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    Oklahoma Skydive Center, Cushing, Oklahoma
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  1. AndyBoyd, You are correct, some drop zones classify their employees as independent contractors to avoid having to withhold taxes, however, most instructors I know legally incorporate themselves. By legally incorporating themselves the instructors have many tax and legal benefits and the law is not being broken. However, if DZO's are calling instructors contractors just to avoid withholding payroll taxes then the law is already being broken. Either way, this article has noting to do with either fact. I do appreciate your comments and you have given me an idea for my next article. Blue Skies.
  2. Thank you DeltaBravo. I appreciate the kind words.
  3. Image by DeltaBravo As spring draws near it is time once again to start thinking about the summer jumping season. Most drop zones will start to organize their safety day activities, gear will be inspected, and repacks scheduled. However, what many of us forget to do is spending some time developing our coaches and instructors after all, professional skills can be forgotten during the winter months just as easily as safety rules and regulations. For many drop zones, instructional development stops after the candidate’s progression card is signed off and the certification is issued. What we fail to realize is that instructional skills are perishable and everyone can benefit from annual employee development training. What I would like to discuss here are some methods the average drop zone can use to develop their instructors. Understandably not all of these are possible at every drop zone, and individual drop zones may have to modify these methods to fit into their procedures, but these are simple and can be done with little imposition on the drop zone. Before I talk about training techniques I would like to discuss certification and training records. I am not about to suggest that drop zones start massive files on their people, but the drop zone owner is an employer and even though most of the employees are classified as independent contractors, the DZO/DZM should have a basic training folder for each instructor. Some things that might be useful to include would be copy of class 3 medical certificates for tandem instructors, copies of CPR/First Aid certification cards, awards, and even the latest logbook entry once a year (I’ll discuss the last two more later on). Although none of these items fall into the privacy act, the DZO/DZM should still keep the files locked up and they should only contain the document copies, never the originals. This will prevent the information from being passed around or discussed publicly. Now that we have the staff, and their records are in order, how are we going to mold them? To renew an instructor certification, the individual must attend an instructor’s seminar. The majority of the time that seminar is the annual safety day, but instructors need something more. I have heard many DZOs/DZMs make the comment that the requirements to become a certified instructor should be made more stringent. I even heard one person advocate that a coach should have a minimum of 500 jumps. Although that sounds great in theory, logistically it is almost impossible. Instead of just forgetting about instructors and coaches after they have become certified, get them all together once a year. Pick one of them to give the ground portion of the First Jump Course while all the other instructors are the students. This will allow for all of the instructors to provide constructive feedback to each other and it will give the instructors a chance to relearn something they may have forgotten. One thing that is frustrating for a new student is when one instructor says, “Remember? In class you were taught to….” When in fact that was something the other instructor forgot to teach in class. By holding annual employee development training not only will the instructors benefit, but so will the students. Free Fall Drills Another technique is to practice free fall drills. It happens to all of us. We, as humans, can get sloppy with our techniques overtime. Two instructors or coaches jumping together would be in a position to debrief each other. This can be done as a fun jump, but as long as it is not a free fly jump or a “zoo” dive. After all, we are not free flying with first jump students and they are jumping exact dive plans. I do want to stress at this point that instructors must help each other out. If it is in the plan for one person to act like a first jump student, then act like one, but let’s be honest, how many first jump students actually put their helmet on backwards and start playing with the aircraft controls as soon as they get in the plane? Although I’m sure it does happen on occasion, not to the extent that I see people acting it out when teaching new instructors. Discuss with each other what you have seen over the past year, but don’t make the training so unrealistic that it is ineffective. Have an instructor day at the wind tunnel. Since wind tunnels are beginning to spring up in more places take advantage of it. Video the time in the tunnel and spend some time doing dirt drills working on areas that need improvement. Emergency Training Many DZs will invite the local rescue squad out on safety day and there are others that don’t like to do this because they do not want to scare the new jumpers. I can understand both sides of this, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a dangerous sport. It is a good idea for all instructors to have basic first responder training specific to the types of injuries that could be experienced at the DZ. Subjects such as C-Spine immobilization, when to move an injured person and when not to should be taught to all instructors. What about the injured person’s helmet? Should it be left on or taken off? How do you safely remove an injured person from the swoop pond? When the call is placed into 911, what information is the most helpful? Does the staff know the address to give the 911 operator (that is a good thing to type up and put by the phone, by the way). This brings us back to the training folder. One of the things that would be a good idea to keep in the folder would be copies of awards and maybe even a copy of a recent logbook entry. If there is ever an accident or fatality at the DZ, the DZO/DZM will have to deal with the media. By having key information handy, the DZO/DZM will be able to make a quick and informative statement to the press if needed. For example, if someone were to get hurt during a tandem jump, the DZO could say, “This is a very unfortunate accident and we are looking into the cause right now. The instructor is highly experienced and has over 10,000 jumps, 9,000 of them being tandem, and just two months ago was awarded the USPA badge for 50 hours of free fall.” Many people don’t like talking to the press, and that is the subject for another article, but the fact remains; by just saying no comment you leave the uneducated alone to make up their own answers based on hearsay, rumors, and their own fears. As you can see, there are various ways for a drop zone to develop their instructors. Although not every way is possible, nor has every possible way been covered, we must remember that drop zones are businesses, instructors are employees, and once in a while, employees need refresher training too. Corey Miller C-38834 Corey has a Master’s Degree in Aeronautical Science, specializing in Human Factors and Education. He has over 30 years of experience in both aerospace and military aviation. He is currently the Quality and Safety Manager for the ATM Program in Kabul Afghanistan but he calls the Oklahoma Skydiving Center his home.
  4. coreyangel

    285 pound wanna be jumper

    I'll be glad to be one of the peanuts (lol). Let me ask you this (not being a smarty pants) but what are YOUR reasons for saying no? I emphasize the word "your" because your reasons could be different from someone else's. I am assuming you are the DZO/DZM so bottom line... it is your kool-aide stand and your decision. Because of that, I would just like to ask, "Why do you think you should answer no?"
  5. Thank you MrSnipes, and you are right on the money about the dangers of reducing accountability. If a groupthink mentality evolves everyone will think it is "everyones" idea however, no one will come forward ad say "I thought ti was a good idea at the time." Like you said, don't be afraid to speak up! If someone is afraid to speak up in the group, at least talk to someone who in respeted and trusted outside of the group and ask their opinion. As I like to tell people; When it comes to skydiving safety, there is no such thing as a do over. Blue Skies my friend.
  6. Thank you ChrisD for the nice comments. You also bring up some great points. One in particular is about developing our instructors and keeping their skills up. In fact, that just happes to be the next article I want to write. It is taking me a while because skydiving, although a big international industry, is not made up of large franchises but mostly small independent dropzones. The key here is coming up with a suggested program that will increase safety and productivity while, at the same time, not impeding current operations (not to mention wording it in such a way that the message is recieved positively). I welcome any suggestions or ideas you may have. Feel free to PM me if you like. Blue Skies, Corey
  7. Thank you DrDom, I appreciate your comment. I notice in our sport that we talk a lot about people taking their time and learning correctly. I understand that once someone is out of the door there is nothing we can do to save them from themselves, but I have always wondered why some new jumpers feel like they are actually encouraged to do unsafe acts. I don't know if this is the reason why, but I have seen the groupthink mentality many of times and I have to wonder if it does play a role in the safety of our sport. Does anyone have any comments? I would love to hear them.
  8. Thank you Douglas. When I say that newbies are "encouraged" to be unsafe I am not referring to people saying "come on and just do it" although that does happen from time to time. I think that we encourage them (and yes, I am including myself in this) by what we say and imply. Comments like "I refuse to jump a canopy that big", I know that the BSR says to do that, but we are all big boys and girls" and the one that makes me cringe, "Belly fly? Yuck. Who does that any more?" The answer to the last one is newer skydivers that are not yet ready to free fly. Of course, these phrases must be taken into context. We will always have fun with each other, kid each other, and of course, there is nothing wrong with letting someone know you don't want to jump a student rig. I just think (again, just my opinion) that we need to watch what we say and how we say it. The friendly ribbing can turn into a groupthink situation where newer skydivers could feel pressured to try something they are not ready for.
  9. Image by Brian Buckland When we discuss training in the skydiving community we usually refer to training students or teaching experienced skydivers new techniques. However, we seldom discuss how to train our staff so they are safer and more effective. By grooming your staff you can make your drop zone more enjoyable for your customers and in turn, make your business more profitable. Today, I would like to discuss a psychological situation that can affect the staff as well as other skydivers. That situation is known as Groupthink. What is groupthink? Simply put, it is a condition that occurs when a closely cohesive group has a tendency to make bad decisions because the group pressure becomes so great, everyone starts to ignore moral judgments and sound decision making. Groups that are more susceptible to this phenomenon are tightly cohesive, have a similar background, and have a lack of clear rules for decision making. As for me, I cannot think of a more cohesive group of individuals with, similar backgrounds, than a group of skydiving professionals. Please don’t get me wrong, it is not a bad thing that we are a cohesive group of people. We just need to be able to recognize when our staff, or group, is beginning to fall into a groupthink mentality. So, what are the symptoms of groupthink? In 1972 a social psychologist named Irving Janis identified eight symptoms of groupthink. As you read through these I ask that you think to yourself about a time where you actually witnessed one or more of these at a drop zone. 1. The feeling of invulnerability – Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks. 2. Collective rationalizations – Members ignore warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions. 3. Beliefs in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions. 4. Stereotyped views of “outsiders”– Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary. 5. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views. 6. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed. 7. Illusion of unanimity – The majority’s view, and judgments, are believed to be unanimous. 8. Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions. I’m sure most people can relate to a few of these symptoms and to make it perfectly clear, just because you see one or two of these does not necessarily mean that a groupthink situation is going on… but then again it could. Since we know the symptoms, what can we do to prevent a groupthink situation, or to try to remedy the effects of a situation already happening? Let’s start by defining what we call a group. A group can be something small and organized like a team. It can be a little bit larger such as the staff of a DZ. Or it can be a group of people with a common cause such as free flyers or belly flyers. Now, let’s address the problem. One way to help prevent group think from setting in is to designate a member of the group as a devil’s advocate. This person will be the one to think outside the box and to ask the questions “what if” and “why”. The devil’s advocate should also suggest alternate plans or ways of doing things. It is important that the devil’s advocate does not just go through the motions, but makes meaningful suggestions and the group discusses them. This will keep everyone’s head focused on moral and safe decisions and not just out of habit dismiss all suggestions. Another preventive measure is for the leader to set aside an amount of time to survey warning signs. To define the leader, it can be a team coach, the DZO/DZM, but at a minimum it should be the S&TA.; This doesn’t have to be a big formal inspection, just a time to walk around the DZ so you can hear and see what people are doing and planning. In this case, someone will probably hear signs of groupthink before they see actions. Listen to what people are planning. Listen to what they are encouraging others to do. At the same time take note on how their words and actions are affecting others, especially the less experienced skydivers. Finally, for members of the group; you should all routinely talk to someone from outside the group that is trusted and has a valued opinion. These talks should be one-on-one and preferably not with the same person. This will give you a fresh point of view and help you to make the best decision, not necessarily the one that goes along with the group. By keeping an eye on each other not just by doing gear checks, but by letting people know when you start to observe behavior that could lead to unsafe practices, you can help make our sport safer. Let’s face it. Being a skydiver means taking calculated risks. We need to work together to keep the odds in our favor.
  10. coreyangel

    Teaching Students To Navigate The Landing Pattern

    Dan, I have to admit, over the years I have been a huge critic of Pegasus, but you are correct, he did have a good method for teaching the landing pattern. One thing he also did for the new students was to place signs on the ground with altitudes on them. On sign would read 1,000 another 700 etc. This method would allow a student to look down and see what altitude they should be at. This worked really well, along with the walk through drills he did, in part due to the size of his drop zone. This is not a dig against his method, his drop zone met all USPA size regulations, but it was smaller with close obstacles. As the students are walking through the mock up, they can look up and see the obstacle that is being referenced. This allows them to create a mental image that will be close to what they see in the air. On the other hand, a larger drop zone could have a group of trees or a building that is a mile away. Now, it wouldn't be an obstacle but maybe it is a navigational aide that a student on the ground may not be able to make a mental image of. In that case it may be a good idea to use both a mock up and an aerial picture. Thanks for mentioning Pegasus Dan. I do believe that this is one area where his training method was spot on. Corey
  11. coreyangel

    Teaching Students To Navigate The Landing Pattern

    Brian, You bring up another good question, how do we (as instructors) have two way conversations with our students while they are under canopy with a one way radio? Yes, there are two way radios that can be installed in full face helmets, but how many drop zones can afford to invest in the extra cost? As one of my mentors taught me, ask the student to flare. I have found this to be very effective method while students are under canopy. For example, after an AFF student completes their SOPs, ask, "If you are over 4,000 feet give me a flare." and my next radio call would be "Now head to the playground and enjoy the view." Remember, we just need enough feedback from the student make sure they are safe and know what to do. As we all can remember from our first few jumps, the view under canopy was a new and exciting experience and we had a flood of adrenaline going through our body. These two things combined made it easy to lose awareness, not just altitude, but positional awareness as well. By giving small reminders such as "go to the playground" helps keep their head in the game without giving them detailed instructions. I would love to hear about other methods instructors employ to communicate with skydivers under canopy.
  12. coreyangel

    Teaching Students To Navigate The Landing Pattern

    Brian, Thank you very much for your comments, they mean a lot to me. I haven't been fortunate enough to visit a foreign drop zone and I was not aware that they did a lot less radio work than we do. I would like to ask you, do you think the reason is more philosophical or do you think it could be rooted in the way instructors are taught and certified? Like I said, I do not know first handed how other countries certify their instructors and I'm just asking this to create a discussion, but could the reason why we sometimes over do the radio is out of our own fears as an instructor? When the student is under canopy we, as instructors, are responsible for their safety. Could we be over thinking the situation and not letting the students learn because of our own fears? If this could be the case, could there be, or should there be, something added to the instructor certification course to address this? Is this a topic that is addressed in the certification courses conducted in other countries? I would love to hear anyone’s views on this. Corey
  13. coreyangel

    Teaching Students To Navigate The Landing Pattern

    Bruce, it sounds like your DZ has a great program. Just to ask a question, have you had any feedback from jumpers that learned this way and visited another drop zone? The reason why I'm asking is because I'm curious if it was easier for them to make the transition to landing at an unfamiliar area. When I was a newly licensed jumper I went to a boogie. It was my first time at a big drop zone and I was overwhelmed. One of the things that had me overwhelmed was the landing pattern. I was used to my home DZ and I knew what land marks to look for when I was in the landing pattern. Now I had to figure it out all on my own because I couldn't do what I had always done. I think that by having jumpers do exercises, like yours, helps newer jumpers make that transition easier, safer, and more enjoyable. What do you think?
  14. coreyangel

    Teaching Students To Navigate The Landing Pattern

    Thank you for the feed back Roger, I'm so happy to hear that your students are responding well to the changes you implimented. If you ever have any ideas for something that should be added, or changed, please feel free to let me know. I love hearing about different ways to improve training and safety. Blue skies.
  15. A skydiver at the Oklahoma Skydiving Center pointing out their landing pattern. Image by Corey Miller When we teach students how to skydive, the lessons do not just stop after the first jump course. One important skill all skydivers need to know is how to navigate through the landing pattern. I have heard instructors refer to talking to students on the radio as “remote controlled skydiving” because they guide the student where they want them to land, and they tell the student every turn to make. If we are supposed to teach our students how to pilot their canopy, then we must ask ourselves, “How is this enabling the student to learn?” In this article I will discuss a method of teaching the student how to pilot their canopy that is not only easy to use, but also allows the instructor on the radio to remain in control if the student needs additional guidance while descending under canopy. Teaching the student piloting skills starts in the classroom. Of course we teach the students the SOPs and to make sure they have a canopy that is Square, Stable, and Steerable; but now what? Do we just give directions to the student over the radio? Realistically, for the student who just opened their canopy for the first time we, as instructors, will probably have to do that. The student has emotions of excitement and fear going through their mind while adrenaline is going through their body. This mixture can make anyone confused, so don’t be surprised if the first time in the landing pattern you are flying a “remote controlled skydiver”. Having said that, let’s discuss how we are going to teach the student to navigate the pattern and eventually, be removed from radio status. I like to start this process with a laminated picture of the landing area and a grease pencil. With a laminated picture the instructor should sit down with the student and first, have the student draw an arrow showing the direction of the wind. Now we know that the student is aware of the wind direction and we do not have to assume that they do. Next, have the student point out where their “playground” is going to be. For those who do not use the term “playground” that is the area where the student can fly their canopy, while they are descending to the proper altitude to enter the landing pattern. Next, have the student make a mark showing where they will enter the downwind part of the landing pattern and at what altitude this is supposed happen. This is the time the instructor can discuss at what altitude to leave the playground and to start thinking about the landing procedures they covered during the first jump course. Additionally, let the student know that next time things could be different due to wind direction and speed. Next have the student show where, and at what altitude, to make their turn for the base leg of the landing pattern. Since an aerial picture of the drop zone is be used, the instructor can point out hazards and landmarks at this point. For me, I like to point out a grass runway at the drop zone and to tell students not to go pass it figuring it is better for them to have to walk back a little bit than to risk getting too close to the hanger or the active taxiway. Finally, have the student show where, and at what altitude, the final turn would be. At this point the instructor should reiterate the importance of the wind sock, what altitude to stop turns and to do only small corrections, and of course, when to flare. Since the student is making marks on a laminated picture, it is a good training aid to keep and to use when debriefing the student after the jump. The instructor can point out how the plan and the actual landing pattern were different. The instructor then can talk about how safety could have been affected and discuss a plan for improvement. After the debriefing the student, just wipe the photo clean and use it for the next student. Now, let’s talk about our first jump student some more. When teaching a first jump student, I do not advocate going through all of this in great detail on their first jump. Instead, have them look at the picture. Ask them about where they would want to be at 1,000 feet. Where would they turn for the base leg and final leg of the landing pattern? If we, as instructors, get into too much detail for the first jump the student can have a sensation overload and forget everything. Additionally, a sensation overload could make the experience less enjoyable and possibly hinder the chances for repeat business and some good word of mouth advertising. By just showing them what will be happening we can reduce the student’s anxiety by reducing their fear of the unknown. Additionally, if there should be a radio failure while the student is under canopy, having shown them on a photo of the landing zone and discussed where they should be in relationship to various ground features we have just increased the chances for the student to land safely. Author Bio: Corey Miller is a C rated skydiver who held both coach and IAD instructor ratings. He holds a Master in Aeronautic Science degree with specialties in Teaching and Human Factors. He currently works as an Instructor/Quality Assurance Inspector in the Aerospace Industry. He calls the Oklahoma Skydiving Center his home DZ.