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  1. 4 points
    It’s Not What You Do (Or the Size of Your Dropzone): It’s How You Do It Jen Sharp -- since 2017, the Director of IT for the USPA -- is a woman of note for a long list of reasons. Jen’s a font of wisdom, a truly badass skydiving instructor and a businesswoman of uncommon strength and clarity (proof: she spent 21 years owning a successful small drop zone in Kansas). When she speaks, one should do themselves the favor of listening. If you don’t already know her story: Jen has been jumping since she was 18 years old. She opened Skydive Kansas directly after her college graduation, when she had a full-time teaching job and only 300 jumps. (Even then, she’d already been working as a static line jumpmaster, instructor, packer, rigger and radio-wrangler. Supergirl, basically.) Since then, she has traveled extensively as a jumper, an instructor and a public speaker. It was 1995 when Jen opened her dropzone: the days of saving up your vacation days for the World Freefall Convention; of spending Friday night to Sunday dinnertime on the dropzone; of single-plane 182 dropzones all over the place and, like, eight places you could go to fulfill a turbine craving. The close knit of those intimate little club-format dropzones has, of course, steadily unwound since then in most places. Adding skydiving to the schedule has become much more of a surgical strike: you get to the DZ at 10am and manifest immediately so you can make it to Crossfit by 4. You sift through regional skydiving events on Facebook, few of which require more than a handful of minutes’ worth of planning. You drive hours for a turbine. Jen takes on her alter ego, “Stu,” as a student (get it?!) on an AFF eval jump. It would be easy to mourn the loss of the small dropzone as an entity -- there are precious few of them left, proportionally to their previous numbers -- but Jen refuses to. For her, the “small dropzone feel” is the culture we should all be striving for, even if there happen to be seven Skyvans in the hangar archipelago. “The best vibes are at the places that keep the actual perspective, not just the party line, that we are all just people and all just want to have fun,” she begins. “The ones that embody safety in the active choices to care for each other. The places that assume the best in people. Luckily, that’s really simple to do.” Simple? Yes. Easy? Not necessarily, but according to Jen, that’s what we are really going for here: an inviting culture. Example after example proves that business success will follow that beacon significantly more reliably than it will follow volume. “What that culture is not,” Jen clarifies, “is the culture of the burned-out tandem instructor, hauling meat; a culture where an instructor never connects with their student; where they don’t even call them students, but passengers. If you call them a passenger, they are one-and-done. They know their place with you. But if you call them a student -- and you truly think of them that way -- the whole dynamic is going to be different.” How do you change the dynamic? By changing the way you see the person in the harness. “The public we meet is awesome,” she continues. “And we forget that! We totally forget this as instructors -- especially, tandem instructors. We forget that the person we’re taking is amazing. Why? Because they are not on the couch. A normal person is just sitting there on the couch on the weekend or maybe vacuuming or making snacks, drinking beer and watching TV. But this person is okay with being uncomfortable; with putting their life in your hands. They are excited about it, and they are trusting you. That already makes them a really cool person.” Doing an interview at PIA 2015. “If you want to see the average person, go to Walmart,” she laughs. “That’s the ‘average person.’ The person walking on a dropzone for the first time is not the average person. They are already living on a level that we should resonate with, especially since they’re new and they need our guidance.” For Jen, in fact, the “passenger” moniker is no less than a dishonor. “Homogenizing everyone who walks in the door into a ‘passenger’ has a couple of outcomes,” Jen explains. “It burns tandem instructors out. It burns the public out against skydiving when we make the assumption that they don’t know anything. Where did we even get that idea in the first place? Sure, they don’t know anything about skydiving, but they probably know a lot about something else.” “When I would take tandem students, I didn’t know who they were, necessarily,” she muses. “I would always ask ‘why are you here today,’ but they weren’t always going to tell their life story. I would find out later that we had just taken a brain surgeon, or the senator from some western county in Kansas. You never know who that person is. They’re just walking around in their sweats because you told them to dress comfortably. So -- if you’re starting to feel the burnout, try allowing yourself to be curious about them. And, if you’re a dropzone owner, strive to instill that curiosity in your instructor staff.” Who knows: That curiosity, manifesting as totally authentic friendliness, could end up defining a regional dropzone’s niche. “If drop zones realize how many kinds of niches there are to occupy,” Jen says, “I don’t think we’d ever talk in terms of ‘small,’ ‘medium’ and ‘large’ dropzone. You can occupy a really strong, functional cultural niche without being the biggest DZ around, or having the most airplanes, or doing the most tandems. As a dropzone, your niche really comes from whatever it is that you want to bring to the table -- and your resources and your passions -- and you succeed when you fulfill that to the max. I think a lot of places are figuring that out, and that’s contributing to the fact that we now have more of a variety of dropzones than we ever have before.” Y’know that bit about a cultural "niche"? Jen insists that it’s not just about feels. It’s about returns, too. A strong niche can turn into a marketing advantage. “Not every dropzone should compete on price,” Jen notes. “It's conceivable for a smaller DZ to actually make more profit by doing less jumps. Profit is not the same as gross.” “It’s as straightforward as reaching the fullest manifestation of what you’re capable of doing,” she adds, smiling, “and, of course, always trying to get better.”
  2. 2 points
    Do your suspension lines have a noticeable five-o'clock shadow? Maybe it’s time for your gear to spend the weekend with your friendly neighborhood rigger. If you’re unsure, you’re not alone--plenty of skydivers hem and haw about this particularly important aspect of canopy maintenance. Looking for a little more convincing? Here’s a brief education on line maintenance by Karen Saunders, one of the few (and one of only two women) to hold the lofty Advanced Rigger ticket from the British Parachute Association. Karen has seen enough fuzzy line sets to give any sane canopy pilot the night sweats, and she wants to make sure it’s not you that gets to live the nightmare of a mid-swoop snap. 1. Go with your gut. “Trust your instincts. If you think that maybe your lines are looking a bit shabby, they probably are. Most people will look at their line set and say, That looks a bit shit, but I’ll do something about it tomorrow. Tomorrow turns into a week, and then a month. Before you know it, you’ll have a line snap or an off-heading opening. Fix it before you create yourself some problems.” 2. Know what you’ve got. “The most important thing is to know what type of line is on your parachute. Most people don’t--and if they don’t, then they won’t know how many jumps they can expect to get out of that line set before it needs to be replaced. And they also won’t know whether to expect to have line shrinkage or whether it is going to go the other way and simply snap when it reaches the end of its life cycle. Vectron and HMA will do just that if you don’t take care of them: Snap. They won’t give you a warning aside from the fact that they will start to fray as they age. The other thing to think about is where your line set actually comes from. Most people will buy their line sets from manufacturers, but there are riggers out there that will make cheaper line sets themselves. I can spot a manufactured line set from anything else in a flash, but most people couldn’t--and maybe that’s the line set have got on your canopy that you bought from somebody in good faith. It is always best before you buy anything to get it checked out.” 3. Get some visual reference. “Once you know what line type is on your parachute, look at Performance Designs’ line wear charts for your lines to get an idea of what wear actually looks like. It may surprise you. Using that reference as an example, you can see how deterioration looks over a given period of time and what percentage of strength you lose. You can test your new knowledge immediately by looking at the bottom part of your brake lines and the stabilizers. Those lines are always going to take the brunt of the wear. Generally, having the bottom part of your brake lines replaced at the first sign of wear is going to save you a whole world of problems.” 4. Watch for the warnings (if you have a line type that broadcasts them). “If your lines are made of Spectra or Dacron and you need a reline, you can expect to get some bad openings: an off-heading or big surges after opening. That’s generally because the slider is moving up and down your lines, heating them up and shrinking them. If your parachute opens and it is not on-heading, then it is generally an indication that it is going out of trim. You need to get somebody to look at that. When you do, they might look at it and tell you that the lines are okay; maybe it’s just your body position causing the problem. If they look at your lines and go holy shit, man, you need to replace straight away, then you have your answer. Either way, you’ll have peace of mind.” 5. Don’t get tunnel vision. “Don’t just look at your lines. Your lines are suspended by some binding tape which needs checking as well. Especially after a hard opening, be sure to look at the tape where each line is attached to your canopy, as well as the fabric around it. Kill lines are another thing. Everybody forgets that a kill line wears out in the same way as a suspension line, except a lot more quickly. If your kill line is made out of Spectra and has shortened, then you’re going to start having problems with your openings. The dead giveaway is finding that your pilot chute is turned virtually inside out every time you land. A kill line wears throughout the bridle. The weakest point doesn’t have to be at the bottom or top--it can snap right in the middle--so make sure you pull it through from both ends when you check it. Pull it as far as you can from one end and then pull it as far as you can from the other end to have a good look. Finally: If you’re getting a new line set, please, please, please replace your slinks as well. Don’t put a new line set on it and put an old set of slinks on it. That defeats the object of this exercise. They are not infallible. They do fail, and the last thing you want is for a slink to fail at 200 feet, because you’re not going to survive that.” 6. Remember: The integrity of your lineset isn’t a good place to save a few bucks. “The costs to reline aren’t as bad as you might think. I can tell you roughly what I charge, but I can’t speak for other riggers. That said, I will always look at something for free, and if someone asks me for it, I will always give my advice for free, and that’s also the way most of the riggers I know like to work. I charge 15 pounds, which equates to about 20 U.S. dollars, to replace both lower brake lines. If the lowers go from the cascade all the way to the toggle, I charge 40 pounds--which is something like $60. If you compare that amount of money to losing a brake line when you’re flaring--or when you are at 100 feet--you see the value. You have to weigh the cost of your own safety. If you don’t happen to have a rigger on your dropzone, then go to an experienced jumper. See them and say, Hey, I’m a bit worried about this. What do you think I should do? If they look at it and start laughing, you have your answer.”
  3. 2 points
    Harnesses: Fitting to your body and effects to consider... During part 1 (take a look here) we described the different parts of a skydiving harness and the materials used on it. On the second part we are a bit more practical. Here we will go through most (all?) harness options and designs, independently of the manufacturer. We will see what they are and which purpose they have, so you can decide if they are for you or not. Most manufacturers are open to offer non standard options if the buyer asks about it. However, there is a significant number of options that are specific for a subgroup of manufacturers, and therefore you can't freely mix and match every single option explained here. To keep things ordered we will go from top to bottom of the harness. Let's go! Risers Going from top to bottom, the first thing you find are the main risers. As simple as they seem to be, they have a significant number of options. Webbing The first thing to decide is which type of webbing you want on your risers. In this time and age there is little debate: If you are not an outlier you'll want type 17 risers. There are multiple reasons. The main technical reason is that it makes it easier to pull down the slider to stow it behind your head. Type 17 is also preferred to type 8 because of its lower bulk and cooler appearance (which is, of course, not a technical reason). It typically comes paired with minirings, which are also less bulky than traditional rings and "cool" looking. Regarding webbing, a second option is to have risers sewed in half, reducing its cross section and drag. This option is only available in type 17 risers and has a very specific audience: hardcore swoopers. They need to reduce drag as much as possible, to squeeze out all the performance in their canopies. If you are not a hardcore swooper you can ignore this option. Moreover, some manufacturers advise against these low profile risers if you are going to deploy at terminal speed. The last bit regarding webbing on risers is its length. 21" (53 cm) is the standard length of many manufacturers. As usual, check first with them to ensure that is true. You can also order them shorter (if you have short arms) or longer. It is normally recommended to have them as long as possible, but allowing to reach the slider. That's because with longer risers the canopy can "open up" a bit more, and you'll have more range in all your controls, particularly in toggles. That also means that you can stall your canopy easier, so the whole system has to be in balance. Diving loops Diving loops are nowadays kind of standard, and even rigs targeted at newly licensed skydivers have them. There are, however almost as many kinds as manufacturers. The simplest type is a loop of type 17 webbing sewed close to the top of the front risers. These loops are easy to manufacture, cheap, and play no role on hooking your main canopy. On the flip side, they lay flat against the risers, making them more difficult to grab and causing distractions, and are harder on the fingers. Another common type of loop uses tubular webbing. The advantage of this type of loop over the simple type 17 is two-fold: It is easier on the fingers, allowing to hold the front risers longer, and the loop tends to stay open, making it easier to grab. Sometimes these loops have extra material inside (stiffeners or bungee cords) to ensure they stay open when you need them. It is also possible that the tubular webbing is sewed in the inside part of a regular type 17 loop. In recent years the so called "louie" loops have become more popular. These loops have a double layer of webbing, and stay easily open. But their most distinctive feature is that they wrap the loop used to connect the canopy to the risers. That implies 2 things: First and foremost, they require more attention when connecting a canopy. The soft links (these loops do not accept hard links) have to go through the diving loops and the connecting loops. Routing the soft links just through the diving loops can have serious consequences. The stitching could break and the whole line group could be released. The advantage of these loops is that it allows the canopy pilot to pull from the highest point of the risers, giving more range and a more comfortable pull. Diving loop with tubular webbing on the inside for added comfort and to keep it open. Louie loop. Note how the soft link has to go through the link loop and the dive loop. The last thing to comment here is that CRW dogs typically have dive blocks instead of dive loops. Dive blocks are easier to grab and release, which makes them more useful than loops in that environment. Toggles Manufacturing techniques vary wildly between different rigs. So much, that we won't cover them in too much detail here. What is important is that the toggles stay secured until you grab them. To the best of my knowledge, that is true for every modern reputable manufacturer. Nevertheless, we can analyze the different components/options, even though each manufacturer uses its own technique and rarely offers changes to it. Brake line retainer: That's the part of the toggle that goes through the cat's eye in the brake lines. Normally it is a "hardened" piece made using multiple layers of webbing. Some manufacturers use a straight pin instead. While this seems like a good idea, it opens the door to misrigging, since the pin fits through the guide ring. That could result in the brake line pulling on the pin and its pocket, which could be easily damaged. Toggle retainers: The toggles need to be secured in place. This is achieved with either stiffer parts inserted in pockets in the risers (just like the brake line retainer), straight pins inserted in tighter pockets, or snaps. The number of stiff parts and pins varies between 2 and 3. The orientation also varies. That is why some cases require an upwards motion before pulling the toggles down to release them. Should snaps be used, it is important to remark that the snaps should perforate an extra piece of webbing sewed in the risers, not the webbing of the risers itself. Slack retainers: These are loops sewed on the back side of the back risers. They can be a simple piece of tape (which tend to let the slack a bit more loose), or a elastic (which secures the slack better, but makes the slack stowing more tedious). Toggle with stiffener on top and pin on bottom, tape slack retainers and closed top pocket. Other options are stiffeners on top on bottom, pin on top, extra stiffener pointing downwards on top, elastic retainers and open (at the top) top pocket. Additional guide rings Some riser manufactures have the option of placing an extra set of guide rings at the top of the risers. This way, during full flight, the brake lines go through this set of rings, but not through the normal guide rings. To stow the brakes the cat's eye has to go through the normal rings, the toggle has to lock the brake in place, and the excess can be normally stowed. The benefit of this option is to have a smoother transition to rears, and reduce the length that the brake line is traveling, since it doesn't have to go down to the guide ring and up again towards wherever the pilot has his/her hands. If you are into canopy piloting, or if you need to have very short brake lines, this might be an interesting option for you. 3 rings The last set of options in the risers is the 3 rings system. The first thing to decide here is if you are happy with today's standard: Minirings. The vast majority of sport rigs have them today, mostly for aesthetic reasons. They work just fine, and you rarely see rigs with large rings nowadays. But the pulley minirings form is slightly less effective than in large rings. That means that the force needed during cutaway might be higher. Modern risers have extra housings for the cutaway cable -sometimes with teflon inserts-, to avoid them from being pinched in twists, and make cutaways more difficult. The usage of these housings in modern risers offsets the extra force required to cutaway with minirings in most cases. Another thing to consider is that typically minirings come with type 17 risers, and large rings with type 8 risers, even though other combinations are possible. So the type of webbing you want on your risers might tip the balance for you, if you are undecided. Aerodyne, to keep the aesthetics of minirings but without compromising on pull forces, designed a modified 3-ring release system. The "miniforce" rings system is essentially the same as other minirings systems, but with an enlarged middle ring. That improves the pulley efficiency and reduces the load in the white loop. If you want to use these risers in a container not manufactured by Aerodyne, check first with your manufacturer about component compatibility. We will talk a bit more about this at the end of the section. Aerodyne's "miniforce" 3-rings system. Lastly, you can decide the hardware finish. There are 3 main options in the market: Cadmium plated steel: This is possibly the oldest type of hardware used in skydiving that is still sold today. It works well will all kinds of webbing, the plating offers corrosion protection and it is generally cheaper, despite the extra costs associated to dealing with cadmium's toxicity. However, the plating can flake off over years, and then corrosion might happen, depending on the environmental conditions and how you treat your gear. Moreover, it is not shiny, which goes against one of the (sadly) first principles of skydiving: You have to look cool. Cadmium plated steel 3-rings system after more than 1000 jumps. Stainless steel: This kind of hardware is the most commonly used today. It offers better corrosion protection than plated steel, since there is not plating that can flake off. It is and stays shiny. And it slips more. 3-rings release system can lose about 5% efficiency (more force transmitted to the small ring) because of the reduced friction. Arguably, in well manufactured miniring systems, it doesn't play a role. Stainless steel 3-rings system after 100 jumps. Black hardware: This is the latest addition in hardware finish. It is steel hardware with an oxide layer, that gives it its matte black color. It is relatively recent, so field experience is more limited than stainless steel and cadmium plated steel. Some people claim that after hundreds of jumps it doesn't have significant usage marks. However, at least in some cases, marks are pretty visible (see also the pictures of chest rings). Black 3-rings system after 100 jumps. The chosen finish will affect the 3-rings system, buckles, chest and hip rings, and RSL shackles. However, whatever you choose, it won't affect the grommets or housings of your rig. Maybe something to consider. Some people mix risers with different hardware materials and from different manufacturers. This works fine in most cases. However, you are stacking the odds against you if you are not careful. On one hand dimensions and placement of all the parts should match. RSL ring side, cutaway cable inserts and length of cable, large ring dimensions -that can be different even among minirings systems-, large ring placement -higher or lower in the MLW-. All these are things to consider. There have been already fatalities rooted in a poor mix of components (reverse risers on a Javelin container). On the other hand, NAS-804, the specification required by TSO-C23b, states "The use of dissimilar metals, especially brass, copper, or steel in intimate metal-to-metal contact with aluminum or aluminum alloy, shall be avoided, whenever possible.". So, in principle, unless you know better, you should avoid mixing types for extended periods of time, as you might cause premature degradation of your hardware. Also, "miniforce" risers work fine with Aerodyne rigs. But the enlarged middle ring might not release cleanly in other rigs. Check compatibility with the manufacturer of your rig before using that mix. Chest rings Exploring down our harness we get to the chest strap junction. Most manufacturers -but not all- add chest rings to articulate their harness, either by default, or as an option. A fully articulated harness (with chest and hip rings) is supposed to be more comfortable, as the webbing doesn't need to bend and fold as much as a non-articulated harness. However, the chest is an area where these deformations are not really pronounced. As much as your body moves and twists in freefall, your upper torso stays pretty rigid. Nevertheless, chest rings help to avoid awkward and uncomfortable webbing twisting when the harness has been made for a larger person than the wearer. In these cases, the tendency is to overtighten the chest strap to compensate and secure better the jumper. That brings both chest junction together more than they should, and without rings the webbing would be unnaturally bent at that point. Of course, in an ideal world, every skydiver would have a harness that fits them properly, so this would never happen. Besides the arguable increase in comfort, chest rings are an excellent investment if, for whatever reason, the harness needs to be resized or repaired in the lower MLW. With chest rings the area affected is reduced to the webbing between the chest and hip rings. Without chest rings, the amount of work (and price) for this would be significantly higher, since the MLW is sewed to more components that would need resewing or replacement. Like the 3-rings release system, the chest rings can have different finish. More unique to chest rings is their orientation, and its influence on fitting and chest strap width. The chest rings used in every modern harness/container system are always very similar to the large ring in the 3-rings release system. The only possible difference is the bend in the slot where the MLW is threaded, which might or might not be present. In the chest, manufacturers orient the ring in 2 different ways: With the threading slot towards the upper MLW, or towards the chest strap. There are a few subtle implications: Rings with a vertical orientation (threading slot towards upper MLW) accept more naturally type 17 chest straps. In roughly half the circumference of the ring, the manufacturer has to accomodate the lower MLW and the chest strap, so commonly type 17 is used for the chest strap. That doesn't mean that type 8 is not possible. It is, but being it more bulky, it is less convenient. Rings with a horizontal orientation (threading slot towards chest strap) accept more naturally type 8 chest straps. I have yet to see this configuration with type 17, but it is, in theory, possible. Looks would be compromised for no reason though, so it is unlikely you'll see it either. Another thing to consider with this configuration is the range of motion of the upper MLW. Here, it can slide to the sides easier (the ring stays in place and the upper MLW can slide on it) than in vertical configuration (where the whole ring has to move and overcome the friction with the chest strap and the lower MLW). What that means is that when flying steep head down angles, the harness can slip down (up?) your shoulders easier than in other cases. Black chest ring after 1000 jumps. Note the shiny side on the right. Chest ring with the threading slot towards the upper MLW and a type 17 chest strap. The last option to consider regarding chest rings is the use of padding under the rings. Not many manufacturers offer it, but it is nevertheless possible. Chest ring with the threading slot towards the type 8 chest strap. The additional tape keeps the padding secured under the ring. Chest strap As we mentioned already, there are two chest strap widths to choose from. Regarding strength, there is no real difference, since the weakest point is the friction adapter, which is rated at 500 lbs independently of the width. Type 17 is less bulky and has less drag, which some swoopers would care about. It is also true that these same swoopers, the ones that can notice the difference, would completely remove their chest strap after opening and stow it away (while using a belly band to secure themselves). So this is also a moot point. At the end, this is one of these options that are completely a matter a personal taste. Another option regarding chest straps is their length. Most manufacturers have a standard length, which is typically around 19" (48cm). Normally this can be extended at no cost. Long chest straps allow the jumper to open up their harness and therefore their canopy, for increased efficiency. With a long chest strap it is also possible to lean forward during landing for a more active canopy piloting position. Regardless the length of your chest strap, if you are going to loosen it as much as you can, you should pay attention to its termination. Type 8 chest straps have a folded end that acts as a stopper and prevents the chest strap from being accidentally unthreaded. Type 17 terminations are sometimes not that effective, depending on how it was done. Termination of a type 8 chest strap. The tip has 4 layers to make it stiffer and the tab prevents the strap from being accidentally removed. Terminations of type 17 chest straps. The top picture has an extra tape, that creates a tab. The bottom picture has a stiffener at the tip. Note how fuzzy they are, specially the one on top. That's the effect of rubber instead of the normal elastic bands. Lastly, some manufacturers offer wide webbing loops in the chest strap to stow it. That replaces the default elastic bands, that tend to stretch over time loosing effectiveness, and can also get lost. This option is more common on type 17 chest straps than on type 8. Whatever you choose (elastic band or webbing loop) avoid rubber bands anywhere in contact with webbing. Rubber bands are fairly abrasive. As a result they will weaken your webbing and make it look fuzzier. Handles The next decision point coming down the harness affects the cutaway and reserve handles. The most common combination is a pillow for the right side (cutaway), and a metal ring for the reserve ripcord. But there are variations. Pillow handles are popular among freeflyers, because they are less snag prone than other options. Many of them use pillows for both the cutaway and reserve handles. The obvious downside, is that they make grabbing and pulling them more complicated. A pillow requires your whole hand to grab it. On top of that, it has a similar texture to your jumpsuit fabric, so if you are not looking and you have a loose suit you can grab part of your jumpsuit by mistake. To make them easier to grab, some manufacturers make sure they have a harder core. Others make them extra fat. And others sew an extra layer of a less slippery material. You can also embroider pillows for extra "flashiness", which is not possible with other types of handles. Reserve pillow handle, with embroidery, a pocket between both pieces of webbing on the MLW, and a spectra ripcord. Metal rings have been around a longer time than pillow handles. They are easier to grab (you can simply hook your thumb through them) and have a very distinctive feeling, so you can't possibly grab your jumpsuit fabric by mistake. On the other hand they are easier to snag when your buddy is grabbing your harness or with a small camera during exit. To mitigate that, some manufacturers offer low profile D rings, that stick out less than traditional D rings. Reserve D ring with a pocket between both pieces of webbing, and a steel cable ripcord. The last option is having a webbing loop with a stiffener inside to retain its open shape. These handles are very common in tandem rigs. However, in sport rigs they are rarely used. They are compromise between pillow and D ring handles. The reserve ripcord has been made of a steel cable for a long time. It works well in most cases, and most manufacturers stick to it. Others give the option of using a spectra ripcord with a bungee inside. In some cases this is the default for new rigs. The claimed advantages are many. Since spectra is more slippery than steel cables, it reduces the pull force required. In case of a dislodged handle, the bungee will keep it close to the housing and minimize the area in which it will be bouncing around. It is also cheaper to manufacture and inspect in some cases (steel cables have a hidden swage inside the pillow to keep them connected to the handle). However, it is slightly easier to misrig (the reserve pin can be threaded through just some fibers of the ripcord, instead of through the loop) and can be damaged by a sharp edge in the housing easier than a steel cable. The next option here is the material of the cutaway cable. Almost every manufacturer offers "lolon" coated cables. These are the standard yellow cables that most people are familiar with. They are reliable if the user/rigger ensures proper length and maintenance. The maintenance requires regular cleaning and lubrication of the cables. This is often neglected, which can result in increased pull forces during a cutaway. An alternative material is teflon coated cables. These are orange or red, and are currently in use just by Parachute Labs and their Racer harness/container. The advantage is that they don't require periodic cleaning and lubrication. However, getting them right is more complicated, as teflon doesn't stick easily to the cable. That resulted in the past in the core of the cable detaching from the coating, leaving the sheath locking the 3-rings release system. Regardless of the material you chose, it would be smart to check regularly your cables for cracks or other issues to avoid similar situations, as in theory it could also happen with "lolon" cables. Finally, there are a few ways to construct the pockets for the handles. The most common ways are either sandwiched between the 2 pieces of webbing of the MLW, or with a specifically manufactured pocket made of fabric wrapping the MLW webbing. As long as the velcro is in good condition, both are equally secure. On rigs with chest and hip rings the pocket wrapping the MLW is more common, as there is extra stitching necessary to secure the MLW in place, right where the handles are. Another advantage of the fabric pocket is that velcro is placed further away from webbing, avoiding possible contact and damage. On some older rigs, the cutaway handle might be attached just with a simple velcro strip, without extra pockets or in between the MLW. This is easier to disengage accidentally. Reserve pillow handle, with pocket wrapping the MLW and a steel cable ripcord. Cutaway pillow handle, with a simple velcro strip on the back side of the MLW. Hip rings More important than chest rings, are hip rings. However, they are more difficult to evaluate for a variety of reasons. The most important one, is that each manufacturer puts together in that junction a different set of harness components. Let's see this in more detail: MLW, laterals and front and back leg straps: Some manufacturers might connect together in a single round ring 4 different components. This has a couple of disadvantages, and that's why it is not a common configuration. First and foremost: it connects the leg straps too far up. The angles then could be a bit more awkward and less comfortable, particularly if you are a tall person and want to sit on your harness during canopy flight. Secondly, with 4 connected components there is little room for a belly band. Round hip ring connecting 4 different components (lower MLW, laterals and front and back leg straps). MLW, laterals and a single leg strap junction point: This setup is far more common than the previous one. Having the front and back leg strap junction working independently from the ring, and therefore placing this junction further down in the harness, allows to have a more comfortable fit. The angles of the leg strap become more natural. Nevertheless, the consequence of this is that the leg strap becomes slightly more stiff. There is a non-articulated junction between front and back leg straps, and they move as a single component. Most manufacturers design the geometry of this junction in a way where the back leg strap connects to the ring, and the front leg strap connects to the back leg strap. Rigging Innovations does it the opposite way in their Curv. There these roles are reserved and the front leg strap is connected directly to the ring. As a result, when the leg strap moves forward, it pulls in a bit more on the hip ring, and consequentially on the whole container. Round hip ring connecting 4 different components (lower MLW, lateral, belly band and leg strap) MLW and front and back leg straps: This arrangement is also very common. The ring is placed further down than in the previous case, which allows to connect independently the front and back leg straps, while preserving comfortable angles. Laterals are connected to the MLW above the ring in this setup. That junctions is very stiff, and right above it is the handle pocket. The small area in between absorbs whatever angle change you induce by leaning forward, so it ends up bending sharply. Another effect of this arrangement is that having the rings below that junction makes belly bands sit further low than in harnesses with rings connecting laterals. But the positive side is that both parts of the leg strap can move independently. Some people like them to move "at once", and so opt for a setup that adds an extra piece of fabric that softly links front and back leg straps and slightly covers the ring. Hip ring connecting 3 different components (lower MLW and front and back leg straps linked with an extra piece of fabric). Note how further up is the lateral junction. Each arrangement is a tradeoff. Depending on your body type and chosen discipline, you might prefer one setup or another. Part 3 will focus on body types and will explain how theses tradeoffs might affect you. As with chest rings, repairs are easier on harnesses with hip rings than without them. Another thing in common with chest rings is that hip rings are also affected by your choice of hardware finish. An option related to hip rings is the belly band. This component can have 2 different functions. Most people that use them do it in their swoop setup. They undo completely their chest strap, and stow it away. To stay secured in the harness they use belly bands. The second group of people interested in belly bands are people whose harness has laterals that are too long. With a belly band they can pull their hip rings a bit forward, making their container stay closer to their lower back and move less in freefall. That is particularly important while freeflying. Of course moving the hip rings too much forward can distort the harness geometry and affect comfort. If you are in this situation chances are that you should get your harness resized. Hip ring connecting 4 different components (lower MLW, front and back leg strap, and belly band). Note how this setup places the belly band lower than in a setup with a ring connecting to the lateral. Laterals As we saw in part 1, the laterals are the part of the harness that connect the back of the harness with the lower MLW. They are critical for comfort during freefall and under canopy. Too long and you will have a huge gap between your back and your container. Too short and they'll make your harness feel too tight and uncomfortable. The default construction, with the laterals coming straight out of the edge of the backpad, works fine if your back is significantly wider than your container. But in many cases that's not true, the container and back are about the same width, and there is a measurable gap between the back side of the laterals and your back. Many manufacturers try to find a way to contour to the side curvature of your back (back to front, at the belly level). That makes the container more comfortable and it stays in position without moving around much. There are essentially 2 schools for that. The most common is to find "cut-in" laterals, where they are inserted in the backpad not at the edge, but somewhere more centrally. This style of laterals are in contact with the jumpers back, and typically they are padded for extra comfort. Another type is to have the webbing coming straight from the edge, get to the hip junction, and come back a bit more towards the center of the backpad, wrapped in padding. There are alternatives to the two main approaches. Infinity and Sife provide floating laterals as an option, where the lateral webbing goes through the webbing slot of the hip ring, which moves freely. Sife adds padded stabilizers to that configuration. Mirage has the laterals coming straight out of the edge of the container, but has two elastic bands coming from the center of the backpad, acting as a sort of elastic stabilizers. Lastly, as in some student rigs, SunPath added adjustable laterals to their Aurora wingsuit rig. Straight laterals coming out of the edge of the container. Padded stabilizers. The outermost component is simply an stiffener wrapped in fabric, without major structural purpose. Floating laterals. Note how the ring can move freely through the webbing of the lateral. Elastic stabilizers. Leg straps Leg straps are the remaining piece of the harness. And of course, there are multiple options here as well. In part 1, we already saw multiple adapters. Each manufacturer has its default set of adapters. Nevertheless, some of them, can install an alternative style if you ask them. These adapters are also affected by the chosen hardware finish. As it has been mentioned before, stainless steel is more slippery than cadmium plated steel. The teeth of the adapter could also be harder and sharper if they were the same design as plated adapters, which could damage the webbing and make the whole system work differently. That's why both types of hardware have slightly different designs. These effects are also part of the reason to have double layer straps, to make them thicker and slip less. Besides this, adapters are normally thread-thru. But it is also possible, even though not common, to order B-12 snaps. They allow to clip-in the leg straps, instead of having to put your legs through them. We have seen lots of options targeted for swoopers in the upper side of the harness. The bottom side also has options for this discipline. It is possible with some manufacturers to order wider leg straps, so sitting in your harness for long periods is a bit more comfortable. The tradeoff is that they are more uncomfortable during freefall and on the ground. Since swoopers tend to slide during their landings, the leg straps suffer a great deal of wear. That's why it is also possible to use leg strap covers, that can be easily replazable once they are worn out. That way, your harness stays intact. The last optional bit is the freefly bungee. It's functionality has been already discussed in part 1. There are basically 2 designs: Connecting the inner part with 2 webbing loops and a bungee; or connecting the outer part, with the bungee routed through a channel that hides the knots and distributes the tension. Freefly bungee connecting the inner part of the leg straps and knots exposed. Freefly bungee connecting the outer part of the leg straps and knots hidden in the channels. More harness options There are even more options than what we have covered so far. But they are difficult to classify going from top of the harness to bottom. For instance, embroideries. Laterals, leg straps, mud flaps (right below the 3-rings) are all areas were you can include any embroidery. Mind you, the embroidery is done in fabric, not in webbing. So for instance, to add an embroidery to your laterals, they have to have a piece of fabric covering the webbing. Other example are hook knifes. There are 2 common pockets for hook knifes: In the mud flap, or in the leg strap. Some manufacturers also add a hook knife pocket integrated in the fabric that makes their handles pocket. There are multiple models of hook knifes: Cheap plastic handle with a single blade, harder plastic with single or double blade, metal handle and single or double blade, or full metal knifes. Even though it is unlikely that you'll need it, it is recommended to avoid the very cheap knifes made of brittle plastic. Some manufacturers make contoured yokes, that adapt better to your shoulder area. It is also possible that they offer an "inverted yoke", where the container seams are inwards, looking a bit neater and slightly more comfortable on that area, since the sharper binding tape won't be rubbing against you. Every manufacturer also offers padding. Some include full padding (yoke, backpad, stabilizers and leg straps) as a single option. Others separate it in 2 or 3 areas, allowing you to choose with more granularity. Besides the standard padding, made normally out of some spacer foam, some manufacturers also offer "deluxe" padding in their backpad, made of a more comfortable material. Rigging innovations has gone an extra mile in the harness design of their Curv container, and offer 3 unique things. The first is what they call the bio yoke. There, they essentially separated the part of the yoke in contact with your shoulders, and the part of the yoke that connects with everything else inside the container (risers, reserve risers and housings). This way the part in contact with your body is more flexible and comfortable. The second is what they call the bio curve. This is a half container half harness feature. It simply contours the container so it follows the curvature of your back, avoiding gaps there. The third thing is a new leg strap geometry, which has been already discussed in the hip rings section. End of Part 2 This concludes part 2. As you can see, there are tens of options, which create hundreds of combinations. Each manufacturer has their defaults and their common options. If you are buying a new container and want an option not listed in their order form, ask them. You might be surprised. If you are buying an used container, hopefully this will help you to decide on which harness designs and options are important for you, to narrow down your search in the wild second hand market. Part 3 will be the last part of the series. There the focus will be on how different harness designs might fit different body types, and how the wrong dimensions in parts of the harness will affect your flying, comfort, and potentially even safety. So if you enjoyed part 1 and 2, keep an eye out for part 3!
  4. 1 point
    Not wearing earplugs on every skydive? Hear me out (while you still can): It’s pretty damn important to add a pair to your every-jump kit, and your excuses probably don’t hold up to expert scrutiny. What expert? A lofty one. Last week, I got to talk to Dr. Anna Hicks* at length about the thorny matter of skydiving with a cold (watch the February issue of Parachutist for that one). At one point, our conversation took a slight diversion towards hearing damage. The content of that more than deserves its own moment in the sun: Our delicate soundholes, and the damage we don’t have to do them. So: Why aren’t you wearing earplugs on every jump? 1. Because it’s not that big a deal. If you like listening to things other than phantom roaring, then sorry. It kinda is. Each of us is born with 15,000 sound-sensing cells per ear. (I like to think of ‘em as magical hearing hair, because that’s kinda what they look like.) Hearing loss occurs when they die. It’s not just noise exposure that kills them; certain medications and other environmental factors and do it, too, but those are freak deaths by comparison. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. Birds, fish, and amphibians have the ability to grow back magical hearing hair. Mammals, like your average skydiver, lack the ability to regenerate these cells. All we can do is stick in a hearing aid and hope for the best. You don’t have to take my word for it. Talk to anybody who suffers from tinnitus and ask them if they’d have taken precautions to prevent it. 2. Because I don’t jump that much. Dr. Hicks begs to differ. “I see so many skydivers that have damaged their hearing,” she notes. “Even if you’re just doing 100 jumps a year, every time you jump, the engine is noisy, and the freefall is noisy, too. Over your skydiving career, that adds up to a lot of noise exposure.” “I still find some people that can’t be bothered with ear plugs even in the wind tunnel,” she adds, “but our hearing is too important not to take ten seconds to put them in every time. You don’t want to end up not able to hear your friend at the pub because you knackered your hearing from too much noise exposure.”** 3. Wearing earplugs in freefall is dangerous. If it’s not just laziness that’s keeping you from protecting your hearing, it might be a misplaced sense of safety. Dr. Hicks wears hers from ground to ground, and she recommends that you do too, even if it’s just on the way up to altitude. “I am a big advocate with any patient I see,” she says, “especially those whose job is skydiving, to wear ear plugs at least on the way up and ideally on the way down as well. Earplugs do not prevent situational awareness, stop you from being able to talk to your students, or to hear shouts under canopy. You can hear what you need to hear, usually you can actually hear your audible altimeter better because the background freefall crackle is reduced, and vitally, [wearing earplugs] reduces the longer-term damage we can experience from our sport.” Some people discover that they find a problem equalizing if they have earplugs in on the way down. Dr. Hicks’ advice: If equalizing is a problem for you, try using the vented plugs (which you can buy from a pharmacy for a few dollars) to better equalize during descent. 4. I can’t afford the nice ones and the foam ones cause ear infections. According to Dr. Hicks, that is not a thing. As long as the plugs are rated, they’ll provide the protection you need. “You can wear posh ear plugs or the cheap foam ones like you get in the tunnel,” she says. “Either-or.” According to a study of sixty long-range patrol-aircraft crew members, the idea that disposable foam earplugs cause ear infections is a total myth. The crew members were randomly divided into three groups: one wearing fancy custom-molded earplugs, the second using foam earplugs that they washed after each use, and the third group using foam earplugs washed only once per week. The study lasted eight weeks and included examinations by a medical officer as well as skin scrapings for bacterial culture and fungal examinations. The results indicated no fungal infections or clinically significant bacterial infections, and no differences in positive bacterial culture between the groups. Moral of the story: roll ‘em up and stick ‘em in. They’re going to prevent a heck of a lot more damage than they could possibly cause, and 50-year-old you (who doesn’t have to have the TV on FULL BLAST ALL THE TIME) will thank you. *Dr. Hicks is a certified badass. An active-duty Aviation Medicine specialist in the British Regular Army, she has logged more than 4,000 jumps over 15 years in the sport, many of which as the Outside Center for the multi-medaled British 4-way team NFTO. Dr. Hicks is also a British Parachute Association Accelerated Freefall Instructor and formation skydiving coach, as well as a Skydiving Instructor at Britain’s legendary Skydive Netheravon. Oh: and she was Tom Cruise’s personal aviation doc during the filming of the latest Mission: Impossible reboot. ‘Nuff said. **Confused? Ask a British person for a translation.
  5. 1 point
    Review by Joel Strickland Cookie Composites are quick to admit that there was a fair element of luck involved in their success with the G3. At the time of release in the early teens, the tunnel industry was exploding - and the full face helmet was crossing over from the province of close-in disciplines where you need to be extra careful about catching a knee or an elbow in the face - to pretty much everyone. Flyers were after a greater level of comfort while training for extended periods of time indoors while retaining a level of communication akin to open helmets. People wanted to be able to see each other’s whole face - and with the G3 you could. Skydiving soon followed suit, because you could now wear your cool sunglasses underneath your lid and see all the big grins in the pictures and video. While lucky with the timing, Cookie had purposefully pulled off a crucial victory with their product - it occupied a particular sweet spot between form and function that appeals greatly to skydivers. The G3 was desirably fancy - but not too posh or too shiny to the point where it stood out as worthy of mockery. A few scratches and a couple of stickers later, and it had become (in the most positive of terms) part of the furniture of skydiving. While there were functional alternatives available, the G3 became iconic - as much so as the L+B device on your wrist or the Cypres unit in your rig. Over the last few seasons there has been a growing grumble in our sport about the level of protection offered by helmets specifically designed for flying. The biggest and most successful company is always going to be the softest target for conversations about the actual value a helmet with no impact protection material has for your brain in an accident, and the G3 has come under fire against new offerings from competing companies that have been through tests and carry a certification. The concerns over safety are certainly valid, yet these conversations would often neglect that for a very long time we were all basically completely fine with what was on offer, and from day one - if we had been genuinely more concerned about safety over comfort and style - everyone single one of us always had the option of wearing a $20 Protec just like we all did when learning to skydive in the first place. In the meantime, Cookie Composites have quietly and diligently created the G4 - extensively researching every single material and design element to give us what we have been asking for. Instead of rushing something out, Cookie worked alongside others in the industry to help develop a brand new rating with the specific requirements of both the skydiving and tunnel environments in mind. While purposefully retaining the same balance of form and function, up close it is clear that it is a complete redesign - applying many lessons learned from its predecessor. Here are the main differences that you likely care about the most: Recessed Visor: High speed flying combined with any looseness in the springs could create a distracting visor vibration on a G3. The new design has the visor recessed to fit flush all-round with the shell to eliminate this effect. It also looks great. Audible Pockets: While perfectly fine for a lot of people, many of us with funny shaped faces were squeezed by our audibles despite any amount of wiggling. Cookie have rebuilt the pockets - and now they fit into the shell with zero intrusion into the space where your head is supposed to be. Now I can jump with two sets of beeps, hearing them perfectly yet feeling nothing - unthinkable for me previously with even the largest G3. Metal Springs: With the old design, over time the rubber springs would stretch out and require replacing - a process that even the most generous can only describe as a pain in the ass. While Cookie took steps to remedy this with good post-purchase support, they were always going to be searching for a new system. The G4 visor mechanism has done away completely with the rubber and now uses a metal spring arrangement that should eliminate the maintenance routine. Rear Protection: While maintaining the same general look, the new shell goes down a little further at the back to offer some more coverage in a sensitive area. This does make the hole where you put your head a wee bit smaller, and changes slightly the familiar back-forward motion of putting on a G3, to something more akin to donning a motorcycle helmet. Impact Rated: Now there is deformable material inside. The big design battle Cookie faced was to create a helmet that would pass the crash tests while always remaining something sleek and light that skydivers would embrace as the right thing. The G4 is a little bit bigger and a little bit heavier than the G3 - but comparing them with one in each hand there is really not much in it. With the redesigned interior allowing a bit more space around the ears, it does feel like a bigger helmet when you first wear it - but that is coming from someone who has been wearing a G3 for work since the day it was released. The unsolved problem (for now) is that while the Cookie G4 as sold qualifies for this new rating specific to skydiving, the tests are very precise indeed. As soon as you make any modifications at all to the weight or shape you are no longer using the helmet that has been qualified - you are using something else. The truth is that the myriad what and where of how we mount cameras makes practical testing out of reach. Along with impacts, a part of the new rating are thorough snag tests - and adding even the smallest, sleekest camera mounts would fail them. The question we now face is that is it safe to assume that a helmet designed from the ground up with impact protection in mind going to provide a greater level of protection in a crash regardless of where you stick a camera on it? I know what I believe. The driving force behind Cookie Composites - Jason Cook and Jeremy Hunt - speak passionately about their company and their products. A quick hello turns into two hours of sharing their experiences creating the G4. The lessons from the previous design have been studied, revised and thoroughly applied - along the way investigating and investing in all manner of materials, theories and processes to make it the best it can possibly be. Cookie’s success this decade has given the company the knowledge and the practical means to deliver a new product that should occupy the same place in our sport that its predecessor has done for many years. Their visual presence and the level at which they support our sport can make Cookie Composites can seem like a big company, but at a basic level it is still a handful of skydivers tinkering around in a workshop, putting in a great deal of time and effort to make something that works the best for their friends and their community around the world. Long may it continue. Does the G4 live up to the hype? Yes. Yes it does.
  6. 1 point
    Written by Laura Jane Burgess There’s excited chatter on the mat, the rustle of nylon fabric being packed, the buzzing hustle and bustle of a busy day. Canopies zip overhead. Squinting, mesmerized, though you’ve seen it near a hundred times, you watch the initial glide across the grass, the slide of flat-soled swoopers, and the quick-legged staccato steps as each jumper comes to a stop. You’ve never seen a more perfect day to skydive. Waiver signed you file in line behind a queue of shuffling feet and exasperated sighs—a 15-person traffic jam. Daylight’s burning. Loads should be turning. What’s the holdup? It’s the fellow at the front. A jumper far from his home drop zone (558.9 miles, ± .1 mile to be exact). His innocent intent was to check in and manifest. Except, he doesn’t have so much as a shred of physical documentation to his name. No logbook to verify currency and no physical, tangible evidence of USPA credentials. What’s to be done? His lack of documentation dismissed or ignored? Certainly not. Exhaustive, time-consuming attempts made to secure a paper trail. Undoubtedly. If everyone’s lucky, the ordeal will take 10-20 minutes. However, if you consider that at a busy drop zone you’re likely to encounter the same issue any number of times on any given day. The wasted daylight adds up, cutting into profit margins and the amount of time jumpers spend in the air. Imagine for a moment that the futile task of trying to sleuth down credentials could be avoided, and the check-in process could be made significantly easier—for everyone involved. As luck would have it, this is precisely what the Sigma / Burble integration aims to do. In the late spring of 2019, when the integration launches, skydivers who frequent any one of the many drop zones utilizing Burble software can grant those drop zones access to view their Merits on Sigma. In case you’ve been ignoring those emails the USPA sent you or still feel a little in the dark, Merits aren’t patches to be stitched on a Cub Scout sash. Rather, Merits refer to things like USPA credentials, UPT ratings, corresponding coursework and even your most recently completed skydives. At the close of the day, drop zones taking advantage of the newly integrated systems can send out shareable Merits for completed jumps, whether it be to tandems, fun jumpers, or staff. For jumpers, the Merits can serve as a “digital signature” to verify their most recent skydive. Instead of relying on illegible, potentially forged, physical logbook entries, there will be a traceable, authenticated digital entry. Drop zones can also attach video clips and other media to the merit badges. This creates hefty possibilities for Merit use with student training programs. No matter where a student roams (or if their logbook follows suit), instructors at any Burble drop zone can see exactly who and what they are working with. For jumpers, the integration process requires no real technical finesse. In around three minutes, skydivers can link their Sigma account to their BurbleMe profile. Jumpers can then authorize the Burble drop zone(s) of their choice access to their Sigma Merits. Every time they check in at the preferred Burble drop zone(s), their Merit information auto-populates into their jumper profile. The result? A streamlined shortcut from check-in to freefall. The first time a jumper grants a Burble drop zone access to view their Sigma Merits, they can enable an auto-update feature. From thenceforth, whenever changes to Merits occur, it automatically uploads into the drop zone’s Burble DZM Account and the jumper’s BurbleMe profile. Practically applied, this looks like convenient, real-time access to see as credentials expire, are renewed, or are updated, without the need to request additional physical documentation. After the Sigma / Burble integration, drop zones can have instant access to verified information without having to waste time or manpower on multiple sources. After the integration takes effect, staff will no longer need to manually input jumper information or search the USPA database with the Group Member lookup tool. Fewer steps and less manual data transfer mean less opportunity for error. The instant access to verified, up-to-date information, makes it much easier for drop zones to verify the standing of visiting jumpers and instructors in a shorter amount of time. For DZO’s, in particular, this integration offers untold peace of mind: no more worrying about the legitimacy of jumpers on your aircraft, fears of forgery, concerns over invalid credentials, or issues with input errors. Come spring 2019, you might catch the audible sigh of relief coming from the staff buried underneath the mountain of (soon to be obsolete) paperwork, see the sheer joy of jumpers spending less time at check-in and more time on airplanes, and agree, with the Sigma / Burble integration, t here’s something for everyone to celebrate! Featured image credit: SkydiveTV Vimeo
  7. 1 point
    Rosie Manning Breaks Down Accessibility Barriers in the Tunnel Raise your hand if someone you know has been seriously injured on a skydive. Everybody? Right. Now -- keep your hand raised if that inspired you to invent a whole new apparatus to get your friend back into flight mode. I’m willing to bet that very, very few hands have stayed raised. One of them is Rosie Manning’s. The first thing you should know about Rosie Manning is that her lissome form and noon-in-July demeanor might easily fool you. She’s sweet almost to a fault -- but then you start to realize that she has you direly outgunned in the brains department. This mechanical engineer can think in circles around most folks (and then take you to the tunnel and fly in circles around them -- but more on that later). If you ask her, she delicately shrugs it off as a survival instinct. “When you study engineering as a girl,” she notes, “You’re already in an uphill battle. There were 200 guys and 9 girls in my degree. From day one, I was going against the wind.” As it turns out, Rosie thrives against the wind. She and one of the other nine girls in the program (Emily Whatton, a dynamo in her own right) joined the university’s skydiving club. At first, it was a lark, but by year two, both girls were hooked. Time flew. For the fourth and final year, the program participants were tasked with an individual project which made up the bulk of the students’ final grade -- and Rosie knew exactly what hers was going to be. It was that year -- 2016 -- that UK skydiver Ben White injured himself during a swoop. He came out of it alive, but paraplegic. Rosie figured she could use her project to help. “I was heavily addicted to skydiving at this point,” Rosie remembers, “and I really wanted to do a project that was skydiving-related. I had an idea.” Rosie sent Ben a message: How interested would you be in letting me design something for you to help you fly in the wind tunnel again? Unsurprisingly, he was entirely up for it. Bonus: Ben himself had studied robotics at university, so the process was uniquely collaborative. So far, so good: But there was still a baffled academia who had to buy in. “The first time I pitched the idea of the project to my tutor,” Rosie laughs, “He said, ‘Okay, so you’re telling me you want to throw a paraplegic person out of an airplane?’ Um...no. Then I spoke to quite a few of my other teachers about it to get some advice. They all told me it wouldn’t be possible.” “I just didn’t listen,” she grins. “I went and did it anyway.” Rosie, with Ben’s collaboration, set about designing a brace that would support Ben’s lower body for the purpose of tunnel flying. First problem: the university only allowed for a total project budget of 100 pounds. To solve her problem, she asked for help. Rosie went to a long list of orthopedic and prosthetic companies. Finally, she had a lucky break: she got an email back from a company in the UK called TruLife, whose Head of R&D, Shane Nickson, was a keen skydiver. He offered funding and help with manufacturing. TruLife ended up custom molding the carbon-fiber-and-titanium brace to Rosie’s design. The second challenge: tunnel time. This wasn’t too tough, luckily, as the owner-at-the-time of the UK’s Bodyflight Bedford was a super-cool guy who was happy to donate tunnel time to the project. Score. The third big roadblock was, again, academia. And it was a whopper. “We struggled making the project fit the specifications the university wanted,” she explains, “because the university wants you to show your preparation; the calculations; the justifications for all the choices.” In order to meet the requirements, the team had to build an external sensor system that would measure the angle of the wearer’s legs in different orientations: belly flying; back flying; free flying. From that data, they worked out the forces that would act on the wearer’s legs in each position to determine the required strength of the brace. “That actually took up a lot of the project,” Rosie notes. “And Ben was a huge help with that because he was a robotics guy, so he knew loads about the programming that was required.” After they finished the project -- after Rosie had left university -- she, Ben and two other friends entered the World Challenge in the rookie category. “There were only four teams in the category,” she remembers, “but it ended up being this huge battle with another team for third place. We just beat them, and I think the fact that our team beat another team that was completely able-bodied was probably the best day of this whole thing. We went up to collect our medals -- Ben, in his chair -- and we got the biggest cheer.” Such a triumphant, happy moment, no? But it came at such a confusing time. “To be honest, when I finished my degree, I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do,” Rosie remembers. “I knew that I pretty much hated the first three years of my degree but absolutely loved the final year. If knew that, if I was going to do engineering, it needed to be something I wanted to do -- something sport related -- because that’s what I love doing.” “I knew that going into a scheme with a huge company wasn’t for me,” she continues. “It would have been a super easy thing to do. Pretty much everyone in my degree went and did that because it’s the next step in the system they’ve set up for you. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, exactly, but I know I don’t want to do that.” So: Rosie and her friend Emily Whatton took off. The pair went traveling for a year with their partners -- also skydivers -- and the tiny amount of money the foursome had managed to save up. While on the road, Emily and her partner were offered jobs as tunnel instructors at Sirius Sport Resort in Finland. Six months later, Rosie got the call and joined them. While there, Sirius backrolled Rosie’s build of another tunnel mobility brace and started welcoming even more adaptive athletes into the bodyflight community, a fact of which Rosie is understandably proud. “Currently, there are two separate frames --” she explains, “a smaller one and a larger one, with different-sized straps that can be fitted with either one. If you have someone tall and skinny, you can use the longer frame with the shorter straps, and vice versa. For kids, we use the small frame and the smaller straps.” “It was quite hard to build it without really knowing what sizes of people we were going to get,” she adds, “but I was pretty pleased because the system can accommodate anyone from a tiny 8-year-old up to a fairly massive guy.” Users report that the biggest challenge for the adaptive flyer is fitting the brace to the body, because it has to go underneath their legs while the flier is seated in their wheelchair. Once they’re assisted from the chair into the airflow, it’s pretty much a snap. “[The brace] is at a set angle,” Rosie says, “so fliers with shorter legs have more forward drive and fliers with longer legs have more backward drive for him. That’s easy to manage; we just make sure that, when we brief them, we emphasize that they need to be really relaxed in the arms because we’re going to need to adjust the arm and hand position to counteract any drive that produces. Every [adaptive athlete] we’ve flown with so far seems to take that on board really well, and they fly beautifully.” The photos of Rosie’s adaptive athletes really speak for themselves. “I mean, it is fantastic,” Rosie enthuses. “I think that flying and skydiving is the greatest sense of freedom you can experience in this life. For an adaptive athlete -- someone that, maybe for their whole life, has been confined to a wheelchair -- it is a feeling that is like no other. Sharing that is super rewarding. I want to do a lot more of it.” Rosie recently relocated to work at a wind tunnel in Canada, but she certainly hasn’t abandoned that dream. Currently, she plans on taking her design in two different directions: continual development on the first-timer model, as well as a model designed for the specific needs of adaptive sport flying. “We got [Ben White] belly flying and back flying in the current design,” she explains, “but I want it to be able to do more. Ultimately, we want a design that makes freeflying possible. I’m thinking in baby steps -- take it to some low-speed back carving and belly carving; work up from there. I want to give anyone who wants to get involved in this sport the opportunity to progress in it as well.”
  8. 1 point
    Aeronautrixx Literally Has Your Back Life in the sky just keeps getting better for the 13% of us who fly under the influence of two X chromosomes. The latest development? Aeronautrixx -- a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, founded by skydiver//adventurist Karen Woolem. The org’s goal, as Karen puts it, is “providing education, guidance, sponsorship and resources to help women pursue their aeronautical dreams in a fun and safe manner.” Those are lofty goals, indeed, but Karen -- who is as well-organized as she is dynamic -- isn’t the type to shoot low. To understand where Aeronautrixx is coming from, of course, you first have to understand a little bit about its founder. Karen started jumping 28 years ago, led by the example of her skydiver father. She was 15, and they’d make the long trek down to Skydive Paso Robles from the Monterey Bay Area because Paso was the only driveable DZ that would let such a young pup jump. She made a few less than 100 jumps in that first phase and stopped jumping in 1993, when her rig was grounded. “The question was,” she remembers, “Do I buy new gear, or do I go to college?’ Objectively speaking, it wasn’t really a question. Karen was the first in her family to go to college, and she wanted to place her focus there. As it turns out, a full 15 years passed before she got back into the sport, though she made a few feints in that direction. Finally, in 2009, she got recurrent -- at Hollister, where her dad learned to skydive back in 1988 -- and she’s been jumping ever since. Mostly, Karen describes herself as an RW kinda chick. (Fun fact: When I talk to her, she has just returned from skydiving over the Egyptian pyramids.) Aeronautrixx, interestingly enough, was born of that other major step forward in female-focused skydiving: the Women’s Skydiving Leadership Network. Back in 2016 (when the WSLN was first officially formed), Karen was selected for the first WSLN leadership symposium. She spent a week at Raeford with the event, soaking up the skills, the vibes and the connections. As part of that program, Karen designed a logo for a WSLN t-shirt. The image was strong, feminine, colorful and balls-out bold. She loved it. While a different logo was selected for that original purpose, Karen couldn’t help but realize that she’d created the logo for an effort that was gathering steam in her own imagination. Specifically, she was pondering a personal challenge she’d faced as a female, coming back into the sport: Finding a used container that fit both her and the canopy size she was comfortable with. She’d found it damned near impossible. “Finding a used container that fit me was no problem,” she mueses, “but they were all made for sub-100s; for super-swoopers. When I first came back, was under a 170. I ended up having to rent for what seemed like forever. It was so expensive.” She realized that there was a solution -- and that she could catalyze it. “I knew there were plenty of people out there that have gear to donate,” she adds, “And I thought -- hey! -- if I set up a non-profit, it can be a win-win. People can donate gear that fits smaller people jumping larger canopies -- or any gear they have gathering dust in a closet. Then I can give those guys a tax write-off and get that gear out to women who need it. Now [the recipient is] paying $25 a jump instead of $50 and can take her time to either wait for a long delivery on custom gear or piece together a used setup that fits.” “It’s so expensive getting started in this sport,” Karen adds. “Aeronautrixx aims to make the potential financial burden less of a deterrent for women.” So far, it’s a home run. Aeronautrixx just got a complete setup donated and matched it with a woman who just graduated AFF. Boom. It’s not just containers, either. Karen has partnered up with a craftsman who completely refurbishes and repaints helmets with airplane-grade paint, and those helmets have been gracing the sky in larger numbers with each passing season. In addition to that, Karen is currently working on getting a few complete demo systems co-sponsored with manufacturers. Of course, it’s not just gear that makes a skydiver — so Aeronautrixx covers the skills bases, too. These days, Karen is a WSLN mobile mentor, dually based at Skydive Sebastian (near her current home) and Skydive California (near her west-coast roots). For the past three years, she’s been using Aeronautrixx as a platform to host female-focused skills camps and boogies on both coasts. In October, there’s the Unicorn Boogie at Skydive California; in April, there’s the Mermaid Boogie at Skydive Sebastian; this February (coming right up!) there’s going to be a gold-lamé-festooned disco party at Z-hills. The boogies’ shared core value? Bring women together -- from all over -- and encourage growth and fun in equal measure. The response so far has been phenomenal. “I try to get an all-female roster of organizers,” Karen adds, “to show the newer jumpers that it’s not only men that are leading the pack. And I always try to bring in non-local organizers to give the ladies the chance to jump with other females in the sport that they might not get a chance to jump with.” The formula is certainly working. At the first Mermaid Boogie, Karen was standing in a packed hangar. Stopping in the middle and looking around, she suddenly realized something amusing. “I looked around and it occurred to me, there were no men. We’re turning the Otter with all chicks.” They turned 22 loads that day. At the end of the day, Karen insists that Aeronautrixx is about inclusion. Men are welcomed at Aeronautrixx events -- even issued cheeky “man cards” -- and the sea of costume onesies now includes a fair number of male humans. That’s not at all surprising, considering the unequivocal language of the Aeronautrixx mission statement: “We believe that women can be just as, if not more, badass as our male counterparts.” Well-put and well-proven, no? ---- To donate to Aeronautrixx (or get involved with an event or two), visit the org’s website or Facebook page: https://aeronautrixx.com/ https://www.facebook.com/pg/aeronautrixx/
  9. 1 point
    Get Ready: Here Comes the Turbine 206 When Joel Strickland and I jumped in all fifty states this summer for our Down For 50 project, we saw the insides of a lot of 182s. A lot. That’s no surprise, of course--the 182 is the undisputed workhorse of our sport. It could be argued that the valiant little 182 keeps our sport going. But what if there were a better way? As it turns out, there is. I found out about it when Joel and I made our Oklahoma stop. Understandably, we fully expected to see another 182 out there. Instead, when we wandered across the hangar of the (super tidy, spacious and impressive) Oklahoma Skydiving Center to see what was parked outside, we had to double-take. There was a 206 parked out there. A 206 with a very funny face. A turbine. For reals. Our first look at the toothy open grin of that jumpship was to start something of a minor obsession for me. First of all, it became apparent that its presence there had engendered the healthiest sport community of any smaller dropzone I’d ever visited. No wonder: that thing gets six jumpers to 14,000 feet in less than half the time it took the DZ’s old 182 to huff four folks up to 10k. The door is big. And this thing -- for lots of reasons -- puts turbine power within the reach of dropzones that never dreamed they’d be able to get there. I’ll let its champion, Andy Beck, cover all that. (Andy Beck is Co -DZO of the Oklahoma Skydiving Center, a small DZ between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, as well as the co-owner of BAM Aviation, which has been specializing in this conversion since Andy himself discovered its existence.) Pretty cool, right? I’ll leave the explanations to the expert. Below follows the conversation I had with Andy about this beautiful beast. If you’re not as enchanted with this plane as I am by the time we’re done here, I’ll be very surprised. Q: What’s your love story with this plane? Andy: My dropzone [the Oklahoma Skydiving Center] is somewhere between a small and a medium-sized DZ. For years, we were, like, man, we want a turbine airplane, just as instructors and fun jumpers. It’s easy to relate to that. I grew up on a single airplane drop zone. That’s where I started; that’s how I learned to skydive: A single airplane 182 drop zone. When you’re in a situation like that, you spend your whole life sitting around, watching people skydive, doing tandems and AFFs, just praying that there’s an airplane load that has empty slots. And that’s okay, because that’s all you know. But then you go somewhere and you suddenly realize there’s a different model that means you can skydive more than once or twice a day. you see how much more time you have for the fun part of the sport in a turbine, compared to what you can get out of the 182 that’s waiting for you back home. Since my wife Alyssa and I bought this dropzone four years ago, we wanted to bring that other model to our own DZ. The first thing we did -- immediately -- was to bring in a second 182, so we could have one for tandems and AFF and one for fun jumpers. I understand why people don’t want to mess with fun jumpers, but to me the reason that I think that you need the experienced-skydiver scene is because -- if you don’t -- then how do you convince anybody to do more than one jump? If all they ever watch is tandems, they’re one-and-done. They think that’s all there is. If they have to go somewhere else to jump after AFF, that’s not good either. People want to stay where they learned. They know the people. They want to travel and visit, but they love their home. That’s where they want to be. That’s their home base -- their friends -- the people they like to jump with. To teach people to jump and then tell them to go somewhere else just seemed dumb to me. So you have to grow to support your experienced skydiver community. Q: Why not just get an old King Air like everybody else? Andy: Long story. As a DZO, when you start looking at turbine airplanes, yeah, you think, maybe I can afford a King Air, but the only ones that anybody sells that any small-to-medium DZ can afford are about worn out, and worn out King Airs are a huge maintenance situation. Then, you think: I really love the Caravan. And that’s a cool plane. It is one of the starter-type turbine investments. But most of the Caravans worth having cost between $1.2 and $1.8 million dollars, and you’ve got 16 to 20 slots to fill. At a smaller DZ, you just can’t reliably fill it. That’s just not a very doable business model. And before, there really wasn’t anything that was, basically, half of a caravan. So I kept looking. The 206 has been around forever as a skydiving plane, but it really has a bad reputation because -- with the standard configuration -- it’s super slow. In the Oklahoma summer, you can hardly get to 10,000 in one, even if you’ve got the turbo version. For our purposes, it’s just not much of a plane. Then, one day, I heard about the new Pratt Whitney PT6 turbine 206 conversion from a fun jumper. It sounded like a myth, but I was intrigued, so I called the aircraft conversion inventor, Van Pray, who was partnering with Turbine Conversions on the Turbine 206 concept. Van has been around dropzones, skydiving, and airplanes all his life and turbine conversions has been modifying agricultural aircraft to turbines for decades. I asked Van to bring his plane down for a weekend so I could see if maybe this was going to be the answer to my problem. Turns out, it was better than I could have ever imagined. Anyway, Van and Emiko Pray brought their plane down, and we basically rented it like a boogie for two different weekends to try it out. I wanted to see how it cash flowed; how much fuel it used. There is no way anybody could tell you that information without seeing it for yourself. Since I paid all the bills, I could really see how economical it was. After that, I just knew that’s what I had to do. We had to build one. Q: What do the numbers look like? What does the turbine 206 specifically bring to the table here? Andy: Well, you can get a 182 for about $60,000 dollars. The Turbine 206 goes for around $600,000 depending on airframe, engine, etc... So of course it’s expensive when you look at it like that. But you have to remember that what you’re actually getting for that is half of a Caravan. Depending on your airframe -- engines and all that -- the fuel burn is half of a caravan or less too. Before I got the turbine 206, we had an average of three planes at OSC. We would always fly two, but on a lot of really busy days we would fly all three. In the summer, with a 520, or a PPonk, or a higher-horsepower 182 that actually can go to 10,000 feet in a reasonable time, you burn 7 to 8.5 gallons of fuel alone. Obviously, when they’re full, heavy and hot, it’s more like 8 to 8.5 gallons, but when you’re flying cool, light loads you could do a little over 7 gallons. That’s what my average was, at least. The turbine 206, on the other hand, will average ten gallons consistently to 14,000 feet AGL. The other big thing is that AV gas is getting a little bit harder to find in the first place, and the price of it is consistently higher than jet fuel pretty much anywhere you go, especially in more remote areas -- but if there’s a commercial airport anywhere around, no question, you can get jet fuel. So: When you look at expenses, the turbine 206 doesn’t burn very much more fuel per load, and the fuel it burns costs less. You also get the industry standard Pratt Whitney PT6 dependability and reliability. With the high-horsepower 182, I could count on two loads an hour: four people per load, to 10,000 feet. With the turbine 206, you get six people per load and you can do three loads per hour -- to 14,000 feet -- with one plane. Every hour throughout the day, you just keep getting farther ahead, because the plane doesn’t slow down with the heat. The density altitude doesn’t affect it the same way. It just goes and goes. On a good Saturday we do 30 loads in the 206 -- three loads an hour for 10-plus hours. We just fly and fly and fly. Q: The fun jumper community here seems to be seeing some real benefits. These guys have crazy healthy jump numbers for being based at a small dropzone. Andy: Yeah, we’re proud of that. The quality of every skydive is better, and that makes a difference to the bottom line, too. We wanted to offer the best possible experience to all of our jumpers! In the last two years, we’ve finished way more A licenses and created way more fun jumpers, because on each skydive they’re not getting 25 to 30 seconds of freefall, they’re getting from 50 to 60 seconds on every jump. It’s like trying to ride a bike. If your parents let you ride a bike for 10 to 20 seconds, take your bike away, then give you another 10 to 20 seconds on it the following weekend, it is going to take a long time to learn how to ride a bike. Skydiving is way harder to learn than riding a bike. If you give them more time on task and more jump availability, people are going to learn and be better and safer skydivers. They’re more current. They’re more excited. They make more jumps. It just gets better in every direction. Fun fact: We do 18,000-foot jumps occasionally, and we could even go higher than that if we wanted to. This plane climbs just as good at 18,000 feet as it does at 10,000 feet. It’s just a whole different beast. We have a lot of fun here. Q: So when did BAM Aviation start doing the conversions? Andy: That’s a funny story. When we built the first one, we had absolutely no intention of building more airplanes. That wasn’t why we did it in the first place. We did it for our dropzone. But, in the process of figuring out how to do it, we partnered up with Turbine Conversions and they made us an authorized installation center. They came and took a tour of our facilities, saw what we had and asked if we wanted to take on some more. This conversion is not crazy-hard, but it’s not just a straight, bolt-on modification and it takes real skill to do. It is a lot of sheet metal work. And I was lucky enough to have access to some real talent with Mike Palmer and Brian Wattenberger. I myself am learning, but the two guys that work with me really are master mechanics. They’re very unassuming, but when you get in the shop and watch their creativity, it’s incredible. They are true masters of the trade; true craftsmen. There would be no airplane business if it wasn’t for Mike and Brian. That’s a fact. I mean: I’m the skydiving business owner, and the guy that came up with the idea to convert the first plane, but without the mechanics, there would be no BAM Aviation (which stands for Brian, Andy, Mike). That’s for sure. At this point, it’s busy here. We have another one that we’re more than halfway through and several others in the works. We’re prepared to scale up, depending on need. I’m sure that the more people that know about it, the more people are going to be interested in it, because it the turbine 206 is a real option for that small/medium drop zone to be able to expand without going a million and a half dollars in debt. I do it because it’s good for my dropzone and it’s good for the sport.
  10. 1 point
    There are lots of things you can learn about on the Dropzone that will aid you understanding of how all the elements involved in a skydiving operation fit together to make things work. Even just focusing on the assessment of the jumping conditions demonstrates several moving parts that all need to operate effectively to function as a whole. Remember, there are things that you must know, but also things that you can know that will make you better and safer. A helpful way to evolve your knowledge is try to see things from the perspective of others. What Other People Know: Chief Instructor: Whoever is employed to be in charge of the daily dropzone proceedings will not only be generally very well experienced but likely also highly practised under the conditions of that particular location. You can learn much from this person. When things are busy they will likely juggling many things in their head to keep everything running smoothly, but when quietness descends seek them out and pick their brains as they probably have many, many excellent stories to share - each with an important lesson behind it. The Pilot: To become a pilot you have to read books and do tests and stuff. A lot of this is about the weather. While you are trying to gauge the strength of the wind outside by listening intently from under a duvet - a good pilot will be up checking many sources of information to be able to perform their job properly. The information analysed by pilots is a very good place to head if you are keen to take your knowledge about flying conditions to the next level. The Jump Master: The person who is in charge of the load needs to be very aware of what is going on both on the ground and in the air. Being tasked as jump master is a serious job that happens relatively early in your skydiving career and while easy to perform with the correct level of awareness carries serious responsibility when there is some kind of incident. Are you confident enough in your decision to take the plane around or bring it back down after spotting a big mess at altitude and have the courage of your convictions when faced with an angry dropzone owner? Being all over the details will make you look like a goddam pro when anyone starts quizzing you. What were the winds doing at the bottom and the top? Which way was it going? What kind of clouds were they and at what altitude? The Other Skydivers: Does everyone on the plane know what they need to know? Are the people you are jumping with or those in the group next to you clueless idiots? Should you worry about them? Who is going to tell them the correct information? You do it - for your own benefit as much as theirs. Also worth considering is the perspective of the tandem masters and the camera pool - they keep the dropzone going and thus operate day-in and day-out under all conditions and circumstances. If the plane goes up then almost certainly some of them are on it and their collective knowledge is well worth mining for information about functioning at the fringes of what is possible or acceptable on your particular dropzone. Conclusion: Applying some time and effort to learn more about weather conditions will create a return on investment with your ability to judge further out if jumps are going to happen or not. Skydiving is an expensive hobby and happens quickly - so everything you can do to maximise your effectiveness on each jump helps, and understanding more about the weather will make you a better, safer skydiver. Learning about all of the conditions you will be faced with will not only facilitate making good calls when you are jumping, it will also help you to get more out of your jumps when they happen. Nobody is right all the time but the more educated you are the better your guesses will be - and as such you ability to decide wether to drag your ass out of bed before dawn and get down to the dropzone or do something else with your day. Also try remember that there is nothing to be gained from being angry at the sky - it does not give a shit. Also, it is probably healthy to do something else now and then - if your life is a constant battle with the weather you might well end up batshit crazy and living in a caravan on the airfield with mushrooms growing in your hair. On a dropzone you are surrounded with ways to learn, and the first time you apply some extra-curricular knowledge in a practical way is immensely satisfying. Every now and then you come across someone who seems to have magical powers when it comes to predicting what the sky is going to do - but they are most likely just a regular human that knows things.
  11. 1 point
    How does the winningest 4-way team in the world get--and stay--that way? Image by Danny Jacobs If you say “by training hard,” you’re certainly right. Hayabusa, the aforementioned golden boys of 4-way FS, unsurprisingly train their way around the calendar in both the tunnel and the sky. As of publication, they recently topped of the podium in the FAI world championships for both, as you’ve undoubtedly noticed. The top of the podium is, after all, pretty much home for these guys. Their hard training schedule, however, is certainly not the only ingredient in the sweet-smelling success that’s always wafting out of the Hayabusa tent. If you’ve got a couple of hardworking skydiving buddies who fly well with you, you might be thinking about going for your own set of medals. Not into FS? No worries. It doesn’t matter if you point your belly button at the ground or the horizon: you can still borrow a page from Hayabusa’s playbook. Here’s what Hayabusa Point Dennis Praet has to say about how his uniquely consistent team keeps their streak going so strong. 1. Work on the relationships. “At the beginning, I really underestimated the importance of team dynamics,” Praet says. “They are super important. You can be an awesome flyer. You can do the fastest 360s. Whatever. But if you don’t have a good relationship with your teammates--if you are not very good friends--then competition is a very tough world.” “Don’t underestimate how important it is to have a good relationship with your teammates,” he continues, “And don’t misunderstand that to mean that you always have to accepting someone else’s bad habits or crap. It’s true that it is about coming to terms with some bad characteristics, but it’s more about appreciating the good ones. Like siblings, in a way.” 2. Fix what you need to and get on with it. “We had a very harsh year in 2014 with Hayabusa,” he explains. “It was the year that nobody liked, and it just takes all the passion away. We saw the rough year for what it was, changed the things that needed to change and found that passion back.” 3. Cross-train outside skydiving. “Everybody on the team does their own thing as far as fitness is concerned,” Dennis says. “It’s not a secret that I don’t like running; I would rather go to the gym or do some of my active hobbies, but pretty intensively. I absolutely love wakeboarding and kite surfing, and sometimes I’ll spend the whole day in the water, going hard.” “When I train, I focus on the fact that four way is a 35-second sprint--so going for endurance is only helpful in training. You can kind of pick your own sport to optimize your capacity for sprinting. As long as you are fit enough to go through a whole training camp--12 jumps a day, without losing your head--you are in good shape.” 4. Get your head right. “When we are going into a hard competing day,” Praet says, “We try to put all our personal issues on the side. If there is any small thing that might put you off your mental game, consciously put that out of your head. Then just trust the training that you have done; the plan that you followed throughout the year. That way, you know--even if you lose, it is just that the other team was better. It is not something that you have done or didn’t do. That knowledge is comforting.” Hayabusa winning 2013 Dubai International Skydive Championship
  12. 1 point
    Image by Wolfgang Lienbacher When it comes to the windytube, Vince Arnone has a few solid miles under his belt. He’s worked in the wind tunnel industry since 2010 (and in the skydiving world for a few more years before even that). He runs Indoor Skydiving Source, a community-based resource for indoor skydiving and bodyflight. During his many years as a tunnel instructor--working with first-time flyers and skydivers alike--he has constantly been approached by wanna-be tunnel rats. If you’re one of them, he has some advice to share with you. I asked him some questions about it, and here’s what he had to say. Q: What’s the first step? Are there prerequisites? Vince: Just apply! At the end of the day, great timing and a solid application really is the key to working in the wind tunnel. Beyond that, there are a few important factors to consider before filling out that app. The physical requirements of the job should be the first thing you consider before seriously looking at getting a job as a wind tunnel instructor. Being a tunnel instructor, and especially working with first-time flyers, is a physically demanding job. Sometimes you work with children, but sometimes a 250lb man walks through the door. They are both your responsibility, and bothcan kick your ass! Both the IBA and Tunnel Instructor rating programs administer a physical fitness test that you must pass in order to be an instructor. The test normally includes pull-ups, sit-ups and running. You don't need to be superhuman, but being generally in shape is a good starter. Q: Do you need a lot of previous tunnel experience? Is it, like, only shredders need apply? Vince: No. The training will be part of the job, and it’s an investment. It goes like this. In order to work in a wind tunnel with first-time flyers, you need a tunnel instructor rating. Earning this rating requires a 3-4 week course which teaches you how to safely introduce and monitor a flyer's first flight. Most wind tunnels include this as part of your initial hiring period. You might have to sign a contract or have some money withheld from your paychecks to pay for the training, but rarely do you have to pay out-of-pocket for it. Training programs like this are designed to take anyone off the street with no previous experience and set them up with the key skills they need for the job. Q: Do you have any insider tips that might give an application the edge? Vince: If you remember one thing from this article, remember this: a staff at a wind tunnel is a close-knit team, and the team has to work well together. Because of this fact, knowing and having a standing relationship with other instructors or managers can make the difference when applying. A hiring manager is always looking for a good fit to the team, not just a skilled individual. This means they are looking for someone who will mesh well with the other instructors on the staff and work hard. This is the most important thing to remember when applying. If you don't know anyone, but you know the job is for you, don't worry! I don't mean that you have to be long-time buddies with someone at the tunnel in order to get a job. Hang around. Get to know the staff at the tunnel you want to work in. Show interest. Small acts like this will go a long way, and you just might learn about the tunnel and bodyflight in the process. Q: What should a potential tunnel employee do to prepare for the interview? Vince: Treat it like a “real interview.” Don’t be too casual about it. All the standard job application best practices apply. The opportunity to work in the wind tunnel is a unique -- and possibly life-changing -- one. Approach it with a good attitude and tons of passion, and see where it might take you. Good luck! Q: What are the major differences between tunnels for flyers with an eye on growth? Vince: Back when I first started--I guess I’m sounding old now--there were just so few tunnel jobs out there. The number of tunnels from 1982 to the year 2011 was around 40. From 2012 to 2015, that number jumped to around 80. Today, looking at the database, there are 113. So rather than jumping at ANY possibility--as someone who sees the tunnel job as an opportunity to grow their personal skills and maybe even start coaching--it really matters which tunnel you land at. The days where everyone would flock to a single tunnel because it was the only tunnel, only high speed tunnel, or only 14 ft tunnel, are long gone. There are more coming, too; since 2013, the number of tunnels opening each year has also exploded. This also means the number of instructor positions has grown. Just by the numbers, setting out to get an instructor job is more likely to end successfully. This also means that the experienced flying community has spread out. Consider working at a tunnel that mainly serves first-time clientele. There will be lower experienced flyer traffic, and the other instructors might not be flying- and coaching-focused. That’s a much different environment than a tunnel that sees experienced flyers as a larger percentage of their business. Working with experienced flyers and other coaches will play a big role in your personal progression. Surrounding yourself with people who have similar goals will immerse you in the culture. Consider the location and culture of the tunnel you land at. A location that will support your flying goals will help you reach them much quicker--and this is about you going all-in for personal development, isn’t it?
  13. 1 point
    The first FAI Indoor Skydiving World Championships will be held from the 21st until the 24th of October this year. The event is being hosted by Hurricane Factory, in Prague, Czech Republic and promises to be one of the highlights of the indoor calendar for 2015. The Hurricane Factory The Prague Hurricane Factory is a world class tunnel, measuring 14 feet in diameter and nearly 46 feet in height, and is capable of producing wind speeds of 280 km/h (174mph), though wind speed will be set in accordance with the event rules. Flight time is efficiency is aided by the door of the tunnel being able to open and close during flight. The facility itself consists of two buildings with a combined 5 floors, one of which includes an Italian restaurant. For competitors there will be a large area on the first floor where dirt dives can be performed. A restaurant on the second floor will be used as a competitor lounge, as well there being dedicated relaxation space for teams, including a terrace with a jacuzzi. Vending machines can be found on the second story of the tunnel building, while there will also be 12 public bathrooms catering to both men and women. The Hurricane Factory is also within close proximity to a shopping center. Schedule 21 October: Arrival of judges and delegations, registration, open training period. 22 October: Judges conference, arrival of delegations, registration, official training period, opening ceremony. 23 October: Competition begins (08:00) 24 October: Competition ends, awards, closing ceremony and departure of delegations. A more refined and detailed schedule will be announced by the organizers closer to the time of the event. The competition will offer several disciplines and categories: 4-Way Open 4-Way Female 4-Way Junior 4-Way VFS 4-Way VFS Junior Dynamic 4-Way Dynamic 4-Way Junior Dynamic 2-Way Dynamic 2-Way Junior Freestyle Freestyle Junior Registrations "A valid FAI Sporting License for 2015 is required and must be obtained through the Competitor’s NAC. All competitors must be registered by their NAC in the FAI Sporting License Database (www.fai.org) before submitting the Official Entry Form to the Organizer." Due to regulations within the FAI sporting code, there is a limit to the number of teams that may enter each event. Each FAI member country may register the following: 4-Way FS: One team entry consisting of up to 5 competitors per team 4-Way FS Female: One team entry consisting of up to 5 competitors per team 4-Way FS Junior: One team entry consisting of up to 5 competitors per team 4-Way VFS: One team entry consisting of up to 5 competitors per team 4-Way VFS Junior: One team entry consisting of up to 5 competitors per team 4-Way Dynamic: Two team entries consisting of up to 5 competitors per team 4-Way Dynamic Junior: Two team entries consisting of up to 5 competitors per team 2-Way Dynamic: Two team entries consisting of up to 5 competitors per team 2-Way Dynamic Junior: Two team entries consisting of up to 5 competitors per team (Pending Approval) Freestyle: Two individual solo competitors Freestyle Junior: Two individual solo competitors For more information on registration costs and further details about the event you can view the event bulletin, alternatively you can visit the WISC 2015 website or the Facebook page.
  14. 1 point
    Image by Vincent Reeder Do you remember what it was like to go on a first date? Imagine inviting someone out that you felt was completely out of your league...beautiful, intelligent, witty - the whole package. I feel nervous just thinking about it. Naturally you'd want to leave a great impression. You hope that at the end of the night your date would say that it was the best date she'd ever been on. To reach this outcome, attention to detail is necessary. I'd wash my car, research restaurants to ensure the atmosphere was romantic, the food outstanding and the service excellent. Now visualize picking your date up. Think about how you feel physically: sweaty, nervous and a marathon-pumping heart rate. After you've practiced saying "Hello, you look beautiful tonight," (several times) you get out of the car, walk confidently up the driveway without revealing your internal emotions. Once she greets you at the door, your awareness levels are in hyperdrive - you notice everything in milliseconds - the way she looks from head to toe, how she smells… your subconscious notices what's behind her as she stands in the doorway. Is her place messy or neat? You take everything in. The emotions felt on a first date are how our students feel when arriving at the drop zone for the first time - out of their comfort zones, excited and nervous. Our students notice EVERYTHING from the moment they drive in to the parking lot until they've landed from their jump. As drop zone operators, we must remember that we are hosting the ultimate date - the opportunity to give someone a lifetime memory. Every detail on our date should be carefully examined - each customer point of interaction be brought to a five star standard. Our goal is to have our guests say that their experience was one of the best days of their lives. Bob Marley once sang, "You can't please all the people all the time…" No matter how hard we strive to exceed customer expectations, we will never be perfect. Smartphones have empowered consumers to become critics that effect how other consumers decide where to spend their money - with your business or with your competitor. When negative comments are posted about your business, how you react (or not react) can greatly effect the outcome. In this week's newsletter, we examine tips for handling negative feedback. 6 Strategies For Handling Negative Reviews Tip 1: Don't Knee Jerk The natural response when reading criticism is to immediately become defensive and type out a quick response. DON'T DO THAT. Sit with the criticism for a while and let the initial shock that you've been publicly called out, settle. The walls aren't caving in and some of the criticism may have merit. Try to be objective and own your part in the criticism. The biggest mistake is not making necessary changes to ensure a similar review doesn't pop up in the future. Tip 2 - Join The Conversation After you've calmed down, it's better to join the conversation than ignore it. Negativity breeds negativity and joining the conversation is better than allowing one person's views to rumble into an avalanche of criticism that becomes unmanageable and viral. It's best to be non-confrontational, non-defensive and act as a caring human being. Be calm in your response and say sorry if you need to. Introducing yourself and showing that you're a real person puts a face to a business as opposed to a corporate entity with a PR spin. Pick and choose your battles as well. If someone is a tyrant and is abusive... the general audience will be able to discern that. Tip 3 - You Don't Have to be Right Realize that you don't have to be right. People who spend a lot of time online are used to companies trying to spin everything into a positive. If you're wrong, it's okay to say you're wrong. No one is perfect and it can be refreshing to see some honesty. Acknowledge and see if it's possible to find resolution by contacting the individual directly. If you can convert a critic into a fan of your business, the word of mouth spread is far greater. Criticism and how a customer's complaints are handled can be very valuable in spreading goodwill about your company. Tip 4 - Don't Get Caught Off Guard If you haven't done this yet, stop reading this newsletter and do it now. (I'll wait here while you get this done). Go to Google Alerts and plug in your company name. If anyone mentions your company online, you'll at least be in the know. It's never a good thing to have an online war raging about your company and have no awareness that it's even occurring. Tip 5 - Never Go Into A Diatribe (This is Queens English for "Don't show your ass.") Let's suppose the criticism you've received is misguided and wrong. The most common mistake is how people respond by: a). working themselves into a lather and taking a hard stance defending themselves and b). write a long-winded response that only fuels the comment thread (we see it on a daily basis within the forums of dropzone.com). When responding, keep calm and carry on (even if you want to rip someone's head off) and keep it relatively succinct. Rehashing each detail of the customer encounter WILL fuel more commentary from those watching the thread unfold. Keep in mind, you're not responding publicly to an audience of a few - it could be a few hundred. No matter how right you maybe, acting indignantly will only turn many people off. Tip 6 - Don't Hide- Be Transparent 
 Many companies delete negative reviews - particularly off of social media feeds. Deleting people's posts can cause rancor for those watching things unfold and they WILL CALL YOU OUT on it. The best course of action is to respond. Of course, there are some people out there ('trolls') who are looking for trouble and are looking to pick a fight.. when things get abusive, it's time to pull them off. The Realities Anonymity empowers people to say things they normally wouldn't in the presence of others. Showing you're human, interested in helping to solve a problem and publicly apologizing will usually diffuse most situations.
  15. 1 point
    Image by iFly Austin We would like to introduce the latest addition to Dropzone.com, our wind tunnel listings! We’ve been working hard at gathering information on all the active indoor skydiving venues from around the world, resulting in a list of 26 wind tunnels, spanning 12 countries, making it the most comprehensive and up to date list of vertical wind tunnels online. We have modelled the indoor skydiving section on that of our dropzone database, allowing you to review your experience, in turn helping others in choosing the best places to indoor skydive, and focusing on allowing you to quickly and easily find venues using GPS plotting. Users will be able to find detailed information about each dropzone in the listing, including time block pricing, training pricing, technical information and contact details. Indoor skydiving has become an essential part of competitive freefly training and continues to provide a platform for the evolution of body flight. With the continued growth of the sport, and the establishment of new tunnels, the future of indoor flying is looking extremely bright. We welcome and encourage users who have flown at any of the wind tunnels to submit a review of their experience. Should you know of a wind tunnel that is not listed in the database, you are able to submit a listing yourself, or contact us via e-mail and we will add the listing for you. Our database will continue to be built on and maintained by both dropzone.com and the respective owners and staff of the tunnels. If you are a staff member of one of the tunnels listed in our database, you can claim the listing. View Wind Tunnel Listings
  16. 1 point
    Los Angeles - Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld remembers nothing about the airplane crash that nearly killed him, or the five weeks he lay in a coma afterward. What he does remember is that one of his best friends died on the skydiving plane that crashed 10 years ago last Monday. "It infuriates me," he says of the crash. "I'm still very good friends with his mother, with his sister. I see them and talk to them and it just kills me, that I had anything to do with it." In one of the worst accidents in skydiving history, the twin-engine de Havilland plunged to the ground during takeoff at Perris Valley Airport, killing the pilot and 15 skydivers. Brodsky-Chenfeld, 40, was among six survivors. He was coaching American and Dutch skydivers and had recruited some to come out to Southern California for training. Among the dead was his friend James Layne, whom he had taught to skydive in Ohio. Federal officials determined that contaminated fuel caused the right engine of the DHC-6-200 Twin Otter to lose power after takeoff. The pilot then made a mistake. The overloaded plane's right wing dipped and struck the ground. Witnesses said the craft bounced upright and then nose-dived, shearing off its nose and wings. Troy Widgery, 35, of Denver, recalls the aircraft was 300 feet in the air when it rolled over and he saw the ground out of the door. The crash knocked him out for several seconds. When he awoke, he found himself on top of bodies, fearful that the aircraft would catch fire. "I thought, well we lived through that and now it's gonna burn. Gotta get out of here. Everyone was either dead, dying or couldn't move." Widgery spent several days in the hospital with a broken hip, collarbone and other injuries. "I was jumping two months later. Once I could walk again, I was skydiving," he said. The skydiving school about 60 miles southeast of Los Angeles survived and has flourished, now handling about 10,000 student jumps a year. Pictures of the dead hang on the school walls, and there is a memorial park near the drop zone. On Monday, friends will gather there for skydiving and a barbecue. "It's an opportunity to be among people who truly understand our pain," said Melanie Conatser, co-owner of Perris Valley Skydiving. Brodsky-Chenfeld, of Chandler, Ariz., suffered a head injury, a broken neck, a collapsed lung and other internal injuries in the crash. He is "covered with scars" and still takes medication for back pain and other problems caused by his injuries. Yet he, too, was back to skydiving only months after the crash, following two major surgeries and with a brace around his neck. He has made 9,000 jumps since the crash, and started a championship skydiving team, Arizona Airspeed. "It's hard to ever consider a life that doesn't include that," he said. "It's really important that every day of your life you're doing something that really challenges you, something that you love to do." ~ Associated Press
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