Tandem Racer

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Two sizes, 400 and 500 Models. The 400 is a 9 cell rectangular planform with a 2.8 to 1 aspect ratio. The 500 is an 11 cell rectangular planform with a 3.15 to 1 aspect ratio. The mains have Zero Permeability top skins. The drogue is attached directly to the passengers' hips bypassing the container and the masters' body. This drogue loading system is designed to avoid most common mistakes and make passenger control less difficult. This is a result of late market entry where we were in a position to learn from the earlier entries and produce a better balanced, easier to use system.


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  • 5
Comfort/Fit, Weight, Safe, Balanced Freefall, Easy to Pack, Price

In late 2010, I decided to purchase my own personal Tandem rig. Having put 60 jumps on my new Racer 2K3 Tandem System this past summer, I can confidently say that I made the right choice.

It has been difficult for me to verbally explain to others just how impressed I am with this Tandem Rig, and this is why I am writing this article

Here are the main reasons why I choose to jump a Racer 2K3 Tandem System:
1. Comfort/Fit
2. Weight
3. Intelligent harness/container design
a. Safe Harness
b. Smart Rig design, especially the drogue attachment
c. Balanced Freefall position
4. Positive extraction of main bag at drogue release
5. Tandem Video made easy
a. Balanced Freefall position
b. The “right” amount of drag for tandem video
6. Easy to pack
7. Price


I am a small Tandem Instructor. I’m 5’7” and a slim 140lbs. I am a weekend warrior jumper, with a full-time job. I jump in Canada in the summer months at Gatineau Ottawa Skydive (GO Skydive). I have been in the sport for 10 years, and hold the following CSPA ratings: CSPA D-1046, Coach 2, GCI, JM, SSI, SSE, EJR, Rigger A


My Racer 2K3 Tandem was custom-made to fit me. It is not one-size-fits-none, like other DZ tandem rigs made for varying sizes of Tandem Instructors. The Racer fits me well, especially around the shoulders, as the yoke is made to fit me, so I feel contained and comfortably cocooned in the harness and container, not loose and falling out like on a Sigma. The harness is made from one continuous piece of webbing that goes around and around with no extra hardware such as hip rings, chest rings and main lift web adjusters.


Put that Sigma rig on the scale, what do you get? I get an average of 55 lbs with my home DZ’s rigs with various reserves and 330 sized mains. My Racer 2K3 Tandem rig (with a 350 main) weighs in at lofty 38 lbs. That is a 13 lb difference, over 30% lighter! It feels like having a student rig on my back, not a heavy Tandem Rig…

These two first factors, weight and comfort/fit are beneficial on a busy day.


It has a Racer harness, the same one as the sport rigs. This contributes to both the comfort/fit and the weight savings. The passenger harness is quite comfortable as well, and I only adjust it once. It does not move or loosen in the plane, so there are no last minute harness adjustments, only a quick verification. It also has double tuck-tab riser protection with magnetic riser covers, and total reserve pin protection with the reserve pins being against the Instructor’s back and not exposed on the outside of the rig, but what I really want to talk about the drogue attachment point:

Some older tandem systems hung the drogue at the bottom of the container, and this made for a head-low body position during freefall. The Sigma moved the attachment point up to the middle of the main container, making the freefall position a little better, but still in a slightly head-low body position. On the Racer 2K3 Tandem, the drogue is attached in between the main and reserve container, in the middle of the Instructors’ back, making for a perfectly balanced and horizontal freefall position. It is attached using a drogue-riser (an inverted T-bridle) that goes all the way through the container, in the space between the packed main and reserve, and becomes the lower attachment points for the student’s harness. This has 2 main advantages, the first is obvious the first time you jump the system: as soon as the drogue is tossed, the student is pulled into you as the drogue is directly attached to the student’s harness. The second advantage is that there is no stress on the container due to the force of the drogue. On a Sigma, all the load and stress of the drogue is passed through the container’s flaps and sidewalls, and ends up pulling the tandem rig off the Instructors’ back. If you look at a Sigma, you'll notice the deformation both in the air and the resulting stress to the fabric once back on the ground.

The drogue bridle is made of webbing, not Kevlar, which makes it easy to cut with a hook knife.

Finally, it has double main container protection. A secondary main container pin keeps the main container closed until the drogue is released. As I was taught in my TI course: No drogue=no main. This prevents an out of sequence main deployment.


As a student of parachute design and as a certified Rigger, I’ve learned that a staged deployment of the main canopy is the safest way to deploy a parachute. All sport rigs do it this way, so why don’t all Tandem rigs? The Racer 2K3 Tandem has an ice-cream shaped drogue, which was modeled after a round parachute, and has very little oscillation compared to some other designs. It also has a measured drag of 90 lbs. At pull-time, this 90 lbs of force becomes the system’s pilot chute and pulls the main bag out of the container and gets the main parachute to full line-stretch. This makes for positive extraction of the main bag, just like a regular pilot chute on every other sport system on the market.

A Sigma drogue seems to have significantly more drag than the Racer’s drogue. At first this may seem better, but in fact it isn’t, especially at pull time. The Sigma’s drogue is designed to collapse as the as soon as a drogue release handle is pulled. This design “feature” is marketed as making for a softer opening of the main parachute, but in reality, it is a band-aid to address problems with its drogue design: the drogue is too big for the main. I guess the Sigma’s drogue produces so much drag that it makes for some “spirited” openings without collapsing it first, and collapsing is required to save people’s necks and to prevent exploding main parachutes.

The problem with this design feature is this: once collapsed, how much drag does that collapsed drogue produce? And secondly, is it enough drag? No one really knows, as it has not been measured…Keep in mind a bagged tandem main weighs about 15 lbs.

What I do know is that after looking at hundreds of videos of Sigmas, the main bag is not positively extracted at pull time. The tandem pair falls through the “trap door” as they accelerate because the drogue has just collapsed, and the bag is lazily lifted off the instructors’ back, with the main parachute lines lazily zig-zagging from side to side, not “stretched” straight to line-stretch. It works most of the time. However, it also contributes to all kinds of possible scenarios: off-heading openings, linetwists and bag-locks (the heavy bag spinning around a tight line-stow due to insufficient drogue drag).

To summarize, the Sigma has too much drag in freefall and too little drag at pull time…


I have already talked about the balanced freefall position offered by the position of the drogue attachment point, where the freefall position of the tandem pair is horizontal; as opposed to other systems that put the tandem pair in a head-low position. This balanced freefall position makes the external cameraperson’s job easy, getting the paying customer’s face in the shot, as opposed to the top of their head...

Secondly, the amount of drogue drag offered in freefall is just right. Being a light Instructor, if I take a sub-100 lb student, even heavy external camera people can keep “up” with me in freefall without the use of massive wings, because my freefall speed is a comfortable 115-120 Mph.


The main bag is big enough for Tandem mains up to 400 sq ft. The main goes in the bag easily, and you pack it almost exactly like a sport rig, except for the drogue attachment. There is no “grunting” required to pack the system. Everything goes in just so, and without effort.


Lastly, Price. Hey it’s my money, and this is what I bought. The price of a complete new system was approximately $3,500.00 less than a Sigma. I got all custom colors delivered in very little time. The people at Jump Shack are friendly and easy to deal with. And for the record, so are the people at UPT ;)


First up: RSL. It has a dual-sided RSL, identical to the one on the Racer sport systems. It works, but the user needs to understand it: RTFM!

It does not have a MARD system, nor do I think it needs it.

Lastly, it incorporates a third drogue release, attached to the cutaway handle. This ensures the proper sequence of emergency procedures with a one-handle pull: it both releases the drogue (if it hasn’t been already) and cuts-away the main. The RSL then initiates the reserve deployment, although pulling silver is still highly recommended.


So there it is. I find there just isn’t much first-hand information out there on this system, and I hope this review can shed some light. I personally think it's somewhat of a hidden gem. I personally know several people that own one or more of these systems, and know of several dropzones in the US, Canada, and overseas that use this rig exclusively. The decision to buy one for myself only came after visiting all 3 major tandem rig manufacturing facilities in Florida in person, and having in-depth discussions with the designers of the various systems. This past winter, I just purchased a second Racer 2k3 Tandem rig so I can better serve my busy dropzone here in Ottawa, Canada on busy days with back-to-back loads.

My name is Alain Bard, and I approve of this rig.

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  • 4
light weight, light toggle pressure & better balance
too many stering toggles

I recently had an opportunity to get re-aquainted with the Racer Elite Tandem. Back in 1997 I earned my Racer Tandem Instructor rating by doing a couple of jumps on thier 500 square foot rectangular main canopy. In the intervening years I did another 1700 jumps, mostly on SET 400s. This past weekend I did three more jumps on a new Racer Tandem, all from Cessnas.
I liked the Racer Tandem back then and I still like it today.
In the intervening years, John Sherman heeded my advice in simplifying the drogue riser, but little else has changed on the container aside from the double main riser cover tuck tabs and some refinements to the main top flap.
The first thing I noticed about the Racer Tandem is how much shorter it is than the Strong Tandems that I normally jump. The greatest size difference is in the reserve container, significantly thinner even with a Jump Shack 400 reserve. The center of gravity is also lower, closer to my own center of gravity.
When I picked it up, I also noticed that the Racer is about 20% lighter than the
The harness on the demo Racer Tandem is an "M+1", slightly too long for me, so that I had to tighten the leg straps all the way to the stops for a snug fit.
The reduced bulk also made the Racer more comfortable when riding in the Cessna.
Type 13 webbing makes the student harness a bit more difficult to adjust, but then it does not slip. The belly band is much lower, making it easier to keep the hip junction at the front of their pelvis. Attaching the side straps was a bit more difficult, but that will probably ease with currency. I had difficulty tightening the side straps for my first jump, but then I was jammed in the front of a narrow-body Cessna 182. Hee! Hee!
With loose side straps, it took a bit more finess to fly the exit (read: I used ALL of my long legs), but once the drogue was out, I felt rock-solid laying on the student. Drogue fall was level and surprisingly smooth. The only variable was how much the students kicked.
Only one student complained of discomfort under canopy, but she quit complaining as soon as I loosened her belly band a bit. She was also my only student who had any difficulty getting her feet out in front for landing, but then she was 50 years older than them.

Openings were not consistent. The Firebolt 390 opened great with a tall, lanky male student, but when I jumped with medium to small women, line stretch was hard (but not as hard as a Strong F-111 canopy) with 4 seconds of slider-fall before the canopy inflated.
After opening, I tried a rear riser stall and turns. Slow turns were easy, but it required everything I had to flare the canopy. Riser manuvers required as much muscle as a SET 400, meaning that I would not try landing it on risers alone.
Pulling on the yellow main toggles revealed light control pressures and docile turns, slower than a SET 400. Grabbing the red flare toggles as well did not significantly improve turn rate. Toggle pressures were still light, even when my students forced me into an awkward, wide hands position. The Firebolt has the lightest control pressure of any tandem canopy I have jumped (Pioneer High-Lifter, PD 360, PD 421, EZ 384, Galaxy 400, Racer 400, Racer 500, Strong 425, Strong 520 and SET 400).
Frankly, toggle pressures were so light that I cannot understand why they complicated the canopy with four main toggles. I have always hated extra toggles, even when I was jumping Strong 520 mains. The last thing I want to do is fumble for extra toggles while am turning onto final at a busy DZ.
If I owned a Firebolt 390, the first thing I would do is tie all the steering lines to just two toggles.
In terms of handling the Firebolt 390 reminds me of the Aerodyne Solo 270 canopy I test-jumped a week earlier, only more boring. Which leads us to question of how exciting student and tandem canopies should be. To my mind, the more boring the better. If a tandem instructor choses a canopy based upon how much fun it is for him, he is in the wrong business!
Practice flares did not seem to slow the Firebolt 390 canopy by much. Despite holding all the toggles all the way down for 7 seconds, I could not stall the canopy like a Strong main.
Coming in for landing, the initial 3/4 of the flare felt the same as a SET 400, lots of toggle movement, but the same tragectory towards the planet. Then the Firebolt 390 surprised me. Depressing toggles below waist level resulted in dramatic reductions in both forward speed and rate of descent. It surprised me with a ridiculously easy stand-up landing in 4 knots of wind!
After the jump, the Firebolt's lighter weight and lower bulk made it easier to carry back to the hangar. Back in the packing hangar, the Firebolt's hybrid construction made it ridiculously easy to squeeze the air out - easier than a tired F-111 canopy - and the only thing different than packing a sport rig was attaching the drogue.
Back in 1997 I concluded that Racer tandem harnesses were more comfortable than anybody else's and their main canopies flew significantly better as well, with lighter toggle pressures. After jumping the latest Racer Tandem with a Firebolt 390 canopy, my opinion remains the same. I like Racer Tandems.

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