.
-Salvador Dali

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Very informative write up.. I have been wondering what I should focus on as a newbie.. This write up has convinced me to do what I always knew was the smart move and downsize slower than I though I needed too.

I curently flying a 240 and tried front riser turns on my last jump (at 4K) and their ain't no way I'm getting any action out of them now. I'll have to wait a while to work on that. Although I could use the exercise doing pull ups!!

I've done flat turns at altitude since my first AFF jump. I was lucky and my instructor told me about them and said to practice them. I had to use them once when I realized I was overshooting the landing area and needed to pick a new spot. Started the turn at about 75 - 100', nice and easy and no reason to panic... Worked as advertised :)

Most enlightening. Thanks!!!!!!!

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First of all, great article.

I have one thought/question.

How about braked landing practice before flat turns. When learning how to flat turn 50ft above the ground, one can easily end up too low with already more than 50% brakes. that could end up in a pretty hard landing.
What do you think about practicing straight in braked landing before. Same like one practices double front riser landing before single front riser turn landing.
First land with 10% braked canopy, meaning that you start flaring normally but with already 10% brakes added (with less speed than normal). And each jump at final approach gradually add more brakes, all the way to where you can still more or less gently land. That way you'll find out what's the slowest speed you can land that canopy safely at. Beware of stalls if practicing this.
This should really perfect ones flaring technique. And when downsized to a moderate wl or more , this should help landing on tight spots.

What do you think?
"George just lucky i guess!"

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This is really great. And, while having it in the S&T articles section is good, it might be good to have a sticky thread at the top with either this, or links to the S&T articles that pertain to canopy control -- both in here, and in the swooping & canopy control forum.

Wendy W.
There is nothing more dangerous than breaking a basic safety rule and getting away with it. It removes fear of the consequences and builds false confidence. (tbrown)

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Great attitude, Dagny!

I could very easily be jumping a 150 or even a 135 now. I've stayed on my 170 for over 200 jumps, because of the advice I've gotten from Scott and posts like Bill's. Once your know your canopy well, you'll have the great feeling of you flying it, instead of it flying you. I'm not a swooper, but I have figured out how to get my big ol' Sabre 2 to have a great surf. It's enough for me!
She is Da Man, and you better not mess with Da Man,
because she will lay some keepdown on you faster than, well, really fast. ~Billvon

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Wow, that's great stuff. I love the canopy that I have now, and I'm not planning on downsizing anytime in the next 400 jumps, but it's nice to be able to have a sort of gauge as to my progress in becoming completely familiar with the canopy. I've already spent some time with some of those items (flat turns, accuracy), but there are others that I hadn't thought of yet. Now I know how I'll be spending my next few canopy rides.


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>How about braked landing practice before flat turns.

Sure, that works too. I mentioned braked turns as an alternative to flat turns, but I don't go into them very much because they are taught (or are supposed to be taught) as part of the ISP. In a braked turn you can turn in less space, but you lose a bit more altitude during the turn and you come out of the turn in deep brakes. This is OK for landing a larger parachute, but most smaller parachutes can't be landed well in deep brakes. (And of course if you let up on the brakes at 10 feet you'll dive into the ground.)

>What do you think about practicing straight in braked landing before.

Not a bad idea. I think that becomes less useful as loading goes up (sinking approaches often aren't a good idea under heavily loaded canopies) but doing it would at least let you know what to expect if you have to make such a landing.

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> I assume the part where they need to do a high performance front
>riser landing is for people with at least a little experience, right?

Well, yes and no. It's a bit easier to learn on a 1:1 loaded canopy than on a Manta, but you should start out trying front riser turns on your first canopy. The nice thing about, say, a double front riser approach on a Manta is that it's almost a non-event - you go a tiny bit faster and get just a tiny planeout. That gets you familiar with it on a much safer canopy.

Many places rent Mantas and larger canopies and have lots of rules about their usage; they may complain if you do front riser manuevers with that rig. In that case you have to wait to get your own gear before you try things like this. But I do recommend trying this stuff on larger canopies too, if for no other reason than being able to try it on a super low risk wing.

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Bill, I'm a newbie out at Quantum Leap in Sullivan MO and I have to say this is wonderful.

This is exactly the type of material I'm looking for on a regular basis.

Your willingness to take the time to put this on paper and share it with is is really a great thing.

This kind of information is also what makes dz.com one of the best web sites I've ever seen.

Major Kudos and good vibes to you Bill,

It's a gas, gas, gas...

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Copied, Pasted, Printed, and Three-hole punched. Now your short dissertation is headed for my personal 'coach's corner' binder. I'm new (less than a year) at coaching, love it, and want to impart correct and useful information to students. Thank you kindly.

p.s. Had a negative experience some time back when I refused to loan my Sabre 135 to someone that NONE of the jm's, S&TA, DZO, and DZM thought had any business downsizing at that point. This person was really ugly when I just said no. I still stand by my decision, but heard Teddy Roosevelt's words echoing in my new coach's brain: "If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen." I took the heat. Am still in the kitchen! No regrets. :)
Attitude is everything!

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