Advanced Flying Techniques: Back to the Basics.

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Advanced Flying Techniques: Back to the Basics.

There has been quite a bit of discussion here online about how one should do this or that with their canopy to achieve the perfect swoop. I honestly do not think that there is only one answer, but I strongly feel that a good foundation of proper techniques will allow you to build your skills faster than just skipping ahead to a smaller faster canopy.

What I have written is aimed at the canopy pilot who wants to start swooping, but there are good ideas for everyone who lands a parachute in this article. Please do not go out and fly yourself into the earth after reading my thoughts on landing, as the ultimate responsibility relies squarely on your shoulders to not hurt yourself or others.

Many people here online will tell you to read Brian Germain's book. I think it is a good book, but I do not think that just reading his book will automatically make you a better canopy pilot. Among the many good things Brian expresses in his book is the (now pay attention) ACTIVE PILOTING of your canopy. If you are coming out of your dive 20' high then you are not actively flying your canopy, conversely you are letting the canopy go where it wants to go. If you do that then your canopy ultimately will put you into a place where you do not want to be. There are two ways to fly your canopy, proactively, and reactively.

The proactive method of flying a canopy starts before you exit the aircraft. You have to look down before exiting and ask yourself "Am I further from the DZ than I want to be?" If so then you may want to pull a little higher. In addition, you need to evaluate how many people are on the load with you and what their habits are. In this evaluation, you need to consider when the bulk of the people will be clogging up the traffic pattern and adjust your dive accordingly. At this stage in the game, you really need to back off from doing turns greater than a 90 with traffic about. You need to be able to focus all of your concentration on flying through your turn instead of having to look around during your turn to watch for other traffic. Eventually you will become less task saturated in your turn and you will be able to see more of what is going on around you. This will come with time and experience. On the other hand, the reactive method of flying a canopy is to go out and do everything as you normally do, to not pay attention to the changing environment around you, and to deal with every situation as it develops. You can do this if you want but you will be so involved in dealing with each little development that you will never be able to be as consistent as you could be if you planned your flight. I'm not saying that you need to be a totally proactive flyer and throw all of your reactivity out the window, but you need to find a way to incorporate much more proactivity than reactivity into your flight plan (YES!!! you really need to start dirt diving your canopy flight). This harmony between being proactive and reactive is probably the most important thing that you need to develop because everything you do in swooping builds upon this concept.

The next thing you need to focus on is consistency. Consistency will allow you to remove as many variables from the situation as possible (yes your second grade teacher Mrs. Pote was correct when she said that every thing you do in life would involve math!). Variables in the swooping equation fall under two categories, ones you can control and ones you cannot control. The ones you have control over can possibly be eliminated. This is PROACTIVE flying. The ones you cannot control require REACTIVE flying. Do you see why you need to be able to fly in both modes and how it all builds on those two concepts? Some examples of controllable variables include when you enter the traffic pattern and where you enter the traffic pattern. When you enter, the traffic pattern will dictate how much traffic you have to deal with. Where you enter the traffic pattern will also dictate how much traffic you have to deal with. Remember traffic is not your friend when you are learning to swoop. Things you cannot control are usually environmental factors such as wind and density altitude. You will have to be proactive and reactive to deal with both of these factors because they change on every jump. You can plan for them, but do not get so entrenched into a plan that you cannot adapt to the changing external environment.

Another important part of being consistent is your traffic pattern. You need to start flying the same pattern on every jump. We teach you to fly a pattern in AFF, but many people blow it off because they see the more experienced jumpers flying erratic patterns. I feel that the pattern is probably one of the most underutilized tools to getting a good swoop. If you enter each leg of your pattern at the same altitude every time, then you are removing variables to your swoop and then you can concentrate more on your turn. Being consistent also, telegraphs to people over time that you will do pretty much the same thing every time and then other jumpers can learn to stay out of your way. Exhibiting a good example helps you out and encourages lower experienced jumpers to fly in a safer more predictable manner. When this happens, the traffic pattern becomes safer for everyone involved. In addition to flying your pattern, you need to have a good understanding of the dynamics of your turn to final.

In every turn, three variables will combine to give you the outcome of your turn. These are altitude, turn rate, and amount of turn. Each of these variables correlate with each other and changing one will affect the other two. An example of this would be arriving at your turn initiation point lower than you want to. To alleviate this you can either increase your turn rate, or decrease the turn amount, or a combination of the two. If you are consistent in your pattern then you should be arriving at your turn initiation point at the same altitude on each jump. Now the only uncontrollable variables are wind and density altitude. You can eliminate the wind variable by rotating your pattern so that you will end up flying into the wind for landing (this is common at most drop zones...). A good idea would be to scope out some landmarks on your landing area that you can use for the possible directions of your pattern. Therefore, with density altitude being the only variable, you can now REACTIVELY fly to overcome this variable by increasing or your turn rate, or decreasing the amount of turn that you do. Do you see how every choice you make effects another outcome later in your swoop?

With this talk about increasing your turn rate and decreasing the amount of turn, you need to keep one thing in mind at all times. DO NOT FLY INTO THE EARTH AT A HIGH RATE OF SPEED. This will probably kill you. Even though it is a simple concept, it is probably the most important concept out there. You owe it to your friends and family to keep this concept fresh in your mind. With experience, you will gain the knowledge of when to bail out of a turn and what you can and cannot get away with when landing. We all learn more and more of this on every jump. It is not something we are born with, but something we need to develop over time. The one thing we are born with is instinct, and if you feel that you are getting into the corner then you very well might be, so take corrective actions to fix the situation immediately by getting your wing level and flaring as needed.

In the plane out rear risers or toggles are the two ways to control our canopies. I would suggest that you forget about using your rears for right now. Using the rear risers adds another dimension of complexity to swooping that you do not need at this time. For example, rear risers are more efficient if used properly, but they will cause your canopy to stall at a higher airspeed. If you use them to dig yourself out of the corner then you can find your self in the stalled configuration at a very high airspeed and violating that important concept that I elaborated upon earlier. I have seen people flying rears much too early in there progression and learning very bad habits that will short them on distance later on down the road.

Let us go a little more in depth about flaring your canopy. Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad advice out there in regards to flaring. I have heard things like “when you get scarred jam on them!” or “use a two staged flare”. I think when people are talking about staged flares they are just passing on bad information! Think of it this way. In its simplistic form, there are three areas to a landing.

1. Approach
2. Plane out
3. Stopping

To transition from your approach to plane out, you need to give input to the canopy whether it is toggles or rears. Now do you stop from there? NO. You have to give more input to the canopy to transition from plane out to stopping. Now I'm going to introduce a little bit more of a radical concept here, so everyone take a second and catch your breath...

First of all wee need to get rid of this concept of a two or three staged flare. You do not come in flare halfway, stop, and then flare the rest of the way do you? If so, you are doing it wrong. Does that method work? Yes, sometimes, but we are a little more advanced than that, are we not? I believed the old timers who were transitioning from F-111 to ZP canopies brought about this concept. They used this method when their canopies would balloon up after they flared all the way, as they were used to doing with their F-111's.

Let us take the three areas that I spoke of earlier and make them into just one simplistic concept.

1. Landing

You need to start thinking this way because, when you are transitioning to smaller faster canopy's, landing does not just happen when your altitude reaches zero. Many of the more advanced canopy pilots here will probably agree with me that landing for them starts after they get everything stowed away after an opening. Watch them, and talk to them, and you will soon see that every maneuver they make is to set up for landing. There is no more "Playing Around" when you get to small canopies. Now let us get back to landing. Your approach flare and stopping should all be one smooth movement and you should only flare as much as you need to maintain the altitude above the ground that you want. Some people have a difficult time with this, and I think it is because they are judging their altitude from the wrong area of the ground. If you are on top of a tall ladder and look straight down it is scary, but if you look at the horizon, you can still tell that you are high up with out the looming effect of the ground.

Try looking at or just below the horizon when you are beginning to plane out. This will allow you to judge your altitude more effectively. To illustrate this standup right now and look at a far doorknob or something out your window on the horizon. Now stand on your toes, and then back on your flat feet. Do you see the difference in your sight picture when you do this? In all actuality, you have only moved 2 to 3 inches if that.

Now that you have your sight picture mastered, think about continuing your flare only as much as you need to so that your sight picture does not change. Now that we are flying flat and level over the ground, we eventually need to stop. To do this you just need to keep flaring, and maintaining your sight picture. Eventually you will have flared so much that your canopy will no longer be able to produce the amount of lift required to hold your body weight in the air. This is usually when you put your feet down on the ground.

If you watch people land, you will soon notice that many of them do not flare their canopies all the way, and this is the cause of many jumpers landing problems. If you are flaring properly then you should not have to run out your landings very much even on low wind to no wind days.
In addition to changing your mindset about landing, it would behoove you to begin to fly your canopy as smoothly as possible. Erratic flying can be more of a hazard than a joy. Realize that you’re suspended below your wing and if you are flying in an uncontrolled manner then your canopy could turn before you do. This of course can cause line twists and if you combine uncontrolled flying with turbulence, you could be in a lot more of a bad situation than just line twists. In the future flying smoothly will increase the distance of your swoops.

I hope that this has helped you out. Please get coaching from a COMPETENT instructor. Some people will tell you that they can teach you anything, but remember you get what you pay for in this sport and get good instruction from a qualified canopy coach like Scott Miller, Brian Germain, Jim Slaton, or Ian Bobo to name a few is priceless. Be careful out there, and good luck.

Grant S. Adams

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I'll be honest, that post is too long for me to read. I do have two points that fit the title of the thread, so if they were covered in the mega-post, then I'll be repeating them, but they're important, so it's OK.

Regarding traffic, and flying in and around the pattern, if you are jumping a HP canopy, loaded up over 1.7 or 1.8 ish, fly all of your pattern and set up in deep brakes.

There are debates about the optimum speed for starting a swoop, but this isn't about the five seconds before you throw your turn, this about the time just before that. By flying in deep brakes, you give yourself more time to watch for traffic, and set up your swoop. Additionally, you end up flying a speed closer to that of the other canopies in the pattern, which allows you to better integrate yourself into the mix.

Regarding managing traffic, when you're trying to work yourself into the pattern (which is essentially what you're doing, even though you'll enter the pattern from above and doing 70 mph) you're bound to have other canopies on final as well. The thing to remember is this - If you have a canopy below you and on final approach (straight in) that canopy can only fly to limited area in relation to it's current position. If you ensure that your path will never cross into this area, and then fly that path, you'll never have a collision. Even if the other pilot turns directly toward your path, and flies at max glide, they'll run out of alititude before they can run into you.

None of this changes the fact that you have to be diligent with watching what others (as well as yourself) are doing. You can't ever control what the other guy will do, so you leave yourself open if you count on them to perform in a certain way. By keeping them out of range during the critical low altitiude portion of the canopy ride, you can ease your workload with respect to that canopy, and shift your focus to keeping an eye out for the guy you didn't see unitl after you starting diving as hard and as fast as you could. As much as it sucks, that guy is out there somewhere.

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The post was just too long for ME to read, and I'm a lazy fuck who thinks I know it all anyway.

I agree 100% that avoiding traffic situations is the way to go, but too often those just starting out aren't ready to dedicate hop n pops, or high pulls toward having a free and clear airspace.

The points that made are valid on every jump. Even if you're not going to swoop, traffic management is a key area of safe canopy flight.

I'm not trying to subtract from your efforts here, I'm trying to add to them.

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