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Found 39 results

  1. admin

    Top 5 RSL myths

    I keep seeing the same arguments made against RSL's, over and over. Many of them are just myths, word-of-mouth anecdotal stories passed down for so long that their original meaning has gotten lost. I figured I would list them here: 1. You should get stable before you open your reserve, and so you should disconnect your RSL. First off, you should _not_ be stable face-to-earth when you open your reserve. The Racer manual spells this out explicitly - you should be head-high if possible to ensure a cleaner reserve deployment. Fortunately, you are head high the instant you cut away from your main, and that is the point at which an RSL will open your reserve. Secondly, there are two universal truths in skydiving - you won't do it if you don't practice it, and you _will_ do what you trained to do. If you practice "cutting away and getting stable" you _will_ do that in the air, even if you someday cut away at 500 feet. If you do that, the only thing that will save your life will be your RSL. Finally, before you decide that it's a good idea to cut away and then get stable, I'd recommend you do an intentional cutaway from a rapidly spinning canopy and see how long it takes. (Hint - it does not take just a second or two.) 2. You only need an RSL if you're going to forget to pull your reserve. Rick Horn, one of the three people in the US who trains all AFF-JM's, once needed his RSL due to rig distortion. He could not find his reserve handle. If you are more current at cutaways than a man who teaches them every month, and have more jumps than him (6000?) that might be a valid point, but I think few people are. 3. If you cut away on the ground on a windy day and you have an RSL, your reserve will inflate. Simply not true. Try it next time you need a repack - go outside in the wind and pull your reserve handle. The PC will come out, the freebag may fall on the ground - and that's it. Unless you have decided to jump in a hurricane, even 25kts of wind (way more than most people will jump in) won't inflate a reserve. Of course, you can disconnect your RSL once under canopy to prevent the reserve from opening at all if you have to cut away on the ground. That's a convenience issue, not a safety one. 4. You can practice cutting away on the ground, so how hard can it be? RSL's are not for normal cutaways. They are for madly spinning mals where you can barely see one of your handles. They are for mals while wearing a wingsuit, where you have fabric flying in your face and you can barely see. They are for cutaways at 600 feet when someone sets up a hook right into your canopy and destroys it. These are the situations where RSL's save lives. If you will never be in such a situation, great. But I have discovered that those situations find you, rather than the other way around. 5. You have to "fall away" from your main to guarantee you won't entangle with it. Simply untrue. I've watched an awful lot of rig testing, and the physics just doesn't let that happen. Even in a malfunctioning canopy, the forces work to separate the main and the jumper/reserve. And if you postulate a bizarre scenario where the reserve PC can somehow entangle with the main? The reserve will simply open faster. All that being said, there are still reasons not to use an RSL. We disconnected all our tandem RSL's a while back because there had been some problems with broken risers, and that's a risk when you use a one-sided RSL. If you're doing something bizarre (like jumping a 46 sq ft canopy and opening at 5000 feet) an RSL will probably not help you much, and if you're doing intentional cutaways or CRW, it makes sense to simplify your gear and be able to fall away from something before you open your reserve. But for a lot of people it makes sense. Personally, I recommend everyone use one until they get to 200 jumps and/or have their first cutaway from a spinner. At that point they will have the experience to make a good judgement on their own. -bill von
  2. admin

    A Guide To Traveling With Your Gear

    Anything precious in your bag, sir? Introduction Getting into skydiving opens up many opportunities for travel. You might live somewhere where the weather is shit all the time, or simply want to take advantage of the beautiful places available to jump around the world. Traveling with your gear can be a worrisome experience. If you are at all sensible, you should already own both a standard travel insurance policy for your belongings and some additional cover that concerns your physical being and any event in which it smooshes into something unforgivingly solid. However, unless you either arrange additional extended insurance (or jump some wonky old contraption built of very dubious elements), the coverage you are paying for is unlikely greater than the value of a set of modern skydiving gear. Your magical backpack is precious to you, and while traveling abroad you will likely feel most inclined to keep your eyes and hands on it at all possible times. Checked or Carry On? Once successfully embarked on your career as a skydiver, sooner or later someone will share with you a horror story involving airport security and a parachute. The exact details of this tale are variable, but it will usually involve massive injustice on the part of very ignorant and uncool staff against an innocent and harmless skydiver who just wanted to be perpetually within four feet of their gear by taking it into the aircraft cabin as carry-on luggage - only to be harassed, hassled and sometimes ultimately denied. Situations that escalate this far are rare, but they happen enough among a relatively small community of people to then hang in our collective consciousness as a potential problem - prompting the anxious conundrum of either checking-in one’s rig and thus entertaining the very slim but real possibility of it vanishing forever, or sending it forth through the scanner and risk having to cause a scene because some jobsworth insists on popping your reserve and causing a hundred people in the line behind you to all miss their flights. What Is This Thing? What is it about a parachute system that draws the attention of security personnel? It seems logical it would be your AAD that is the most curious element: a mysterious little box complete with a with a couple of protruding wires, a numeric display an activation button (eeek!). In fact, the Cypres unit (the AAD everyone should own) does indeed utilise a very small amount of gunpowder in its design (30 milligrams) - although you should not say this to anyone in charge of aeroplanes. It is up to you to not say this and it is important not to say this. Despite being officially harmless according to all the aviation authorities that matter, try explaining away this nugget of information well enough to be allowed to continue on your journey. Official looking visual aids can occasionally be very useful. Over many years of traveling as a freefly team, we eventually realised that frequently enough one of us would have to explain how a parachute does (and more importantly - does not) work that we began to rotate who went first through security, therefore being the one to get their rig out and do the explaining. We discovered that it seemed not to matter. Sometimes both the first and second rig would pass unassumingly through the scanner, only for the third to be set aside needing the guided tour - thus leaving the two initial team members on their way into the terminal, chortling at the unlucky third and musing about how mystifying and stupid the process is - as if a single rig is but 33% suspicious and only the cumulative effect of several examples passing by in succession is enough to make the final one stand out as suspect. Each time an inspection was required we began to quiz airport staff in turn about what they see that makes one’s gear a thing of interest to them. Although as of yet we have received no definitive answers as to exactly why, it appears that the combination of the reserve cable and pilot chute spring that draw attention. A metal cable spiralling into the centre of things just looks unfamiliar enough to be potentially wrong and bad. What Are The Rules? The gentleman on the left thinks it is cool to go through the airport like this. He is wrong. As far as all the major aviation authorities are concerned, there is nothing about a complete parachute system that categorises it as forbidden to travel in either the cabin or the hold of any commercial aircraft. Individual airlines might have their own rules for various types of sporting equipment (which you should remember to look up before you go anywhere), but these are much more likely to concern weight allowances and excess baggage fees than any specific security rules. There are various formal documents available that concern skydiving equipment, but I am yet to meet any airport staff in the world that have actually read them. As such, each transit situation will depend entirely on the personal experience of those charged with viewing your bags - and can range from cow-eyed unconcern (most common), through mild curiosity (sometimes) all the way to haughty indignation that you would dare attempt to take such a thing onto an aeroplane and put everyone’s lives in immediate danger (sucks to be you). What Happens If You Need To Explain? Be nice. Always, always, be nice. Airport staff at any step of the way can very quickly ruin not only your travel day - but you whole trip if they feel it is necessary - and smile-kill you while they do so. If you are required to give a presentation, usually a quick explanation while they swab your harness for naughty residues will suffice and you will be on your merry way. If their concern does persist past this point it will probably be because whoever you are talking to is somewhat (possibly very) convinced that your canopy can suddenly and dramatically fully inflate in the cabin, thus freaking everyone the fuck out and covering the windscreen or something. The best course of action here is just keep repeating in a soothing tone “That is impossible” and “It doesn’t work like that” while remembering to be nice. If that doesn’t work you can even have the employee in question deploy your main pilot chute limply onto the floor. Go nuts! Have them pop the pin and send your deployment bag down to join it. Not matter what happens through this interaction try to make it as fun as possible and educate the staff a little bit about your gear and doing your bit for those that come after. You never know - the difference you make here might mean as much as the next person who passes this way meeting their connection or not. Success Conclusion Many people have traveled with their parachutes as carry-on many times, to many places, for many years, with no problems. Every now and then someone just has shitty luck and another tale of woe spreads it’s wings. If things do go badly for you and there is now way out other than to pop your reserve and/or get everything out in exquisite detail, just get it over with. The best play regardless of how far you have to go down this road is always make security personnel feel that they are doing the right thing. Inside you will be seething with rage but if you are a dick to them in even the smallest way nothing good will come of it other than a long conversation in a windowless room. So be nice. Things To Remember: 1. Put Your Rig In A Bag You will look super cool wandering around the terminal with your straps all dangling and your G3 clipped to a hip ring like a six-gun. Right up until someone spills sub-standard guacamole all over you. 2. Get Some Paperwork Airtec produce a nifty credit card thingy that you can whip out to look like a stone-cold professional. It shows an x-ray of a rig that explains why Cypres units are fine for travel and does not mention gunpowder at all. Other AADs are possibly available. For the extra careful there is also a selection of formal documents available in different languages that you can print out and keep in a ring-binder.
  3. admin

    Todd Shoebotham Talks Pilot Chutes

    Todd Shoebotham, Owner and President of Apex BASE, Helps Jumpers Get the Details Right Note: This article discusses pilot chutes in a BASE environment and should not be used in relation to skydiving. Ah, the pilot chute. Our beloved little workhorse, it’s the first thing we take out and the last thing we put in. It gets dragged around. It gets abused. For all the obsessive fawning we do over our canopies, our pilot chutes get surprisingly little love. If you’re looking to change that--and learn a little more about the sizes and styles of pilot chutes that you should invite on your BASE jumping adventures--then you’ve come to the right place. We pinned down the inimitable Todd Shoebotham and picked his brain about it in order to share his infinite wisdom with our beloved public. We’re pretty sure you’re going to learn a few things, so lean in and listen! 1. Keep your fingers out of harm’s way. Does your pilot chute have a tube handle? According to Todd, the data suggests that fingers have an uncanny tendency to make their way into that little tunnel at pull time, which can make for some seriously awkward Chinese-finger-trap deployments. “A few people have reported reaching back and going up to the knuckle into the PVC,” Todd says. “Or getting their fingers underneath the handle. When you’re reaching back, that’s certainly not what you want.” This problem can be solved in multiple ways. If you do have a PVC-style handle with a potential finger trap, Todd recommends taping over the ends in order to eliminate this possibility. Apex pilot chutes forego the tube for handles that wrap rubberized, textured fabric around a solid foam cylinder. “Compared to the old-style PVC handle, this is much lighter, too,” Todd explains, “And that lightness helps the pilot chute get orientated properly.” 2. Travel with a well-curated collection. Since pilot chutes are available in everything from little 32-inch versions to behemoth 52-inchers, it can be challenging to determine what you really need to carry in your gear bag as a traveling jumper. Todd suggests that carrying a quiver of three to four will reliably cover your bases. “On the smaller end, we typically set people up with 36-inch pilot chutes,” he explains, “But we still stock the 32s. The 32-inch PC is probably the least-popular one in our range, because we believe they only belong on the lightest parachutes.” “We used to see 36s on wingsuit-specific rigs,” Todd adds, “But we’ve been seeing a lot of people with wingsuits favor bigger PCs because of their lower airspeed at deployment.” From there, Todd suggests having a 42--”the workhorse in the middle”--which covers your standard Potato Bridge jumping, and a 46- or 48-incher, depending on the size of your canopy, for objects more along the lines of a low cliff or structure. If you have a little more room in your luggage and you’re looking to jump a lot of subterminal objects, Todd suggests a 38-inch pilot chute. “Most people aren’t going to be using a 36 or a 38 handheld,” he says. “If you’re in that 5-to-6 second range, it’s a nice pilot chute to have, the 38. It is a slightly different pilot chute. It is not as strong of a pull, but you still have plenty of room there. I might not use it on all 400-foot objects, but definitely on some of them, and it is a little nicer flying with a slightly smaller pilot chute.” 3. Make adjustments to compensate for your choices. According to Todd, there are mistakes to be made here in both directions. On one hand, unnecessarily oversizing is an easy mistake to make. While it’s not necessarily dangerous, it can negatively affect your jump if you don’t keep your delay relative to your PC choice (and create unnecessary distortion to the canopy during extraction, to boot). “If you don’t have the appropriate pilot chute for your jump and you don’t adjust your delay accordingly,” Todd says, “You might not like the results. If you were going to extremes in exposing a big pilot chute to a lot of airspeed, you would be stressing out parts of the canopy and your body. For instance: if you should really be using a 42 but you have a 46, you’d better go a little short on this one and enjoy the view from under canopy a little longer rather than taking your normal delay for that jump. I know you don’t want to, but that’s the pilot chute you’ve got.” “Also keep in mind,” he continues, “That we have seen peculiar behavior when some large pilot chutes are jumped slider-up. You can get some pretty weird interaction if you do that; the slider just seems more reluctant to come down. Personally, I think it has to do with the distortion that the canopy went through during line stretch; at any rate, we do not recommend it.” Take object familiarity into consideration. Since larger pilot chutes generally provide snappier openings, Todd asserts that object familiarity is a major factor to consider when choosing a pilot chute. “If it is your local object and you’ve really got things dialed in, I can see downsizing,” Todd says. “But if you’re a visiting jumper, you’re going to probably need to treat it a little differently. For example: If all the locals are using a 46, I’ll probably be using a 48 to stack the cards in my favor. If I make enough jumps there to become comfortable with the surroundings, I can see transitioning down to the 46.” “At the end of the day,” he insists, “You have to remember: In BASE jumping, really small changes in performance do matter. Make sure you’re prepared.”
  4. Canopy wear-and-tear can sneak up on you--and, if you’re new(ish) to the swooping trade, you might not know exactly what parts of your equipment need extra attention. Since a dedicated canopy pilot plies his trade on the basis of impeccable nylon, only a seasoned pro’s advice on the matter will do. To that end, I caught up with multi-disciplinary virtuoso Pete Allum to ask him for his best tips and tricks for keeping that kit in fighting shape. Pete started skydiving in 1979, and it didn’t take long for him to clamber up on his first podium. Since 1985, Pete has stood on national- and world-level podiums almost every year (sometimes, more than once). In the pursuit of all that gold--and in the course of his extensive coaching work--Pete has made more than 32,000 skydives. It’s safe to say, then, that he’s seen a few canopies through their life cycles. Here’s what he has to say on the subject. 1. Pack your own parachute as much as possible. When you’re hopping and popping like a broken record, the last thing you probably want to do is wiggle around on a packing mat. Pete suggests that you should suck it up and make the effort, because your personal attention is the most important factor in your gear’s fitness. After all, your packer’s job is to get it in the container. Your gear’s overall well-being is your job. “If I’m jumping 20 times a day,” Pete explains, “I certainly won’t be packing it every time, but I want to make sure I have my own eyes on it regularly. Even if I have a very heavy schedule, I’ll make sure to pack it myself at least a couple of times a week. That gives me the opportunity I need to see the things I wouldn’t if I only jumped it. When it’s in my hands, I can check for problems like closing pin damage, dinged grommets and center cell discoloration from sweat.” 2. Don’t be shy. Keep your standards high. Non-ideal openings accelerate wear-and-tear on your gear (as well as your body), so it falls to you to make sure that some standards are being upheld when a third party is compressing your fabric. Pete advocates a professional, proactive position, especially when it comes to stows. “Packing stows vary widely, and not everyone is aware of how important it is to be consistent,” Pete admonishes. “So it’s a good idea to make sure your packer is using the same large stows throughout and double-wrapping every stow on the bag.” Finally, make sure the packer is dressing the container’s flaps correctly. If they don’t, Pete notes that creases will form, building memory in the fabric over time. These ever-deepening furrows can cause degradation as the container ages. 3. Watch the wear points on the lines. With high performance comes high mechanical stress. A small, aggressive canopy has a tendency to shake the system like an energetic rottweiler thrashes a favorite chew toy, so you’ll need to keep an even more vigilant eye on your canopy’s wear points: especially the lower control lines and the places at the top and bottom of your lines where your grommets like to grind. If there’s even a hint of fraying on your lines, bringing your gear to a rigger should rise to the top of the to-do list. “When I’m in Florida, it’s the easiest thing in the world to bring it over to Performance Designs, so I’ll pop over at the earliest sign of wear,” Pete says. “When I’m farther afield, my standards have to relax a little, but it’s still a top priority to get it done.” 4. Give your pilot chute an extra look. Pete recommends that you check for wear at the bridle attachment point at every opportunity. Beyond that, he notes that you should occasionally tug out the kill line and check it for fraying, twisting and shortening. “The system has a couple of inches of margin,” Pete explains, “But if the kill line measures outside that allowance, you need to take it to a rigger.” 5. Keep an eye on how many jumps you’ve already put on the canopy. Especially if you aren’t a logbook-lovin’ kinda jumper, it’s easy to lose track of a canopy’s jump numbers. According to Pete, that will need to change. When it comes to jump numbers, swoopers don’t enjoy the luxury of unintentional ignorance. “Especially if you’ve been jumping someplace hot and/or dusty, it pays to know exactly how far along you are,” Pete advises. “As soon as the ticker goes over 200 jumps, I start to pay way more attention, even though the line set is expected to last much longer than that.” 6. Be an active participant in a high-caliber team. When your zoomy descent becomes the focus of your skydiving days, your need for a professional team of advisers increases exponentially. Take time to build relationships with the very best, most enthusiastically recommended riggers, packers and coaches you can find, and don’t hesitate to reach out to them for guidance. It takes a village to raise a safe (and super) swooper, after all. To pursue the perfect swoop under the matchless tutelage of Pete Allum, reach out to him through Flight-1.
  5. admin

    Do Skydivers Care About Safety

    Image by Russell M. Webb If I've learned one thing in my 35 years in the sport, it's that it is very difficult to get most skydivers interested in safety. Years ago, when it became obvious that my hand deploy pilot chute and 3-ring release made it possible to deploy a malfunction, and then breakaway from it, 500 feet faster than the existing internal pilot chutes and Capewell canopy releases allowed, a lot of jumpers simply started deploying their mains 500 feet lower. Utterly negating the increase in safety these systems offered. Even today, most jumpers think that because all gear has a TSO tag on it, one piece of gear is as safe as another. Unfortunately, that is not true, and most jumpers will choose "fashion" over safety every time. Here are just a few examples of what I mean, starting in the '60's, right up to the present day. The army found out that if you put 2 foot band of fine netting around the skirt of a round parachute, you eliminate the most common deployment malfunction, the partial inversion. The trick worked so well that airborne troop static line malfunctions went from 1 in 250 to 1 in 250,000. WOW! So, a company that made round sport reserves (there were no square reserves yet) came out with an "anti-inversion netted" reserve. NO ONE bought it. You know why, of course...It packed up 10% bigger. Jumpers past up a proven 1,000 times increase in safety for smaller pack volume. Believe it or not, there is a similar, thought not nearly as drastic, choice jumpers are making when they buy a square reserve today. Let me explain. The first square canopies came without sliders, so they had to be built tough. This meant, among other things, that there was tape running spanwise (from right to left) between the line attachment points. With the advent of the slider and softer opening canopies, some companies began leaving the spanwise reinforcing tapes out of their square reserves. Why? Because they cost less to build, and (you guessed it) they packed smaller. This proved to be a wise choice, (at least in the marketing department) because although jumpers very often choose their mains for performance and durability, the almost always always choose their reserves base only on price and pack volume. While reserves without spandwise tapes are fine in most situations, as we have seen recently, they tend to fall apart when skydivers push the envelope. (ie. big people on tiny canopies, going head down at high altitudes.) Safety doesn't seem to be any larger a consideration than it was when they passed up anti-inversion netted round reserves in the '60's. Standard size (large) 3-ring release systems have never given a solo jumper any problem. They ALWAYS release easily and NEVER break. However, mini 3-rings look neater, so that's all people will buy. No matter all the reports of hard or impossible breakaways or broken risers. Don't get me wrong, Properly made, and maintained, mini 3-ring release systems will handle anything even the newest ZP canopy with microlines can dish out. Unfortunately, because they are now being pushed right to their design limit, they must be made EXACTLY right. And a lot of manufacturers either can't or won't. On the other hand, a large 3-ring system has so much mechanical advantage, that even a poorly made system will still work just fine. But then fashion is much more important than safety, isn't it? Spectra (or micro-line) is strong and tiny, so it reduces both pack volume and drag , which means you get a smaller rig and a faster canopy. Unfortunately, It has a couple of "design characteristics" (this is manufacturer talk for "problems") It is very slippery (less friction to slow the slider), and stretches less than stainless steel. This is why it hurt people and broke so many mini risers when it was first introduced. Now, I must say that the canopy manufacturers did a wonderful job handling these "characteristics" by designing new canopies that opened much slower than their predecessors. However, the fact still remains, that if you do have a rare fast opening on a microlined canopy, Spectra (or Vectran) will transmit that force to you (and your rig) much, much faster, resulting in an opening shock up to 300% higher than if you have Dacron lines. (It's sort of like doing a bungee jump with a stainless steel cable. At the bottom of your fall, your body applies the same force to the steel cable as it would to a rubber bungee cord, but because steel doesn't stretch, your legs tears off.) So why would I have a fast opening? Well for one thing, you, or your packer might forget to "uncollapse" your collapsible slider. BAM! Or perhaps you're zipping along head down at 160 mph with a rig that wasn't designed for it, and you experience an accidental container opening. BAM again. The point is this: If you want to push the envelope, and get all the enjoyment this sport has to offer, and do it "safely", you need to make careful choices in the gear you jump. If you weigh 200 lbs. and do a lot of head down, perhaps you really shouldn't be using a reserve without spanwise reinforcement, mini 3-rings, or a canopy with micro lines. No matter how much you weigh, you should educate yourself about gear, and then only jump gear that is designed for how you jump. So many fatalities occur because of decisions jumpers make BEFORE even getting in the airplane. Don't join that group. Be smarter than that. Fashion, at least in skydiving, can get you killed. ~ Bill Booth
  6. This article by Alain Bard is meant as a general guide. We highly recommend contacting your local rigger and instructor before using any of the information provided in this article. In the years I’ve been a rigger, I’ve often seen the results of skydivers’ gear buying experiences. Most experiences go well, but some do not, and result in the buyer having to re-sell an inappropriate piece of gear they bought. In this article, I am going to try to lay down some advice on how to go about choosing gear. I’m going to try to not go into brand specifics, but rather which components you should get and in what order, buying new or used, and sizing. New vs. Used? Let’s tackle this one first. Should you buy new or used? Traditional advice is that if this is your first set of gear: you should buy used. You’ll probably only use your first set of gear for the first 100 jumps or so. If you buy used skydiving gear, you can save some money (over new) while jumping your first set of gear, and take your time figuring out what you really want before you commit to buying new equipment. Let’s break it down though. So to put together a rig, you have to get 4 components: a harness/container, a reserve parachute, an Automatic Activation Device (AAD) and a main parachute. Whether to buy each of these pieces new or used depends on the piece. AAD Let’s start with the easy one: the AAD. Used or new does not matter, as you’re paying a fixed cost per year for these units. This fixed cost per year varies between $80-160 per year depending on which unit you choose. If budget is an issue, and you can find one used, grab it. Used AADs are rare as they expire faster than the skydiving gear they are in. If your budget allows, you can buy new. AADs are super easy to re-sell if you ever need to. Reserve Parachute Next up: the reserve parachute. For newbies, I always recommend buying a used reserve parachute, as you can save a significant amount of money here, and the benefit of a new reserve isn’t really justified over the cost of a new one. Reserve parachutes don’t get used very often, and even after 10 years, are usually in next to perfect condition. A 10-year old reserve of the same design is the same as a brand new one, it’s just cheaper to buy. Ensure the reserve has less than 5 or so “rides” and is no older than 15-18 years old. Also, ensure it has no holes, patches or repairs, or if it does, make sure the cost is much less, and consider sending it back to the factory to have it checked out first. Main Parachute For the main parachute, my advice is the opposite to a reserve. I recommend buying a main with as few jumps as possible (under 200 if possible). Buying a new main parachute is preferable, if budget allows. You will use this parachute to save your life 99.9% of the time. Its condition matters. Age isn’t really that much of a concern as much as the number of jumps. I like to make sure a main parachute still has its original lines, because you can tell the number of jumps by the condition of the lines. Trying to estimate the number of jumps on a canopy after a reline is sometimes difficult if the parachute fabric has been kept clean, dry and out of the sun. Another consideration is where the jumps were made. A parachute that was jumped in the summer in Canada or the US Northeast on green grass for only 6 months of each year will be in much better condition than one jumped all year round in desert-like or beach locations. Sand really eats away at the fabric coating and gets into the seams. If budget is really an issue, then a modern-design (last 10-15 years) used main parachute with more jumps is OK too, but make sure to have your rigger take a look and don’t pay too much for it, as it’s not going to be worth as much. Again, ensure it has no holes, patches or repairs, or if it does, make sure pay much less, and consider sending it back to the factory to have it checked out first. Harness/Container Last is the harness/container, for 80% of newbies, a used harness/container is probably the right way to go. Newbies tend not to land on their feet 100% of the time, and if you get a used harness/container a little dirty or scuffed up, it won’t matter as much. The problem is getting the right size for both the canopies *and* for your body (ie. harness size). Sizing for canopies is easy enough, but then sometimes it’s difficult to find the perfect sized harness. Having a harness that is a little too big or too small isn’t the end of the world, but it’s not as comfortable as a made-to-measure harness. If the harness is more than a little too big or too small, then resizing a harness is always an option, but it may cost more to have a harness resized than the harness/container is worth. For 20% of newbies, their body type makes it almost impossible to find a used harness/container. I’m talking about the 6’ guy who weighs 120lbs, or the 4’8” girl who weighs 95lbs, or on the other end of the spectrum, what you’ll find advertised as “big-boy rigs” for really large and/or heavy people. For these people that fall outside the average body types, while resizing a harness is sometimes an option, getting a new harness/container is sometimes a better option. Some manufacturers make basic rigs with no bells or whistles that end up costing less than a used, fully featured harness/container. I’m talking about rigs like the Shadow Racer and the Rigging Innovations Genera. These are great rigs at an even better price. Also, if you are a serving military member, some manufacturers offer incentives (up to 30% off) on new gear. This is a great deal, and a no-brainer. If you are eligible for such discounts, get new stuff! Before I move on, I want to mention that when you buy used, you will have to keep an open mind when it comes to colors. It’s the price you pay to save some money. So now WHAT should I buy, but more importantly – in what order? So you’ve been jumping a certain size main for a while and think you’re ready to downsize and get a different set of gear. Great! Let’s go through it. One of the biggest gear-buying mistakes is choosing (or buying) a harness/container first, and then trying to fit the canopies into a container that was not sized for those canopies, so…. Here’s the order in which you should think about it: Select the Reserve canopy first. Select an appropriately sized reserve. Your reserve should be big enough to not seriously hurt or kill you in the event of an unconscious reserve landing (no flare). This means that your reserve should be sized according to your wing loading on that reserve. For most people, that means I recommend getting a reserve at least one size bigger than the main you intend to jump. So if you think you want to jump a 150-size main parachute, get a 160 or 170-size reserve, and if you're a big guy that jumps a tiny cross-braced canopy, you'll maybe still want a 170-sized reserve (4-8 times larger than your main). You’ll thank me when you actually need to use the reserve. Then, pick a main, any main. Well, not really, but decide on the size of main you want to jump. You can pick the type of main later, but decide on size now. Now you can think about a harness/container! Then and only then start doing the research on what brand of harness/container you want based on the features you think are important to you. Look at harness/container manufacturers’ published volume charts to see which size container you would need to fit the reserve. You want to pick a size of container that fits the reserve and is described as “soft” or “normal” fit (if those descriptors are available). Stay away from a “tight” reserve fit at all costs. You’ll quickly notice that not all the manufacturers offer combinations that will fit a reserve that’s larger than a main. That’s really a shame. You should really ask those manufacturers why they don’t offer this. An expensive solution to this problem is a low-bulk reserve, which is marketed a being able to pack one size smaller than a regular reserve. So, if you want a container combination that fits a regular 150-sized main, and only fits a 150-size reserve, a low-bulk 160 reserve may be an option. Careful though, it doesn’t scale down. For instance, a low-bulk 126 reserve may not fit in a 113-sized container, or it may fit but be so tight that it interferes with the normal deployment of the reserve. This is bad, and should be avoided. So you’ve picked a reserve, and you know what size of harness/container you need, only then should you start looking at the classifieds to see if you can find something that has the right size harness attached to it. If you find something that you think fits, or described by the seller as fitting someone your size, ask the seller for the serial number of the harness/container. Then contact the manufacturer of the rig (even if it was made 10 or 20 years ago), and ask them what size the harness was made to fit. Most manufacturers keep data on all the rigs they have ever built, and will be happy to disclose this information to you, and discuss whether it would fit you based on your measurements. There is no need for guessing games. You can know before you even buy whether or not the harness/container will fit you. The only exception to this rule is if the harness has previously been re-sized, which is uncommon. Main Parachute 7-cell, 9-cell, F111, ZP, Hybrid, low bulk, square, semi-elliptical, elliptical, air locked, cross-braced, etc., etc… There are many mains on the market today. There is no right or wrong answer here. It depends on what you want to do. I’ll have to save this topic for another article. Refer to my comments above on age and condition. Don’t forget the AAD! The last part is to get an AAD. As long as the AAD in question is within its service life, has been maintained at the proper interval (if required), operates normally, and is approved for the harness/container you want to put it in, then you’re good to go. So there you have it. It’s not always obvious at first, so I hope this guide will help some of you out. Alain Bard has been an active skydiver since 2003. Alain holds the following CPSA ratings: D CoP, Skydiving Coach Level 2, Jumpmaster (JM), Ground Control Instructor (GCI), Skydive School Instructor (SSI), Skydive School Examiner (SSE), Exhibition Jump Rating (EJR), Parachute Rigger (RA). He is also a Tandem Instructor. Alain is a certified Hot Air Balloon Pilot (Transport Canada) Alain is a certified Paramotor Pilot (Transport Canada) Alain is a certified Paraglider Pilot (HPAC) You can find out more about Alain at his website: http://bard.ca
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    Digital or Analog Altimeter

    Altimaster Galaxy We all know there are some hot debates in our sport: RSL or no RSL, AAD dependency, and exit separation are well-known dead horses. Another topic certainly worthy of discussion is the choice between analog and digital altimeter displays. Asking that question will yield a variety of opinions (no surprise there) and will likely be inconclusive. First, a clarification: this discussion revolves around the altimeter display, not the underlying hardware. Altimeters with mechanical internal aneroid capsules have analog displays; those with electronic pressure sensors can have either a digital or analog display. Now that we have cleared that up... Analog dial faces of all types commonly have numerical graduations and colored segments to indicate the status of what is being measured. Alti-2’s Altimaster Galaxy, for example, is first graduated in thousand foot increments starting at the 12 o’clock position (zero). There are yellow and red caution zones placed at commonly used altitudes to provide a visual warning at a glance. Digital displays, like Alti-2’s N3, provide a numerical altitude reference. N3 provides a three-digit decimal altitude in free fall and four digits under canopy. So – which is better? It really boils down to three things: familiarity, specific application, and personal preference. Many skydivers stick to what they learned to use as students. Later in their skydiving career they may choose to “re-train” that familiarity and transition to a digital display. I did so myself when Neptune hit the market nearly ten years ago and have been a huge digital display fan since then. Application brings a different frame of reference entirely. Let’s take a look at two commonly used analog dials, starting with the temperature gauge in your automobile. My dear old Dad taught me to look at my gauges periodically like a pilot does cross-checks. A quick glance at the temperature gauge should show the pointer dwelling just slightly left of center, or about 40% of its travel. I have no earthly idea what specific numerical data that conveys – I glance at the gauge, my brain processes the placement of the needle based upon my training, and I know that I am good to go! Now consider the gauge on a fire extinguisher which contains a small green segment and a large red segment. A quick glance reveals the pointer dwelling in the green or the red – good or no good. In both of these cases, an analog display is preferable to the way I do business. Altimaster N3 What about skydiving? From day one we are asked to apply specific action to specific performance altitudes. As an AFF Student, we may be taught to recognize 5,500 feet on our altimeter to trigger a critical action: wave off and pull. It can be argued that the direct conveyance of that numerical data from a digital display eliminates the need for the brain to convert the pointer’s indication on an analog dial face into numbers for an action to be triggered. If an AFF Student recognizes 5,500 feet on his digital display, it directly sends him into action. Then there is personal preference. Electronic altimeters with a digital display often have other features like logbooks, timers, and the like that take more time to learn. Some skydivers just love the simplicity of turning a knob to zero the pointer and off they go. Mechanical/analog altimeters are usually more economical for skydivers on a budget. Electronic devices require power from replaceable or rechargeable batteries; mechanical devices do not. There are several other advantages and disadvantages regarding the mechanism which can also drive personal preference. Factor in accuracy, calibration requirements, form factor, mounting options, ability to read altitude in low-light or darkness, waterproofing, convertibility between visual and audible, and others – the decision becomes more complicated. So, if you are in the market for an altimeter, or are thinking about switching from analog to digital, I suggest you try them both. Put your trusty Altimaster II in your helmet bag and borrow an N3 from a friend or even your local gear store. Make a few jumps reading digitally conveyed numerical altitude and see what you think! In the meantime, I will be thinking about what advances in technology might be on the event horizon. Arrive safely, slotperfect John Hawke (slotperfect) is General Manager of Alti-2, Inc. in DeLand, Florida, USA
  8. Know your gear series: Harness, fitting to your body and effects to consider. by Damian Alvarez The harness is a fundamental piece of your skydiving gear. As such, you know it like the back of your hand, right? Maybe the answer is "well, not really". Many experience jumpers will answer that. Most novice jumpers looking for their first rig also often neglect the importance of a harness that fits them. Coming from "one size fits nobody" student gear, they don't even know how a harness should fit them. This might change once they order their first custom harness/container system, if they ever do. If you want to know your gear a bit better, or if you want to inform yourself a bit better about what you should look for when buying a harness/container, either new or second hand, then this article is for you. What is a Skydiving Harness? The harness is the part of your harness/container system that is designed to keep your body attached to your canopies. In today's sport skydiving gear, the harness and container are 2 different but inseparable pieces. It wasn't always like that. In the 60s and early 70s harnesses and containers were interchangeable. That allowed to quickly swap components as needed. While this might seem like a good idea at first, these systems had their own set of problems. They were heavy due to the additional hardware needed, and error prone, as they had more room for assembling errors. In the 70s manufacturers started to integrate both into a single harness/container system, hiding part of the harness in the backpad of the container. This concept stays with us almost 50 years later. Even though the harness and container are today a single unit, it is important to know that the container is built around canopy sizes, and the harness is built around body dimensions. A byproduct of these two pieces of gear being inseparable, is that rookies typically focus on a single thing: the range of canopies they can fit in the container. That is not an issue when they are buying a custom harness/container (as long as the body measurements provided to the manufacturer are accurate), but novice jumpers start their skydiving career typically by buying used gear. Take a look at your DZ next time you are there, and pay close attention to how different harnesses fit their owners. I bet you'll find a few ill-fitting harnesses among new jumpers. Later on we'll see why this is important. But first, we have to know a bit more about the harness itself. Basic Harness Components and Construction Before getting into the details of harness construction, it makes sense to take a look at the webbing and tape types used for it. Distinguishing webbing and tape is not obvious. Generally it is considered webbing anything wider than 1" and with a tensile strength higher than 1000 lbs, and tape anything less than any of these 2 parameters. The table summarizes the most common webbing and tape types in harness construction. The pictures below show how they look like and how to distinguish them. Common webbings and tapes used in harnesses. Kind Type Tensile strength Width Common use Webbing Type 7 6000 lbs (2721 kg) 1 23/32" (4.3 cm) MLW, laterals and risers Type 8 4000 lbs (1814 kg) 1 23/32" (4.3 cm) Risers and straps Type 12 1200 lbs (544 kg) 1 23/32" (4.3 cm) Reinforcement around rings Type 13 7000 lbs (3175 kg) 1 23/32" (4.3 cm) MLW and straps Type 17 2500 lbs (1134 kg) 1" (2.5 cm) Chest straps, main risers 3" Type 4 1800 lbs (816 kg) 3" (7.6 cm) Confluence wraps Tape Type 4-B 1000 lbs (453 kg) 1" (2.5 cm) Reinforcement around rings and confluence wraps Type 7 webbing. Has yellow lines at the edge. Photo: Bally Ribbon Mills Type 8 webbing. Has a black centerline. Photo: Bally Ribbon Mills Type 12 webbing. Has red lines at the edge. Photo: Bally Ribbon Mills Type 13 webbing. Has black lines at the edge. Photo: Bally Ribbon Mills Type 17 webbing. Photo: Bally Ribbon Mills 3" Type 4 webbing (Spec. PIA-W-4088). Do not confuse with Type 4 tape. Some authors consider this as tape, not webbing, due to the low tensile strength it has (relative to its width). Photo: Bally Ribbon Mills Type 4-B tape (Spec. PIA-T-5038). Do not confuse with 3" Type 4 webbing. Photo: Bally Ribbon Mills Now, you can try and take a look at your harness. Can you identify the different types of webbing and tapes used on it? If you do take a look, you'll also notice that in most parts of the harness you have actually two layers of webbing instead of one. There are two reasons for it: to make a stronger harness, and to prevent slippage. Harness diagram with its main components. Now that we know what are the materials used, we can get into the different parts on a harness. Any sport skydiving harness has the following components: Detachable main risers: These are the risers that you are most familiar with. They are attached to the rest of the harness via the 3-rings system, and they depart with the canopy when you cut away. They are also some of the parts of the harness that see the most wear. The most common type are the "mini-risers" with "mini-rings". These are made of Type 17 webbing. During the transition period where this style of risers became popular, there were occurrences of riser breakage close to the grommet used for the 3-ring system. This was particularly dangerous with RSL equipped rigs, as if the riser broke below the RSL attachment ring (while the opposite riser stayed attached), your reserve could fire into a trailing main, and you'd be set for a bad day. The Collins lanyard, the double-sided RSL system, or the LOR system try to prevent that from happening, by either releasing the other riser, or by keeping the reserve pilot chute in the container until both risers leave. Regardless of these solutions, to diminish the chances of mini-riser breakage, most manufacturer reinforced their mini-risers with a piece of Type 4 tape sewed between the front and back risers at the grommet area. Parachutes de France opted for an alternative solution, reversed risers, that avoid the grommet piercing the webbing altogether. With these changes, the number of risers breaking was reduced drastically, and is today almost unheard of. If you are a student, you are probably more familiar with the "normal" risers, ie: the ones with Type 8 webbing and full size rings. These risers are stronger than mini-risers, and the leverage provided by their bigger rings allow to cutaway with less force. They are however bulkier and have more drag in flight, and have fallen out of fashion among most sport skydivers. Non-detachable reserve risers: These are the risers that you will get to know one day during a cutaway, if you haven't done so already. They are an integral part of the harness. In many harnesses they are part of the same webbing of your MLW, instead of a separated piece of webbing sewed to it. They are normally Type 7, even though other materials are possible. Main lift web (MLW): The main lift web, typically shortened to MLW, is the piece of webbing that holds the whole harness together. It takes all the load from opening and during flight, all the way from the risers (either main or reserve) to the leg straps, where you are hanging/seating. Due to that, it is typically the strongest part of the harness, made of Type 7, 8 or 13. Even though this is the strongest part of the harness, it doesn't necessarily mean that other parts are significantly weaker. It can be further divided in upper MLW and lower MLW. Conceptually, you can think about the lower MLW as the part that goes from the chest rings (or chest strap junction) to the hip rings, where your handle pockets are sewed. The upper MLW is the part that goes from the chest rings (or chest strap junction) to the upper part of the junction between MLW, reserve risers, and diagonal back straps. The length of the MLW is normally fixed, except in some student or tandem gear. In these cases the length can be adjusted to accommodate the sizes of different users. Chest strap: The chest strap is one of the 3 straps you have to fasten to adjust your harness. It secures your torso in place, and keeps it in the space formed by the chest strap, the MLW, and the back straps. It is not designed to take a huge load, since most of it is transferred from the risers to the leg straps by the MLW. The webbing used has typically a lower tensile strength. It is normally either Type 8 or Type 17. The hardware to fasten the chest strap has been also certified with lower loads than leg straps hardware (500 lbs. vs 2500 lbs.). There are jumpers today "abusing" their chest straps, by putting a load on them that they weren't designed for. Think of hybrids or Mr. Bills. Harnesses are typically "overbuilt", so they are unlikely to fail due to these practices, particularly with hybrids, due to the limited stress induced in the seams, webbing and hardware (for a 2 belly flier + 1 freeflyer hybrid, just 100—150 lbs. hang from each chest strap). However, on Mr. Bills, the load can be significantly higher. A careful jumper should try to hang on the upper MLW on a Mr. Bill, instead of the chest strap. Leg straps: The leg straps are the remaining 2 adjusting points of your harness, besides the chest strap. They are attached to the hip rings or sewed directly to the MLW. In some older designs without rings, they could also be part of the same piece of webbing of the MLW. They need to be strong, but sometimes they aren't as sturdy as the MLW. They can be Type 7, 8 or 13. Freefly bungee: The elastic cord that attaches both leg straps isn't necessarily a part of the harness. However, it has a small but very important function. It prevents the leg straps from slipping up your leg towards your knee. The largest "hole" in your harness is right there, between your laterals and your leg straps, waiting to mess up your day when you have a premature opening while sit flying. Tandem harnesses have a "Y" strap that has essentially the same function. If you don't want to find yourself in a difficult situation like the granny on the video, use this simple addition to your harness. If you still think that this can't happen in a sport harness, well, take a look at the remaining 2 videos and think again. Laterals: The laterals are some of the most commonly overlooked parts of the harness. They are relatively small and out of sight, so people tend to forget about them. They are the parts that join the MLW (or the hip rings, depending on the harness design) with the bottom end of the diagonal back straps. This last junction is hidden inside the backpad of the container. They also form an horizontal back strap, which I am considering here as part of the laterals itself, even though strictly speaking, it is not. They are normally made of Type 8 webbing, but Type 7 or 13 are also possible. Their only function is keeping your rig close to your back. It is a simple but important function, and we'll come back to it in part 3 of this series of articles. Diagonal back straps: If laterals are overlooked, it is safe to say that the diagonal back straps are completely ignored. They sit below your reserve risers and typically wrapped in fabric, and they are completely out of sight from that point on and all of the way to where they meet the horizontal back strap AKA (in this article at least) laterals. Even with the reserve tray completely open, they are out of sight, trapped between the backpad and the bottom fabric of the reserve tray. Like laterals, they can be made of Type 8, 7 or 13. Their function is holding your torso in place and keeping the whole harness together. Without them, the container would support a higher stress, which would wear it and break rather sooner than later. There are multiple configurations possible for them. They can have an "X" arrangement, where the left shoulder straps crosses the back and joins the lateral at the right side, and vice versa. They can also have a "V" arrangement, where the webbing goes down from one shoulder, wraps the horizontal back strap, and goes up again until it reaches the opposite shoulder. Other arrangements are also possible —like "U" for instance, but manufacturers don't discuss these details openly and knowing what is really used would require tearing open the containers. Hardware: The hardware binds together 2 or more pieces of webbing, either permanently or temporarily. Taking a look at the hardware used in harnesses, you can see 3 different types from the functional point of view: Fastening hardware: These are the quick fit adapters found in chest straps and leg straps. For the leg strap adapters there are 3 common types: thread-thru, thread-thru with locking bar, and flip-flop, shown in the pictures. All of them are rated for 2500 lbs. The chest strap has a lightweight thread-thru quick fit adapter, rated for 500 lbs, independently of the width of the chest strap. Thread-thru leg strap adapter. Thread-thru leg strap adapters with locking bars. Flip-flop leg strap adapter. 3-Rings: These are the 3 rings we are all familiar with. There are two variants: The original, rated for either 2500 lbs or 5000 lbs, depending on the particular model, and the mini version (RW-8), rated for 2500 lbs. The tandem variants are slightly different in the large ring to allow to connect the student harness, and are always rated for 5000 lbs. Hip and chest rings: These rings are optional and normally use the same type of ring found in the large ring used in the 3 rings system. In some cases the ring is completely flat, as opposed to the large ring in the 3 rings system, which are bent at the point where they are connected with the MLW. Some rigs have a completely round hip ring, instead of using the large ring from the 3 rings system. Junctions: Obviously all the different pieces of webbing have to join somehow. These junctions can be of 4 types: Rings: In a ring junction, the webbing goes around the ring folded on itself —typically with a reinforcement tape in between the ring and the webbing—, and is locked in place with a stitching that follows a given pattern. It is important to note that the pattern is not arbitrary. Its shape, thread and number of stitches per inch determine the strength of the junction. Hip ring with Type 8 and Type 4 as reinforcement at the leg straps. Note how the ring is completely flat. Stitching points: Normal stitched joints are simply that, points were 2 or more pieces of webbing are sewed together with a particular pattern. Chest strap junction with Type 8 and Type 7 webbings. Hip webbing sandwich with Type 7, Type 8 and Type 12 webbings. 3 rings junction where you can see most of the webbing types used in modern harnesses. Note how the large ring is bent at the webbing loop, instead of being flat. Layers in a confluence wrap below the 3 rings system. Confluence wraps: Confluence wraps are similar to the previous type, but there a piece of reinforcement tape wraps the junction to make it stronger. These reinforcement tapes are particularly important in high stress areas, like where the 3 rings, the reserve risers, and the MLW meet. One thing to consider when two pieces of webbing are sewed together, is that the strength required to break that junction is way lower when "peeling" than when "shearing". A manufacturer can in most cases design its joints to prevent situations where peeling forces are applied. However, depending on the harness design, these situations might occur. Confluence wraps are added to strengthen joints that are at risk. A couple of years ago, some BASE rig manufacturers had to modify the construction of their harnesses because of this. If you want to know more I suggest you take a look at this excellent article. The confluence wrap that stitches together the MLW, reserve risers, main risers and diagonal back straps is normally hidden in the mud flap. But some manufacturers —not all— have another confluence wrap that you have seen a thousand times but probably didn't pay attention to it: the wrap that traps the 3 rings locking loop in the main risers. Adjustable hardware: Here 2 pieces of webbing are locked in place together with a fastener. As we saw before, they are normally located in the chest strap and leg straps, but there are other possible points, like in student harnesses or belly bands. End of Part 1 Hopefully by now you feel a bit more confident about the construction of your harness. This is important knowledge to better understand part 2, where we will take a look at the different articulations and other options possible in modern harnesses. Part 3 will focus on the proper fitting of the harness, and how a bad fitting can affect our performance or safety in the air. Stay tuned for more!
  9. 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!
  10. admin

    The RSL and Skyhook Debate

    Image by Mike Barta So…you just crushed an 8-way angle jump, stacked tight and flying fast. Damn that feels good. Or maybe it was a Sunday night sunset BFR with all the sky-fam that stuck around till the very end of another awesome weekend at the dropzone. Perfect! Or maybe you’re six jumps into a busy day, flying camera for tandems, and you’ve just finished break-off and are watching that giant tandem wing smack open as you sink away. Whichever it is, if what happens next involves a turbulent mess of canopy flapping and flailing above you, or spinning-you-up violently beneath it, its decision time…and fast. But, if you’re anything like me, and find that in that moment your brain is still rapidly processing the various factors in play (as opposed to immediately switching into survival mode and initiating an instinctual, muscle-memory-based set of EPs), it’s possible that one of your first thoughts will be “is my RSL connected”? And, if so, “if I chop this, is my reserve headed directly into this bag of shit as it deploys”? I’ve only personally dealt with this scenario twice. The most recent occurred under a rapidly spinning mal while wearing a (small-ish) wingsuit and flying what most would consider an inappropriate canopy for wingsuit skydiving (my bad, I know). And while my canopy choice may have been shameful, I’m not ashamed to say that this experience had my heart rate pounding…but not because of the malfunction. And not even because of the violent spinning and inevitable disorientation. I quickly realized that I hadn’t disconnected my RSL – which I typically do when flying my wingsuit – and was afraid that if I employed my standard emergency procedures my main and my reserve were about to get really friendly with one-another. Luckily, that didn’t happen, and I lived to fly another day (under a much safer and more suitable wing I might add). However, since that experience, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing the use of RSLs and Skyhooks with jumpers of all ages and disciplines, wherever I fly. And while there is no debate that both RSL and Skyhook technology save invaluable time and altitude in many malfunction situations – and there is ample data available to prove just that – their use remains a polarizing issue, with certain skydiving disciplines disproportionately biased for, or against, the use of these now-standard safety features. If you don’t believe me (or perhaps had never given it much thought) take a look around the next time you’re at a big dz and take note of who’s using RSLs and who isn’t…and what type of flying it seems like they’re doing. You may be surprised at what you observe. Or, if you’re even braver, try bringing it up around the campfire or at the bar after a few post-jump beverages. Warning: be prepared for the shit-storm you may have just lit. At any rate, to better present both sides of this debate, I asked a few friends to share their views and their own reasoning as to why they choose to use, or shun, RSLs and Skyhooks. What follows is a series of brief quotes and explanations from these conversations. Justin Price – Justin is a PD Factory Team member, a Flight 1 instructor, and a world-class canopy pilot who competes at the pinnacle of the sport. JP: “I think the Skyhook and RSL are great backup devices for the everyday skydiver. However, if you are jumping a highly loaded canopy (2.8 range or higher) having a skyhook could lead to some unforeseen malfunctions. I don't believe the manufacturers have done any real testing with canopies loaded this much having spinning malfunctions with the Skyhook. I have seen 1 skyhook reserve deployment from a spinning canopy loaded around 3.0 where an entanglement could be present.” Image by Mike McGowen Think about the configuration of a skyhook deployment, you have the malfunctioning canopy at the apex attached to the bridle with a free bag, still with the locking stows, on one side of the bridle and the spring loaded pilot chute on the other side. Now as the spinning main is deploying the system there seems to be the possibility of the main spinning violently enough to have the reserve pilot chute wrap underneath the free bag trapping the locking stow from coming out. So until some real testing has been done proving that this is not possible I’m not going to be the first skydiver to have that malfunction while doing hop n pops or if jumping something loaded that high.” Sandy Grillet – Sandy is a very prominent sales rep for UPT, who’s also recognized to be among the best belly organizers in the biz. He has decades in the sport and his skydiving resume speaks for itself. Sandy: “OK - in the last 5 years I lost two really good friends because they had the same thoughts as you. One of them had a spinner out of control and before he could get cutaway hit another jumper under canopy. He ended up cutting away still high enough to get a reserve but not high enough to reactivate his AAD. He pulled just high enough to go-in at line stretch. We believe the body-to-body collision under canopy dazed him enough to slow his reflexes on both the cutaway and the reserve pull. Image by Henrik Csuri The sad thing is that he and I had an hour long conversation about Skyhooks and RSLs 10 days before. The guy he hit was another friend of ours and he is convinced a Skyhook would have saved him. I've lost a lot of friends over the years but that one was tough to wrap my mind around. I truly believe that if more people understood the physics behind what happens during normal cutaways without RSLs - cutaways with normal RSLs and then cutaways with Skyhooks - everyone would use them. As you said, it’s personal preference. I would be happy to have another conversation with you to give my perspective of the physics.” Scotty Bob – Scotty likely needs very little introduction. His exploits in wingsuit BASE are accessible and heavily viewed online by skydivers, BASE jumpers, and whuffos alike. And his current involvement with wingsuit skydive coaching (both as a load organizer, private coach, and now most recently with Squirrel’s ‘Next Level’ program) has him bouncing from one dz to the next – along with his crew of usual suspects – to help raise the next generation of little birdies right. Image by Dan Dupuis Scotty: “They are a great idea, and have definitely added to the safety net, especially for younger jumpers. That being said, their use should not be mandatory due to the ever changing aspects of our sport. The option to be in direct control of one’s emergency procedures from start to finish should be in the hands of each individual jumper, not a blanket rule. I currently do not use an RSL. I want to activate my reserve opening with my reserve handle. Just a personal preference.” Anthony TJ Landgren – TJ is an all-around badass. There is very little at which he doesn’t excel in the worlds of canopy sport and body-flight. He’s an OG swooper, a wingsuit ninja, an elite tunnel coach, and now a highly sought-after XRW guru. TJ: “Over the years a lot of people asked me would I, or have I ever, jumped with an RSL? My answer is yes I have jumped an RSL, but only for 1000 jumps or so. I had an RSL back when I jumped a Sabre. I was told that RSLs are great when you are new in the sport and as an extra safety precaution. Once I started jumping a Stiletto, I was told they can cause more harm than good. Stilettos were the first fully elliptical canopy and they were awesome. The only problem was that if you got line twist it was a bitch to get out of them because the canopy will dive and pick up more speed. I had a really low chop when I had 2000 jumps on a stiletto 135, I was spinning hard once I cut away I needed to get away from the canopy and open my reserve. I was so happy not to have an RSL because two weeks prior to that my friend Cris cut away a stiletto 150 with an RSL and he had 4 line twist on his reserve and barely time to get out of his reserve line twist before hitting the ground. That's when I knew I would never use an RSL ever again. Image by Raymond Adams I believe in pulling a bit higher so that I have more time to deal with a malfunctioning parachute. I feel RSLs and Skyhooks give people false security in pulling low, which I try to avoid. I was told that when dealing with a malfunction: check your altitude, deal with the situation, and always have hard deck that you know you can't fix this malfunctioning parachute and it's time to get rid of it. I have 16 cutaways in over 26,000 jumps and 1 was an RSL save (not by choice). I Believe people that have over 1000 jumps or jump a high performance canopy should really think about whether an RSL is going to help, or if it will only make things worse. I hope this help you to make an educated decision about RSLs and Skyhooks.” Will McCarthy – Will is the closest thing here to an “average” skydiver. Although, having grown up on a dz, and grown into the DZO of my favorite dropzone in Canada (Skydive Gananoque), he’s been around the sport long enough to know and have seen a thing or two. Most days, Will is hucking drogues and/or flying camera, but he’s done it all over the years – from AFFI, to belly big-ways, to wingsuit, to CRW and swooping. Will: “As a DZO and our S&TA;, my reply is always, it depends. For people learning to skydive, including tandem students, I think they're a great legal out, as in "we use every piece of safety equipment available". And if you're going to use an RSL, spend the extra money and get a MARD/Skyhook. For experienced skydivers, I personally feel that the use of an RSL or MARD/Skyhook system unintentionally promotes complacency. Image by Justin Dempsey The number of times I've personally seen an incorrectly routed/assembled RSL leads me to believe that the complacency is getting worse. People are afraid of doing anything to their gear, (assembly or even packing it, in a lot of cases) and a blind faith in the technology increases the risk that when something outside a "normal" malfunction occurs, it won't be handled correctly. I don't use one unless I'm jumping a tandem rig. But we also don't allow them to be used on paid camera slots or CRW jumps, either.” My final thoughts on this reflect much of what was said above. Both of my rigs have an RSL because I like to have the option of using it for specific types of jumping. While I hate to admit it, there are certain jumps where I know that I’m going to be pulling lower than usual – flying my tracking suit solo on a hop-and-pop is one such example. And in situations like that, where I’m under a Sabre 150 and feel pretty confident that it’s not gonna spin-up-on-me or toss-me-around violently, I like the comfort of knowing that if I do have to chop, my RSL will likely save me some valuable altitude. However, when I slap on the big wingsuit, I feel far less comfortable having the RSL connected. In that instance, I make sure to disconnect it and secure it (safely and correctly) to the cable housing. Also, as TJ similarly pointed out, I’ll be deliberately pulling higher on big wingsuit flights so that I have ample altitude to deal with, and separate myself from, any malfunctions that might arise. Hopefully reading this will have given you cause to consider where you’re at in your own jumping – taking into account an honest self-assessment of your level of skills and experience – but also your specific discipline(s) of choice and, thus, what makes the most sense for you. To borrow a mantra from wingsuit BASE, a safe-bet for many styles of jumping is fly fast and pull high. If you can abide by those two tenets, regardless of your choice as to whether or not to use an RSL, you’ll be all-the-better for it. Stay safe folks.
  11. nettenette

    Preventing Camera Snags

    Image by Ralph Turner Remember when getting a camera onto your helmet required power tools, soldering irons, hot knives and makeshift camera mounts? Um--probably not. It wasn’t so long ago, really, that you had to have access to a workshop to get a camera on your head. Back then they were, like, really big, too. And it was obvious that cameras were problems waiting to happen. Those behemoths could--and regularly did--snap the stuffin’ out of the jumpers’ necks, making jumpers literally painfully aware that the camera posed additional safety considerations. With the advent of the GoPro, jumping with a camera started to seem, well, obvious. Just peel off the little sticker on the mount, slap it somewhere on your helmet, clip in the little plastic doohickey and away you go. Set it and forget it! You won’t even know it’s there! ...until it decides to get all uppity and grab a handful of your lines at an inopportune moment, that is. Here are the key questions you oughta be asking yourself before you end up in a spiderweb of your own making. 1. Should I even be jumping this thing? The USPA actually recommends that you be the proud bearer of a C license before you jump a camera, and that you’ve jumped everything else on your person at least 50 times before. If that causes you to make a big, exasperated noise, consider this: your overall bodyflight and canopy skills need to be beyond reproach before you add the risks and distractions of a camera. 2. What am I actually going to do if it all goes pear-shaped? You’ll need to make a decision about what the exact steps you’ll take if part of your system ends up snagged on your camera. Go through the individual components: bridle, pilot chute, lines, etc. Talk to your S&TA; about these details to check your intuition. Perhaps, if your helmet allows, you’ll fit it with a cutaway system so your helmet doesn’t impede your life-saving efforts. That said: Talk to someone who has actually had to use a quick-release chinstrap setup under duress. Yes, it’s great that they exist. No, they are not failsafe. If you don’t install a cutaway system, you’re going to have to be able to get that helmet off your head yourself. This is, suffice it to say, not the easiest thing to do while spinning and plummeting and stuff. If you’re convinced your flimsy-seeming little mount will pop right off when it counts, think again. It seems that, at least when you don’t want them to come off, those GoPro mounts are tougher than they look. (A lot tougher.) 3. What’s it worth to me to buy a safer mount? The free mounts that come with your camera have that one thing going for ‘em: They are, y’know, free. You don’t have to buy anything else. They are gratis. No more exchange of funds involved. Free, however, sometimes isn’t the way to go. As ubiquitous as they have become, the venerable GoPro was not invented for skydiving. Check out the array of sky-specific aftermarket mounts that aim to eliminate that looming snag hazard. Ask the camera flyers you admire what mounts they prefer (and why). 4. Can I anti-snag myself in the absence of after-market parts? If you just don’t see yourself buying an alternative mount, you shouldn’t just throw up your hands and leave it to the fates. You should still make the effort to reduce your snag hazards. The SIM has some advice for industrious DIYers: All edges and potential snag areas should be covered, taped or otherwise protected. Necessary snag points on helmet-mounted cameras should at least face away from the deploying parachute. A pyramid shape of the entire camera mounting system may deflect lines better than an egg shape. Deflectors can help protect areas that can’t be otherwise modified to reduce problems. All gaps between the helmet and equipment, including mounting plates, should be taped or filled (hot glue, etc.). Protrusions, such as camera sights, should be engineered to present the least potential for snags. Ground testing should include dragging a suspension line over the camera assembly to reveal snag points. That last one is key, so I’ve gone ahead and put that sucker in bold. 5. What’s my decision altitude? There is very little in this life that’s more distracting than getting a dangly brake line looped around your helmet camera and whipping into a brutal spin. The wha huh OH CRAP OH NO moment turns into GET IT OFF GET IT OFF GET IT OFF and, before you know it, your dytter is giving you the business. So: it’s a smart idea to bump your deployment altitude up a little big to give you more time to extricate yourself. More variables require more buffer and, make no mistake, that light little fluff of a sports camera is an additional variable to be reckoned with. 6. Is this thing going to put me on the facepalm-inducing-incidents list? ...Because that, at the end of the day, is a more important question than “is it on?”
  12. Image by Keith Creedy C’mon...just how much damage can one little line really do? Actually--lots. When a suspension line gets out-of-place and slides across neighboring nylon, another line, or another skydiver (in a collision scenario), the damage can be catastrophic. The lines connecting your mortal coil to your nylon conveyance are, after all, thin strands of extremely strong material – and, in deployment and flight, they move very, very fast. Line burn is, as you have no doubt extrapolated by now, caused by the generation of heat by friction. The amount of heat a fast-moving line generates is enough to literally melt the canopy – and, under certain circumstances, the line itself. Here are the questions you’ve gotta answer in order to avoid cooking your precious canopy. 1. How melt-resistant are your lines? Both F-111 and ZP nylon melt at 417 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a lower melting point than almost all the common suspension line materials (Dacron®, Vectran® and HMA), which melt when exposed to heat levels of 482-932 degrees. There is, however, one exception: Spectra®. Spectra®, that tender little princess, melts at just 297 degrees. Even if they literally melt a hole in the canopy, all lines but Spectra® will likely survive the incident unscathed. If you have Spectra® lines, however, check them carefully if you discover line burn on your canopy – they are likely sufficiently damaged to require replacement. 2. Is that crease really a crease? Most modern sport canopies used to be made of F-111 nylon. These days, for lots of reasons--from performance to fading mitigation--they’re generally constructed of ZP (zero-porosity) fabric. The behavior of these two materials under stress varies widely. When an F-111 canopy suffers line burn, the damage tends to be localized – often, sufficiently contained to be landable. ZP fabric is not so forgiving: high-speed line burns tend to cause major structural disintegrity. In addition to that, burn damage to ZP fabric can be difficult to identify, often appearing as a simple crease in the fabric – though testing to that crease finds it to have been massively reduced in tensile strength. (For this reason, Performance Designs doesn’t use zero-P fabric in their reserve canopies.) 3. Are you packing for a smacking? According to the United States Parachute Association, incorrect packing is the most common source of line burn. The other cause, of course, is canopy collision – but that is a subject for another article entirely. To reduce your risk: Don’t throw your canopy in the bag. Take a moment to mindfully arrange the lines towards the center of the pack job, making sure that rogue lines aren’t nestled deep in the fabric where they could cause burn. Mind your slider. Keep the slider flush against the slider stops and tucked between the line groups. Not only will this help to mitigate opening shock, it will help to manage the lines as the canopy deploys and keep them from unnecessary intimacy from the neighboring fabric. Clear your stabilizers. The stabilizers (the “ears” of fabric that come down slightly on each lateral side of the canopy) have a tendency to tuck themselves in towards the lines when you’re pro-packing. Make sure they’re clear. 4. Have you already been burned? Look for melting and discoloration. Line-burn damage looks very different than puncture damage (or any other clean cut or rip). Check your lines. If you notice burn damage on your canopy, it means that the nylon most certainly came into contact with your lines. To check lines for burn damage, use your hands more than your eyes. While seared lines often show signs of melting at the burn point, the easiest way to determine damage is by feel: an undamaged line will feel smooth if you pinch it and slide your fingers down, while burned (or otherwise damaged) lines will feel bumpy and rough. Get help. If you notice evidence of line burn – or what you suspect to be line burn – on your canopy or lines, take the damage to your rigger for inspection as soon as possible. Don’t freak out! In many cases, the damage can be repaired simply and economically, with replacement suspension lines and patching. Don’t be a dick. If you notice any damage on a rental (or student) rig, don’t hesitate to point it out to your coach or the rental office, whether or not you believe the damage happened “on your watch.” You’d want the same treatment--and you don’t want to be burning your fellow skydivers. Right?
  13. Let me ask you this: When was the last time that you saw the pilot running down a safety checklist on the jump plane? Photographer: BatCam If you’re paying attention, you certainly have--or at least seen the clipboard stuffed somewhere in the cockpit, lookin’ official. Metal-tube pilots have an actual checklist to run down to confirm the safety of the gear that heaves us all up into the sky. That’s a great idea -- it’s a reasonably complicated system, and a checklist ensures that nothing’s being forgotten. Now: when have you ever seen a nylon pilot with a clipboard and a pen, spinning briskly around in front of a mirror and checking things off? Yeah--never. Even though a wingsuit has lots of little safety details that need to be confirmed before every flight, our before-takeoff checklist exists only in our heads--and it’s significantly more complicated than a standard skydiving gear check. Let’s make that checklist a little easier to remember, hey? A gear check should be a mantra. Here’s the abbreviated checklist to add to your “standard” skydiving gear check: The Four-Three Wingsuit Check 3 Checks 3 Straps 3 Handles 3 Zeroes Here’s what it means. Three Checks This will be familiar to any skydiver, since it’s been a recommendation since the dawn of the sport: you should perform a pre-flight gear check three times. Perform one in the hangar, one before hoppin’ on the plane and one before you exit. Also: Never underestimate the value of another pair of eyeballs during this process. Three Straps Two leg straps and one chest strap are the only things that keep us skydivers from being skyfallers. All wingsuits cover up two-thirds of those vital bits of webbing; some wingsuits (in BASE mode) obscure the chest strap as well*. As you might imagine, fatalities--and many close calls--have resulted. Check them with your eyeballs before you’re zipped in. Some suits fit snugly enough that the straps seem tightened when they’re not (gulp!), and once those straps are out of sight, they can easily slip out of mind. After you’re zipped in, you can check your legs by lifting your shoulders and feeling for the pull of the leg straps. Three Handles Make sure you know exactly where all three of your handles are, and that they’ll be available to you while you’re flying. Your cutaway and reserve handles must be readily accessible and visible to you in flight -- so make sure your suit is fitted and attached in a way that puts those handles on proud display. Switching from BOC to leg pouch? Switching from leg pouch to BOC? Best be damn sure you know which one you’re wearing. Three Zeros Zero Holes When you’re fully zipped in, every zipper on the suit should be zipped and every cable should be properly routed. If a zipper is down, you’re in for a rodeo. Your wingsuit closure zippers aren’t the casual affair at the front of your pants, either, my friends. Check: Are the female and male ends mated properly so that each tooth of the zipper alternates? This is checked at the fitting end of the zipper. If that’s not done properly, you risk losing that wing in flight (or potentially shifting the zipper during deployment, which can cause jamming and possible damage). Eminent wingsuit athlete and coach Matt Blank has additional advice. “I have my students zip their arms all the way closed,” he explains, “Then touch their handles and then open both arm zippers. This insures that the clothing they have on under their suit does not inhibit the student from reaching his or her handles--or is a risk for being caught in zippers if they need to rapidly unzip after deployment.” Look at your pressure zippers, too. Are the pressure relief zippers in the appropriate place for the flight, and symmetrical from arm to arm? For beginner flight, we quite often unzip the pressure zippers, which naturally comes at a cost to performance. As we advance in the sport, we may zip them partially closed or closed all the way. In either case, check for symmetry. If one arm is zipped differently than the opposite, the suit will have an asymmetric inflation--causing an unbalanced flight. Image submitted by bruno.ferrazza Zero Dangles Check for dangly anything: cables, webbing, half-stowed pilot chutes, camera bits, etc. As a rule, dangly bits are bad. Oh. and another thing: Never disconnect your RSL for wingsuit jumps. Take it from Richard Webb, one of the discipline’s most experienced and respected athletes (as well as the founder of the science-forward, no-nonsense human flight information source Top Gun BASE). “I've been saved by an RSL when my reserve pillow got sucked into my wingsuit on a spinning malfunction,” Webb explains. “It literally saved my life. I didn't have an AAD at the time. Now, I will never wingsuit without an RSL. Ever. I strongly endorse RSL use for all wingsuit ops. The data is conclusive. Even on spinning malfunctions on tiny cross-braced canopies, RSLs and Skyhooks work remarkably well at getting you under an inflated reserve safely with minimal line twists.” Zero on Your Altitude Indicators Make sure your AAD is on (and reads zero), as well as your other altitude indicators -- and that you can see your visual alti while you’re in flight mode. If you wingsuit with an AAD, you need to know this: most AADs will not fire at even modest wingsuit speeds. That said, they have saved wingsuit pilots who got little-bunny-foo-food on the way down, so don’t let that dissuade you from turning yours on. The Rest of the Recipe A good gear check requires that you know your gear. As a wingsuit pilot, it falls on you to become intimately familiar with the design, operation and function of the suit you’re whizzing around in. If you’re checking your flocking buddy and you’re not familiar with his/her particular equipment, ask. (If your buddy doesn’t seem to know what the hell he/she is wearing, take that as a warning.) Allow your intuition some room to breathe, here. Check for a comfortable range of motion, that the configuration makes sense to you and that you feel good in the suit. You can rest assured that if you don’t feel good in the suit, you’re not going to have a good time. *Sound confusing? Yeah. Well. It is. Wingsuit design varies widely by brand and model--sometimes, with some manufacturers, even within the model. Wingsuits are often built to be configured differently, depending on the jump specs, the container design, pilot preference and--I dunno--current mood. You are likely going to have questions. Ask them of your mentors and the manufacturer of your suit.
  14. Image by Lukasz Szymanski Paul Iglin has been brokering used skydiving gear for more than a decade. He’s seen it all. He has definitely seen your kind before, and wants you to know a few things about the buying process, so you don’t make the same mistakes he’s seen over – and over – and over. I asked him what people need to know about buying used skydiving gear when they begin the process, and he had plenty of sage advice to share. Here’s what he has to say about it. 1. Curb your enthusiasm. “Your job as a buyer is to get the right gear at the right time and at the right point in your skydiving career. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Every once in a while I have had people contact me who have not actually started skydiving yet. It is very rare, but it happens. They are clueless – and they are dangerous to themselves from a financial standpoint, because they have no idea what they’re buying. I tell them to go to somebody else; I won’t sell them gear. Before you start shopping for gear, you need to know what you are shopping for. So, if you don’t: Stop right there. Good shape, good brand, good used gear at the right price: Make no mistake; that’s hard to find. In skydiving gear, the supply-and-demand curve is really messed up. There’s very little supply and very high demand. It’s also seasonal. Come March and April, everybody rushes to find gear, and then demand stays strong all the way through end of the season around September. Try to shop outside that time frame if you can.” 2. Don’t trust your friends. “Man, people get their advice from some terrible sources. A lot of the time, they’ll just go to their friends. But when you’re a new jumper, most likely your friends are also newer jumpers who basically don’t know jack****. Their understanding is very, very narrow; they have blinders on. Like: they bought themselves a brand-new Infinity rig with a brand-new Optimum with a brand-new Sabre 2, and it works for them, so that’s what they tell their friends to get. Now, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the gear they’re recommending is the worst. It just means that these people don’t have a statistically relevant sample, so their opinion doesn’t really count for anything. And they always tell whoever’s asking that ‘this is the best,’ as opposed to making the correct statement: ‘This is the one I have, and it works well for me.’” 3. Do your homework. “All of this ties into the fact that people often just don’t do proper research. How do you do proper research? Well, whenever people ask me this question, I tell them this: Look at the gear as tier A, B and C as far as manufacturers, quality and pricing. I’m going to go ahead and throw some manufacturers’ names out there. You have your tier-A manufacturers: your Vectors; your Javelins; your Mirages; your Infinities. All those guys have been around for a long time. There are no questions about quality. They are very reputable. All the options are available. Then you have your tier-Bs: Icons, Wings, Perigees, whatever Dolphin became and a whole lot of other brands that are either obscure or very localized to another continent or a particular country. Avoid the latter if you’re a new jumper, because you don’t know what the **** you’re doing. You may have somebody try to sell you another brand that’s technically TSO’d, but you’re really going to suffer when you try to resell. You’ll have a hard time finding replacement parts if you are outside of the country of manufacture – and you’re going to get killed on shipping, and support is going to be pretty crappy. Be aware. Your can ask any rigger what the tier-C manufacturer is. They’ll tell you.” 4. Make peace with your pants size. “One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is being a over-optimistic about their weight. It happens a lot, because it’s usually people who are just slightly overweight that make the biggest mistakes. For example: a 5’10”, 180-pound person says, ‘I am going to be exiting at 210 pounds, so I should get a 210, But I’m going to work out and lose weight, so I’m going to go with a 190.’ I immediately tell them not to shop for the future. You shop for right now. If you need a 210 based on your current body weight, for chrissakes get a 210. Because in my experience -- and this is 15 years of skydiving speaking -- it is very unlikely that you will actually get to that goal weight. Sorry. It is possible, sure, but nobody has ever gotten hurt because their canopy was bigger rather than smaller. Don’t be stupid about it.” 5. Then add to that number. More than you think. “The other problem that I see a lot of people early on in their careers -- and a lot of times even as they become experienced skydivers with a couple of hundred jumps -- is that people don’t account for exit weight. People add a couple of pounds and call it a day, and that’s completely wrong. You step out of the shower, and that’s your body weight. Then you put on your clothes. You put on your boots. You put on your rig. You put on your helmet and whatever suit you wear and your cameras and whatever else you’re jumping with. Then you step on the scale, and that’s your exit weight. You know all that already. Even knowing that, a lot of people don’t bother with the scale and egregiously underestimate what their rig weighs. A lot of people estimate 15 pounds for gear. Seriously?! What the **** are you talking about? You are going to put on 10 pounds just of clothing and boots alone. Then a canopy weighs about eight pounds. Your container weighs 8-12 pounds, depending on the amount of hardware. Your reserve? About six pounds. Your AAD, even, weighs six ounces. Your jumpsuit is going to add another couple of pounds. None of that stuff is magically weightless. Add 30 pounds for your gear. Maybe more. Don’t underestimate! You’re only hurting yourself.” 6. Consult the chart. “The loading chart that I share with my customers – Brian Germain’s chart -- is the easiest one that I think is out there. I’m not necessarily saying it is the best one; I just think it’s the easiest to grasp. What he says is this: If you have 100 jumps or less, you should load one-to-one or less. For every 100 jumps, increase your wing loading by .1. That means that if you have 300 jumps, there is no reason you shouldn’t be jumping the 1.3 wing loading. Of course, you have caveats. People who jump at high-altitude dropzones and people who jump in very windy areas will need to choose different gear than people who jump at sea level, and so on and so forth. If you live in Colorado, you should probably jump a bigger canopy, because the air is thinner. If you jump where it’s really, really windy, you may get away with a slightly smaller canopy because you really do need the speed. Also, keep your head. “If you get a 170, you weigh 210 pounds and you’re 50 jumps into the sport, you are not doing anybody any favors. You may survive. You may not. But I certainly won’t be the person selling you a 170-square-foot canopy.” In general, please: Don’t go into it blind. Ask very experienced people for advice. And if you come to me as a buyer, expect me to tell it like it is. Because I will.”
  15. nettenette

    A Great Suit Fit By The Numbers

    No-Punches-Pulled Advice From A Long-Time Suit Dealer Image by Joel Strickland You might think twice--or three times, or never--about dropping many hundreds of dollars on a dapper tuxedo. A skydiving suit, however? Shut up and take my money, dear manufacturer. Just make sure it’s in my colors and that the sponsor logos are right. When you’re slinging that kind of cash around, the last thing you want is for the object of your ardent longing to show up too loose, too tight, too short, or too long--and, due to a bafflingly high instance of improper measuring on the part of the buyer, that happens all the time. Take it from Joel Strickland, double British gold medalist (in both freestyle and freefly) and dealer for the venerable Vertical Suits. He’s been wrapping innocent skydivers in measuring tape for some years now, and he has excellent advice for the un- (or under-) initiated. 1. Relax. “Measuring is not as difficult as people think it is,” Strickland soothes, “So, if you follow a few simple rules, it is pretty straightforward.” In other words: don’t get too nervous about this. 2. Get someone to help. “While it’s technically possible to measure yourself,” Strickland explains, “It is not recommended. There will be some touching. Try not to make it weird.” 3. Make it a dress rehearsal. Strickland advises everyone who comes to him for a fitting to wear what he/she would normally wear under a suit: base layers, thermals, underpants, jeans, whatever’s usually under there. You’ll want that suit to fit comfortably over your usual undergirdings, not strain over a pair of baggy, beloved chinos you didn’t wear to the fitting. 4. Follow the video. “It is difficult to get it wrong if you use the talking pictures,” Strickland says. “We live in the future. Few people are ever more than ten feet from a device that will let you do this. No excuses.” He’s referring specifically to the Vertical Suits fitting video, of course, but similar helping hands are available from other suit manufacturers. 5. Measure twice, cut once. “Always measure twice,” Strickland insists. “Maybe switch hands or stand on the other side and do it the other way around. Perhaps switch the limb being measured. See that the numbers match up.” 6. Don’t tweak. “Suit design has grown into a very precise process using science and maths and brains,” Strickland says. “The manufacturers ask for a lot of measurements for a reason, and the best results come from sticking to the plan. If you mess with them, it can throw out the form of the suit and compromise its awesomeness.” 7. Let the company know about your special needs. If you do require a specific area to be looser--for example, if you wear a brace--reach out to the manufacturer for advice instead of altering your measurements to suit what you think the suit requires. They’ve almost certainly seen your issue before and can give you the best advice. 8. Don’t fudge the numbers. Your measurements now are what counts. “If you want your suit to fit,” Strickland sighs, “Do not adjust anything based the diet you just started or the gym membership you just bought.” 9. Be gentle. “When wielding the tape measure,” he continues, “You should be aiming for tickle, not strangle.” 10. Come as you are. When being measured, stand naturally. “Don’t puff out your chest or suck in your stomach or clench your buttocks or whatever,” Strickland explains. Your suit will feel better, fly better and look better if it fits you as you really are, right now. 11. Look to the experts, if you really want to nail it. The best way to get all of this stuff done is to seek out one of your chosen suit’s stable of official dealers. “In and around all the places where skydiving is popular,” Strickland advises, “There are people who work closely with the company as boots on the ground to help.” These dealers have the benefit of many years of combined experience, as well as a direct line to the manufacturer for questions. They’ve generally tried and tested many different jumpsuits through the years, and can offer horse’s-mouth feedback on any issues or questions you might have. Sniff around at boogies or events--not just under the loudly-logo’d tents, but in the crowds, as well. “They will go on and on,” Strickland assures. “You will wish they would shut up about it after a while.”
  16. nettenette

    How To Show Your Three-Ring System You Care

    Three-ring systems look pretty tough. They’re made of thick, heavy metal, after all – what could possibly go wrong? Bad news: lots. The rings are husky little guys, that’s true. However, they depend on the webbing behind them–and the cutaway cables that fasten them in the ready position–in order for them to work. It behooves you to know when and how to maintain the system. How Sloppily Maintained 3-Ring Systems Can Cause a Bad Day Nylon webbing, the material used to make skydiving (and BASE, for that matter) risers, stiffens over time to conform to the position in which it’s usually stored. Sometimes, they “set” so firmly in that position that the risers can’t flex the backing nylon–and can’t detach from the harness when the jumper engages the cutaway system, especially during a low-drag malfunction (such as a streamer). This, of course, is a very bad thing. The B-Sides You’ve probably gotten used to looking at the little snowmen of your three-rings during your preflight gear checks. Great! How often do you look behind them? The loop that connects the cutaway cable to the three-ring system can get dangerously abraded over time. You should peek at it every time you pack. The Deep Tracks To keep your three-rings in proper working order, the three-rings need to be manually disassembled, the cables checked and the webbing treated to a little massage. For skydivers, this is the stuff of riggers. According to Federal Aviation Regulation Part 65-111, skydivers “must be under the supervision of a rigger when performing any maintenance on a parachute system.” Don’t let your rigger have all the fun, though. Having a hand in the process has the significant benefit of familiarizing you with the operation of the system and increasing your confidence that it’ll be there when you need it. The best advice is to go through these steps every three months, whether or not you’ve been jumping the rig. Check your user’s manual for specific instructions. You can always find this on the manufacturer’s website. Pull the cutaway handle. Set the cutaway and connected cables on a clean surface. (Do not pull the reserve handle – unless you need a repack, of course.) Inspect the Velcro on the cutaway handle and the seating on the harness. You may need to use a stuff brush to “fluff” the Velcro and clean off any adherence-preventing dirt, especially if you jump at a dusty drop zone. Check the ends of each cutaway cable to be sure they haven’t developed any kinks or rough edges. Run a microfiber cloth over each cable. While you do, check for smoothness. Disassemble the risers. Carefully check each riser for signs of wear. Look especially carefully at the white loop that “locks” the cutaway cable to the three-ring system. (You should be checking this loop each time you pack the rig, but this process gives you a better, closer look.) Twist and flex the webbing of each riser near the ring system. You can safely be vigorous. You’ll likely feel the problem-causing stiffness as you do this. Reassemble the system. Refer to your user’s manual to ensure you’ve done it correctly. Before your next jump, have an experienced jumper or a rigger confirm that the system is correctly reassembled. Enjoy a little more gear confidence, dear reader. You’ve earned it.
  17. nettenette

    How To Clean Your Container

    A Spa Day For Your Skydiving Rig Image by Andrey Veselov Charlie Chaplin has nothing on you. That landing was nothing less than *art*. You managed to use that doofus downwind setup to milk every last opportunity for comedy out of your return to earth. You nailed the exaggerated “uh-oh” expression. You executed the perfect shortbus flare. You transitioned majestically from a banana-peel touchdown to a ten-foot skid through the one spot of mud in the landing area. You, my friend, are awesome. Now, you’re going to have a nice laundry day. Here’s how. Wait for it. If you’ve managed to drag your beautiful gear through the mud, you’re going to have to stare at it in shame for a while before you make a move. Wait for it to dry completely -- which may take a couple of days -- then scrub off what you can with a dry brush. Take it apart. Remove both canopies from the rig. (Do this after performing a practice reserve deployment -- as you always do before a repack, right?) Remove your AAD from the rig. Remove all hardware: reserve handles, risers, RSL, hook knife, etc. If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, ask for help from a rigger. Treat your rig like a dog. ...or, at least, like you’re administering a doggie bathtime. Gather a big plastic tub, gentle detergent (such as Woolite or castile soap) and a nylon scrub brush. Fill the tub about halfway with lukewarm -- not hot -- water. Dunk your empty rig and agitate it in the soapy water, but don’t let it sit and soak. After the container is fully saturated, go at it with your scrubber. Repeat the dunk-and-shake cycle. Once your rig is good and scrubbed, empty the tub and refill it with soapless, lukewarm water. Dunk and dunk and dunk, emptying and refilling the tub as necessary, until not even the tiniest hint of soap remains. (Dried-on soap is a filth magnet.) ...Or treat your rig like fine lingerie. You can machine-wash a rig, but you’d better make sure you act like it’s a set of ridiculously fancy, spendy underthings. (Ridiculously fancy, spendy underthings with hip rings, of course, that need to be strapped up with athletic tape to keep them from denting the inside of your machine…) Put your empty, hardwareless, Velcro-mated rig in a mesh laundry bag and run it with gentle detergent on the delicate cycle. String it up. Hang your wet skydiving container in a dry place that isn’t exposed to direct sunlight. As you get it set up, straighten every flap and fold to prevent wrinkles from locking in. Keep tabs untucked. If your rig has Cadmium hardware, you’ll need to do a thorough hand-drying pass with a towel at the very beginning to prevent rust. Stop time. Okay. You can’t stop time. You can, however, encourage the time between cleanings to maybe slow down a little bit. After your rig is spotlessly, white-glove-test-ready, make-your-mama-proud clean -- and as dry as the beer truck at the end of the Skydive Arizona Christmas Boogie -- you can apply a single coating of fabric protection, such as Scotchgard, to shield it against redirtying. Check the manufacturer’s recommendation for application before you get all spray-happy. That said, the general advice is to apply three whisper-light coats of protectant, making sure each coat is dry before applying a new one. Make sure you do this in a well-ventilated area (lest you waterproof your lungs). Get out, damned spot. Keep a baggie of stain-removing wipes in your skydiving gear kit. They’re a lifesaver for little oopsies. Take a canopy course. ...or start working at a laundromat to save money. Your call, Charlie.
  18. Image by Juan Mayer When are you going to be alone in the sky with a useless bag of laundry and two little handles? If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s going to. Sure, there are skydivers with thousands of jumps who have never had to make alternate nylon plans. But don’t be fooled: your first reserve ride is not a question of “if.” It’s a question of “when.” If you don’t feel ready, you’re not alone. Here are ten proven ways to boost your confidence and safety. 1.Stay current Long lapses between jumps are dangerous. Time on the ground dulls skills, sharpens apprehensions and weighs down your jump with the clammy fog of unfamiliarity. Most importantly, it unravels the easy muscle memory you’ve spent so much time and effort to develop -- and muscle memory is of primary importance in the event of a reserve ride. Especially at the beginning of your skydiving career, you’ve got to make the effort to jump at least every couple of weeks. 2. Give ‘er a spin Do yourself a favor and deploy your reserve for every repack. You’ll learn the unique direction of pull for your gear, and you’ll be able to feel out the force you’ll need to exert. If your rigger watches the process, he/she can keep an eye on the deployment and identify potential problems. (Even if you have deployed your own reserve, a repack is an unwasteable drill opportunity for a refresher.) 3. Just touch your stupid handles, Mr. Bigshot, OK? Sheesh Touch your handles in sequence before you enter the plane. It is not beneath you. Being blasé about basic safety doesn’t make you more awesome -- it just makes you more blasé. While you’re at it, check that your reserve handle is seated (so you don’t end up on a reserve ride without the yeehaw fun of a malfunctioning main). 4. Don’t overthink it It’s simple, really. If you believe that your main is unlandable, you’re going to have a reserve ride. Sure -- lots of skydivers have landed under reserves only to realize in hindsight that they could have solved the problem. However, lots of skydivers have gone in while striving to sort out malfunctions that did not improve. If those are the choices, which would you rather be? 5. Get your priorities straight Do not worry about stability. This is the very least of your problems. Worry about altitude. cutaway) handle no lower than 1,000 feet. Initiating a reserve ride below 1,000 feet isn’t always deadly, but it has an unnerving tendency to be. Don’t take the chance. 6. Hold on tight After you pull your handles out completely, hold on to ‘em. You’ll save some money, and you’ll save face when you land. 7. Make sure it’s out This is kinda your last shot at nylon, so you’ll want to be sure it’s working. Arch and look over your shoulder for the reserve pilot chute. Reserves deploy fast, so this head position is gonna butter your bread – but if the pilot chute is somehow caught in your burble, this should either shake it loose or make it clear to you that you need to do some burble intervention, stat. 8. Don’t chase after your ex(-parachute) I’m going to go out on a limb here and tell you not try to run after it and grab it in the air. (People have, y’know, died doing that.) You broke up with each other for a reason, after all; you can reconcile after everybody’s had a little time to cool down. Instead, get your head together and use landmarks to identify where the gear is headed. Then take a deep breath, leave it to the fates, and work on navigating your meat to a safe landing. 9. Tell the peanut gallery to sit and spin When you land a reserve, you’re going to be the talk of the DZ (for about five minutes, usually). During that five minutes – longer, if the loads are turning slowly – you’ll probably be approached by a receiving line of would-be mentors. They’re gonna question your malfunction, and they’re gonna be eager to discuss your decision to cut away. My advice: speak to your trusted mentors and co-jumpers about your little adventure in private, and tell the rest to go suck an egg. You were there. They were not. When you need to save your life in the sky, you are absolutely alone. In the entire world, there exists only you and two handles. Your cutaway is your business. 10. Go to the liquor store Buy a bottle of posh booze for the rigger who packed the reserve you rode. It’s tradition.
  19. Image by Ralph Turner You probably have one meaningful interaction with your AAD: you chase the red light. Poke, poke, poke, watch. ...Zero. Okay. Off you go. Just a quick note, friend: you might want to poke a little deeper. According to the USPA, there have been no less than nine fatalities related to AAD fires at designated firing altitudes that did not result in fully inflated canopies before impact. The point is that these guys chased the red light just fine, but there was likely a difference between what the AAD was told to do and the actual conditions of the jump. A couple hundred extra feet could have made the difference between nine annoying repacks and nine funerals. Food for thought, y’know. If your equipment is new-ish, your AAD probably has a feature that allows you to change its activation altitude. It’s good to know that feature exists, and it’s good to know how it works -- because it helps you understand that mysterious little whatsit in your rig a little better when you do. If you’re ready to explore, do a little introspection first. Here are the important questions to ask yourself before you change the activation altitude on your AAD: 1.Do you want this to be forever, or just-for-now? Most currently manufactured automatic activation devices let you offset the device’s activation altitude to allow for a one-time altitude differential between takeoff and landing area. This will be a factor for you only if you’re making a single wahoo at a dropzone with a significant altitude differential between takeoff and LZ -- or if you’re doing a demo jump with an offset. This method resets when the device turns off. If you need a change that sticks around a little longer, don’t despair: both the Cypres 2 and Vigil 2+ have a way to increase the activation altitude until you change it back again. Your owner’s manual will explain how to do this. 2. What’s the difference? The Cypres 2 adjusts in increments of 100 feet, from 750 up to 1,650. The Vigil adjusts in 150-foot increments. For example, if you have a Cypres you’ll add increments +100 feet for a higher landing zone compared to the take-off and increments of -100 feet for a lower landing zone. 3. When’s it going to give the all-clear? When you make a positive altitude correction, the AAD will still disarm at its standard number of feet above the ground zero reference -- the exact same altitude as it does when no altitude correction is set. When a negative altitude correction is applied, however, it will disarm at its standard number of feet above the preset negative altitude correction -- the new landing zone. 4. How forgetful are you? If you’re the type of person to run into sliding glass doors at full clip, wear your shirt inside-out all day and/or infuriate your spouse/partner/lover by brainfarting every single anniversary, beware: Adjusting the activation altitude on your AAD might not be the best idea for total space cadets. To avoid a two-out, you’re going to need to remember that setting and ensure that you’ve got an open, functional main no lower than 1000 feet above it. Remember: a slow opening messes with that margin. Think about density altitude, and think about your packing choices. Another liability for nutty professors: turning on your AAD in the landing area of one dropzone and driving to another dropzone with a different altitude without resetting the AAD. (Work out how much of a kerfuffle that could be.) Finally, balance your know-how with your need. Bryan Burke, Skydive Arizona S&TA; (and über-adventuring renaissance man) has this to say about it: “I’m willing to bet that, for most skydivers, messing around with an AAD is likely to cause more problems than it’s going to solve.” 5. Which way are you pointing your belly button? You may be surprised to know that your body position directly affects your AAD’s activation altitude. AADs work using the metrics of measured air pressure and measured time. Those two parameters allow the little guy to calculate your pretty-much-exact altitude (±3 feet or so) at any given moment as a function of the registered air pressure, as well as your vertical speed related to a pressure variation within a certain period of time. But wait! Does that air pressure change depending on where your body has oriented that little AAD? Why, yes. Yes it does, smartypants. A belly position puts your AAD in a burble. This changes the atmospheric air pressure registered by your AAD by up to 10 millibars. Interestingly, that works out to a difference of ±260 feet. In an AAD activation scenario, 260 feet is y’know kindof a big deal. The AAD senses that the belly-to-earth jumper is higher than they actually are -- kinda like a policeman working the exit road of a music festival. Be aware. 6. Why do you even have this little gadget? If you have an AAD in order to make your skydiving life painlessly safer, you need to know that it’s not the foolproof set-it-and-forget-it piece of furniture you might think it is. You put so much faith in that thing that you really ought to get to know it a little better. There will, after all, likely be a fatality number ten...and it doesn’t have to be you.
  20. The first tracking suit was a humble thing indeed. Invented by pioneers of the tracking discipline in the unforgiving terrain atop Norway’s bigwall exits, the first suits were resourceful repurposings of the stuff they already had on-hand – the rain gear required by Norway’s reliably inclement weather, and the cigarettes they used to while away the time as they waited for it to pass. The “big idea” was simple: increase a tracker’s surface area, and he/she can use it to fly longer, flatter, faster and farther from the danger posed by the solid object behind him. With this in mind, someone -- no one quite remembers who -- burned cigarette holes in their waterproofs, positing that enough air would enter the holes to afford meaningful inflation. Somewhat miraculously, it worked. The rest, as they say, is history. The first purpose-built version, the original Phoenix Fly tracking suit, was introduced in 2004. Until recently, it has seen little serious competition: suit tracking was born by and for the BASE environment, and non-BASE-jumpers had little interest in it outside of its contested, folk-wisdomy usefulness as a stepping stone to wingsuiting. The past year has changed everything. Skydiving and BASE have both seen an unprecedented boom in participating athletes -- as well as a notable rise in tracking as a specialization. Whether the boom owes to a sharp increase in wingsuit-related incidents or to a renewed interest in tracking subdisciplines such as angle flying is unclear, but the empirical evidence speaks for itself. In any case, suit manufacturers have responded with an explosion of new technologies and designs. The new range aims for lighting-fast inflation, foolproof pressurization, optimized lift-drag ratios and multi-orientational usability. In a couple of cases, the designs even introduce wingsuitesque one-piece construction into the mix. I five brand-new suits through their paces in both the BASE and skydiving environments to find out which provide an optimum performance in different circumstances. Here’s the rundown on my findings.* *You will note that I am one human, and that, while I have quite a lot of time in tracking suits, I am not any kind of god, savant or superwoman. Your experience may vary from mine. Heck, it’s likely to. By Joel Strickland The Suits Phoenix-Fly Power Tracking Suit Currently the most popular tracking suit on the market, Phoenix Fly’s Power Tracking Suit is the more powerful baby brother of Phoenix Fly’s venerable and much-beloved Original Tracking Suit. Along with a bigger general profile, the new suit integrates thicker stiffening fabric, additional gear pockets on the jacket, tougher construction, mesh lining and inlets redesigned to deliver quicker pressurization. Aerialists love its forgiving transitions, and the power zone is relatively easy for lower-experience trackers to find (though Phoenix-Fly suggests a minimum of 120 jumps on the Original Tracking Suit before putting on the Power). I found the Power Tracking Suit to be instantly comfortable, and its construction to be thoughtful and solid. While the suit doesn’t have the raw power of some of the other new offerings, it’s accessible, predictable and confidence-inspiring – which is probably why so many personal-best tracks have been performed in it. Pressurized Tube 4 The Tube 4’s predecessor, the Tube 3, was a polarizing piece of gear. Trackers either loved or hated it, citing distinct roll-and-yaw wiggliness and unpredictability during the transition. In response, Pressurized redesigned the Tube 4 from the ground up. Features include inflation-staging leg inlets, zipper safeties and a thicker arm profile. Long, strong stiffeners at the front of the calf effectively smooth the leg profile. Backfly inlets are available (though not standard), and zippers aside the leg open up a sizeable extension to the leg volume. Given my previous experience with the Tube 3, I was expecting a rodeo when I tested the new suit in the BASE environment. I was shocked by the new suit’s ease of use: it was a baby-smooth ride from the get-go. Though it took a bit of trial-and-error to find the power zone, the Tube 4’s transition was among the smoothest I’d ever experienced. I had a couple of nagging issues with the Tube 4’s construction. For one, I found the vent-stiffening material easily malforms – and quickly “learns” the new shape – when the suit is folded for packing. (Overnight storage on a wide-shouldered hanger reduces the problem, but doesn’t solve it; after all, the suit has to go into a stash bag sometime.) Beyond that, I was constantly fighting my suit’s sticky zippers. Tony Suits Masai There’s no denying that the Tony Masai, wingsuit manufacturer TonySuits’ first tracking offering, is a head-turner. I was the subject of several baffled stares as I marched across Skydive Empuriabrava in it – probably, because the one-piece Masai looks neither like a tracking suit nor a wingsuit but an idiosyncratic combination of both. Where other tracking suits are distinctly baggy, aiming to inflate across the entire body, the central body of the Masai is unusually trim. This decidedly anomalous design inflates via both front and back inlets on a set of tubular fabric “rails” that run from armpit to ankle and down the inseams. The jumper’s rig zips in just like a wingsuit. The Masai comes standard with Cordura booties, stealth-rubber soles, backfly inlets and a humorously roomy zippered pocket positioned right on the seat. When I first geared up in the Masai, I was worried about inflation. In other, far looser suits, a slight bend in the limbs doesn’t noticeably deform the inflating portion of the suit; on the Masai, however, slight changes in the articulation of legs and arms pulled the fabric unnervingly taut to the body. When I jumped it, however, my worries were instantly dispelled. While the Masai tended to misbehave in a steep dive, the suit kept its inflation admirably through the rest of the test maneuvers, achieved solid marks for distance and delivered the crispest transition to and from backfly of any tested suit. S-Fly Cruise Fly Your Body’s first addition to the field, the Cruise, is getting a lot of attention, and not just because it’s the suit that Fred Fugen and Vince Reffet used for their record-breaking freefly-tracking jump from the Burj Dubai. The Cruise is massive, it’s intelligently designed, and it’s delivering eyebrow-raising results from trackers with low jump numbers. The suit features several industry-first advancements. Internal airlocks maintain pressurization. Thumbloops on both sides (so they remain available whether you track with palms up or down) keep the arm stable. An integrated deflector improves airflow around the jumper’s rig. The Cruise comes standard with both front and back inlets and removable booties (as well as the option to order rubber with a BASE tread). The wide, one-piece design inflates centrally -- very differently from a two-piece design, which is necessary cinched around the waist. (Jumpers can expect this to result in yaw instability during the first few jumps.) The Cruise’s optimal flying technique moves closer to that of a wingsuit than a born-and-bred tracking suit, and it’s a lot for a newer jumper to handle. However, an athlete with some experience -- and the time and willingness to put a few skydives on the suit -- will likely have the same take-away I did: something akin to jaw-on-the-floor disbelief. Squirrel Sumo The Squirrel Sumo is aptly named: it’s a very burly suit. It’s so voluminous, in fact, that it’s likely to be mistaken for a small wingsuit in a stash bag. The Sumo comes standard with a bevy of thoughtful details: loads of oversized, difficult-to-deform Mylar inlets, a close-fitting collar and cuffs to prevent air escape, three Mylar-reinforced toe tension settings, Cordura reinforcements and brawny industrial-grade zippers. Uniquely, Squirrel’s suit also includes Velcro-fastened stabilizers on the inner leg to prevent its abundance of fabric from jostling out of position on exit. All that fabric, flown correctly, delivers rocketship power. My first skydives on the Sumo were gainers from the back of a military Casa over the open ocean off the coast of Panama, and the suit ferried me back to the island landing area with room to spare. I was pleased to see that it was racking up similar distances to smaller flocking wingsuits without much dialing-in. In full flight, the Sumo felt rock-solid. As with any other large suit – especially one that inflates as quickly and sizeably as the Sumo – BASE exits proved a trickier proposition, though the field-leading start speed is well worth the effort to workshop. Note: Squirrel purpose-built the Sumo to maintain solid internal pressure in order to outfly aggressive exits in the BASE environment. Because of that laser focus, you won’t find backfly inlets on the Squirrel. [Originally published in Skydive Dubai’s now-defunct Dropzone Magazine, Fall 2014]
  21. admin

    Why Your Canopy Is Slapping You Around

    Image by Lukasz Szymanski Ah, your canopy. When you first got together, everything was great. A few tussles over crispy, slippery fabric were the biggest issues you two had. You packed carefully -- lovingly, even -- or you were at least habitually spying on your packer. And after freefall, it was a joy to reach for that pilot chute. Now, things are horribly, horribly different. What happened? Maybe it’s because you stopped paying attention -- or maybe because you’re both getting older -- but something has changed. There have been some bad moments. Violent moments, even. There was that time that you landed from a jump with a three-ring mark and a stunned expression on your face. Your friends asked what happened to you. You started to wonder if it’s time to say goodbye for good. Don’t thumbtack that “for sale” sign to the corkboard too quickly, friend. You can save this relationship. Here’s how. 1. Wrap your head around the dynamics involved. When a ram-air canopy opens in freefall, the dynamics of that opening are controlled by two processes: cell inflation (air pressurizing the airfoil through the nose inlets) and bottom-skin spreading (the side-to-side spreading action that takes place as relative wind rushes against the bottom of the canopy). You might not be aware of how separate these processes are, but they are quite distinct. Even without cell inflation, bottom-skin spreading is such an efficient phenomenon that a canopy can open entirely by this method, before the cells have a chance to inflate and pressurize. Since the force of that kind of opening is brutal enough to be quite literally fatal, square skydiving canopy designers invented a system to put on the all-important brakes -- the humble slider. That funny little square has a single function: to sync up bottom-skin spreading with cell inflation. A correctly packed slider stays at the very top of the lines during the early part of inflation, kept there by the same forces that would smack the canopy open with bottom-skin inflation. 2. Help your slider help you. Make quartering your slider the most important part of your pack job. Be thorough about it. Draw the folds evenly between each of the four line groups, then tug the center of the slider straight down to settle the grommets snugly against the stops. A slider that’s sorted out in this way is a slider that is most likely to present itself correctly to the relative wind (and therefore do its job optimally). 3. Avoid getting dumped. Optimizing your slider is only the first step in the process. The second, as you might imagine, has to do with your tangled handfuls of marionette strings. Incorrect line stows can release prematurely -- or, colloquially, “dump” -- resulting in a configuration wherein the canopy inflates before line stretch. When the lines catch up to the nylon, the jumper gets one heckuva headbanger. (Picture a Great Dane running at full tilt to the end of a long, long leash.) 4. Keep the right amount of pressure on. It should take roughly 8 to 12 pounds of pressure to pull your lines from the stows. If you’ve gotten complacent (or too tired to be trusted), you’re probably going to pay for it. 5. Use the rule of thumb. The loops of line on the outside of each rubber band stow (technically called “bights”) should be approximately two inches long. If that’s longer than you’re used to, that’s normal -- but know that right-sized bights keep about a quarter of the stowed line on the outside of the stow, minimizing the lines’ ability to dump. Luckily, two inches is about the size of the average human thumb, so you have a ready reference when you’re on the packing mat. If you happen to have stowless gear, your line dump issues are probably related to uneven folding of the lines (or lazy bag closure). The same pressure principle applies to the closing bands on your system: close the bag with 8-12 pounds of pressure, equal on each side. 6. Get professional help. If you go through all those steps and you’re still not on good terms with your canopy, look elsewhere for guidance. Take your canopy to a rigger for inspection. You may discover a deeper problem -- and he/she might just be able to fix it right up. (There’s no shame in a little counseling, after all. Love is worth it.)
  22. Image by Trigger Hey, new skydiver! Congratulations. That A-license stamp looks great in the middle of your forehead. Very flattering. Now that you’re in the fold, do yourself a favor: don't dally at the rental counter. It’s an investment (and somewhat counterintuitive) but trust me: you will find it much more cost-effective to buy your first set of gear than to keep renting, but If this is your first set of skydiving gear, you should buy used -- and spend the money you save on jumping. Here’s how to do it right. How to Buy a Used Reserve Parachute Get comfortable with the idea. Picking up a used reserve -- if it’s in spotless shape -- is a smart place to save a lot of cash. Riggers tend to agree that the cost of a brand-new reserve isn’t justified. Choose a damage-free reserve -- no patches, please -- with less than ten rides. Less than five is better. If your reserve is old enough to vote, it’s too old to jump. How to Choose a Used Main Canopy Look for a main with as few jumps on it as you can afford. Newer canopies fly better -- and, importantly, flare better -- than older canopies, because the passing seasons make the fabric more porous. As a rule, you can expect a harder landing from an older canopy. It can be tricky, but your best move is to choose a used main with its original line set. Even honest resellers don’t often know for certain the canopy’s actual jump numbers, and the condition of the line set is an inspecting rigger’s best clue. Find out where your canopy used to live. If it was jumped seasonally at grassy drop zones, it’ll be in much better condition than a year-round desert dropzone. That silicate desert dust chews up the fabric’s protective coating. Beware of beach DZs, too: seawater landings can result in very serious, sneaky damage. Be picky. Do your best to find an undamaged main canopy -- even one that’s been meticulously repaired. These are hard enough to resell that it’s rarely worth the up-front savings. Image by Halldor92572 How to Buy a Used Harness/Container System Do not look for a container first. There are so many reasons why this is the case. You must know the exact sizes of both of your canopies before you can choose a harness/container to fit them. Have a rigger measure your body. Don’t go it alone. Harnesses are sized and carefully proportioned to both height and weight, and you’ll save yourself time by eliminating the guesswork. Ask the seller for the serial number. Then contact the manufacturer with your sizes. Ask the rep whether it’s a good fit for your body and canopies. Impossible to fit? Don’t worry. As you’ve undoubtedly noticed by now, non-standard body types are not uncommon in skydiving. However, new A licenses with unique body types sometimes face an uphill battle. Resizing a harness is almost always an option, but it’s can be so expensive that buying simple, new gear may make more sense. If this is you, research the basic, no-bells-and-whistles container systems available: for instance, the Dolphin, the Genera and the Shadow Racer. How to Buy a Used AAD Be sure that the used AAD meets your basic requirements. Determine that the AAD on offer is within its service life, has met the proper maintenance schedule and is approved for your container system. (Note that both the Cypres II and the Vigil II are waterproof, but the earlier (I) versions are not. Beach/lake dropzone? You know your answer.) Determine your timeline. When you buy an AAD – whether used or new – you’re paying a fixed cost per year. The quality of the AAD doesn’t change over time within its approved lifespan, so don’t worry about snagging a unit within a couple years of expiration. (Just save your pennies while the time runs out.) Buy new, if you can afford it. AADs are very easy to resell. Purchasing a new one is not a bad choice if you have the cash. General Advice for Buying Used Parachuting Equipment Keep an open mind. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a container that matches all the other criteria and comes in your colors. Accept that fact early. Pay a trusted rigger to conduct a pre-purchase inspection on any used gear you buy. The inspection will run you about $25 (or a matching amount of beer). Ask him or her to write down a list of issues – including potential ones – and the cost to remedy them, as if you’re buying a used car. Trust your instincts. If you don't like any potential component of your new skydiving kit — even one that has been suggested to you by a skydiving friend or a rigger or a boogie rep – do not buy it. You'll never be happy with it, and starting out with gear you dislike will adversely affect your entire skydiving career. Love the gear you’re in, and you’ll be a better skydiver for it.
  23. admin

    How to Buy New Skydiving Gear

    (With The Minimum Hit To Your Credit Rating) You want it. Bad. And you want it your way. In your colors. And nothing’s gonna stop you. If you’ve already done your time at the rental counter (and put some more mileage on a set of used gear, as you must), you’re well within your rights to be ogling the hot new nylon. Custom fit, hotshot technology and all the look-at-me embroidery a jumper could want? Just take my money. You’re no doubt aware that this purchase is going to rival car-buying in the cash outlay -- there’s really no way around it. That said, there are some steps you can take to get the best possible deal on your new skyrig. 1. Use the best brains you know (including yours). Start by asking your mentor’s opinion. Then ask your rigger’s opinion. Then ask your hero’s opinion. Ask the very smartest people you know to make their recommendations before you start the conversation with dealers and factory reps (who are, naturally, highly persuasive folk). There’s a labyrinth of pricey options to consider. Expert advice will help you navigate it without losing your shirt on poshity-posh back pads and tie-dye. You’ll have to be very honest with yourself about your skill level, your height and weight, the discipline you’ll spend the most time practicing, your annual jump numbers and your (realistic) total budget. Spoiler: this is not the fun part. 2. Be a brand snob. Y’know those skydiving gear brands that buy front-fold real estate in all the parachuting association magazines? The ones that always seem to have a pop-up and a smiling face at the major boogies? The ones that place their logos like the tap of a knighting sword on the fine shoulders of the world-champion teams? Those are the brands you want. This might feel a little like selling out to snazzy marketing. It’s not. If you play your cards right, you’ll have plenty of time in your career to experiment with fringe gear; for now, you need what a top-of-the-food-chain manufacturer brings to the table, namely: 1. Well-tested components, created in a well-established factory, and the attendant safety track record. 2. Equipment that’s familiar to any given rigger, thus easier to fix -- with parts that aren’t hard to replace Later on, you’ll have the requisite knowledge and experience to branch into buying specialty equipment, experimenting with less-tested technology and trying out the offerings of lesser-known manufacturers. At this point, however, you don’t know what you don’t know – and that can be dangerous. It can also be very, very expensive. 3. Try before you cry. Another benefit of buying from a major manufacturer: the ubiquitous demo. The cardinal rule in airsports gear-buying is a simple one: never buy it until you’ve tried it. Another note: you’ll certainly see demos on-hand at any major skydiving boogie, but do yourself a favor and evaluate gear outside the frantic context of crowded airspace. (When you’re not constantly chasing a hangover. Yes. You. I know this.) 4. Blend it. *Everything* doesn’t have to be new, you know. In fact, it’s a really good idea to save money by blending new components with old, if you do it intelligently. If -- after weighing the value benefits -- you decide to go all-in, try to buy everything together for a package discount. Shop the large gear shops to compare their (often attractive) package offerings. Since they’re all assembling their deals from the same major-manufacturer components, you can feel perfectly confident purchasing the one with the lowest price. 5. Repeat after me: dolla dolla bill, y’awl. Cash, if you can scrounge it together, is going to net you the best price. It’ll give you the best position to negotiate around taxes and shipping fees, and might just let you wiggle out from under the credit card charge that most dealers fold into to their baseline pricing. 6. Slow your roll. Take your time as a buyer on the market -- it pays off. After a couple of seasons, you’ll start to pick up the rhythm of yearly and seasonal sales. Go to as many boogies as you can, browsing the gear and sniffing out event discounts. (Don’t forget to stay for the raffle! Major gear giveaways land in lucky laps.) Get to know your local dealers, who might cotton to you and let you know when there’s a price shift on the horizon. Soon enough, all that waiting will pay off -- and you’ll be swaggering to the plane in a shiny new kit that just screams “I will cry like a tiny child if I don’t stand up this landing.” 7. Buy a stiff-bristled Brush of Shame. Just do it.
  24. EMarte21

    Safety in the Sky: A Skydiver’s Defense

    The world of skydiving offers those who choose to take the leap of faith a rush like non-other. The sport has grown far beyond anything its pioneers could have ever imagined. This growth has raised the demand for the establishment of advanced safety protocols in drop zones around the world. Container systems, main and reserve parachutes and basic safety procedures have all made this sport safer for all its users. One particular invention however, stands out above the rest and it is the automatic activation device or AAD for short. An AAD is a small, technically advanced device which activates a cutter that severs the reserve closing loop when the user is falling at or greater than a predetermined speed (roughly 78 MPH) and at or lower than a predetermined altitude (roughly 750 feet AGL). The device is equipped with a small computer designed to compute the skydiver’s speed of travel by using the surrounding air pressure. AADs have been common to skydivers for decades but recent years have brought about amazing change to this industry. CYPRES and Vigil AADs have become two of the leading manufacturers of AADs in recent years. When turned on, the AADs computer chip uses an advanced pressure monitoring system to determine a skydiver’s altitude and fall rate. If a skydiver passes the predetermined altitude at a faster than predetermined fall rate, the system sends a signal to a small cutter built into the parachute’s container. Once activated the cutter severs the reserve line retaining pin, causing the reserve chute to immediately deploy. Essentially, both CYPRES and Vigil AADs are meant to perform in very similar ways. Historically, each company has built and fine-tuned their respective devices to fit various disciplines in the sport. Cypres 2 AAD CYPRES which is short for Cybernetic Parachute Release System was developed by AirTec, a German company founded in 1990. Company founder Helmut Cloth decided to replace the old and faulty technology for opening devices of the time with a more reliable device. The result was revolutionary: the first CYPRES was ready in 1991 and became the first electronic opening device in the skydiving world. Shortly after hitting the market the CYPRES AAD sales grew to nearly 5,000 units per year. Developers continued working hard on making sure all the feedback from its users was implemented into their new products. In a little over a decade, CYPRES AAD sales rocketed to over 80,000 units. Airtec saw the overwhelming demand for their product and in 2007 developed the CYPRES 2. Within two years the CYPRES 2 broke the magic barrier of 50,000 units sold. The successes and reliability of the CYPRES 1 and 2 were celebrated throughout drop zones worldwide in 2011 during CYPRES’ 20 year anniversary. Since then the company has continued to provide a great piece of equipment with the backing of thousands of saved lives all over the world (CYPRES, 2014). The Vigil AAD shares many similarities to its competitor and was also designed to add a wider range of safety measures for skydivers. Nearly a decade after CYPRES’ great successes, Vigil was introduced. Immediately after being marketed the Vigil began flying off the shelves in record numbers. Designed by the Belgium company Advanced Aerospace Designs in 1999, the Vigil AAD system offered its users unique patented features. Features such as: a patented cutter device (circular knife) that cuts the reserve loop twice, water resistant technology, and a multimode option which allows for three different modes: PRO – STUDENT – TANDEM, all make the Vigil unique. These features make the Vigil a highly sought after piece of equipment for skydivers of all disciplines but even more so by drop zone management staff wanting to use one AAD for multiple modes of operations. In addition to calculating a skydiver’s rate of travel by using the surrounding air pressure, Vigil also uses an additional activation technique. Once the door opens and you leave the airplane, the Vigil AAD will calculate the time left over before reaching the activation altitude (Vigil, 2014). Since its appearance, the Vigil has sold upwards of 70,000 units and continues to increase sales annually. Vigil AAD Aside from their successes, the overarching factor in this equation is the consumer, as is in any supply-demand industry. The initial cost of purchasing an AAD unit is about the same, approximately $1,400. Many consumers view this as a steep price to pay especially when also calculating the maintenance costs throughout the lifecycle of an AAD. The additional cost of ownership includes battery replacement and scheduled maintenance, which calculates to be roughly $75 per year. The Vigil AAD claims to have a 20 year lifespan with no mandatory service requirements. The CYPRES AAD, however, is said to have a 12.5 year life expectancy with required maintenance at the four and eight year marks after activation. Many skydivers take these two factors well into consideration before committing to any purchase. Thankfully the CYPRES and Vigil AADs are readily available to ship to locations worldwide. The ease and effortlessness involved with purchasing an AAD makes it very convenient for anyone in the market for one. The decision of which one is the better choice is strictly up to the buyer’s personal preference and skill level. Both CYPRES and Vigil have been tried and proven over many years and thousands of documented lives saved. All in all, the sport is lucky that jumpers have a good choice of automatic activation devices. Few jumpers wore them before they came to their present level of accuracy and reliability, and members of the gray-haired set who still remember friends they lost when no-pulls/low-pulls dominated the fatality reports will mostly agree that the added cost of skydiving due to AADs has been worth it (Parachutist, 2010). Thanks for reading, Blue Skies!
  25. admin

    Toggles Matter

    It is often the little things in our skydiving day that change the way things go. Paying attention to the details can make all the difference when it comes to preventing malfunctions, and when we get lazy, tired or complacent, our attention gets fuzzy and unfocused. That is when we make mistakes that we regret. One area that often results in malfunctions is errors in stowing our toggles, and there are quite a few ways in which we can perform this seemingly simple act incorrectly, only some of which will be discussed in this article. The most obvious aspect of this necessary part of packing that we can mess up is the depth of the toggle in the keeper. If we do not push the toggle sufficiently into its fabric keeper, the toggle will eventually unstow during deployment. Premature brakes releases result in countless cutaways each year. Each time we chop, we risk losing our main canopy and our freebag; a very expensive mistake. Another facet of stowing our toggles that can result in a premature “brake-fire” is insufficient tension on the portion of the brake line that leads to the canopy. This slack can allow a sharp tug of the brake line near the toggle, causing it to pop out of the keeper, and even snap the line itself. A healthy practice when setting your brakes is to pull upward on the brake line above the toggle, ensuring that everything is loaded against the toggle properly. Yet another common error when stowing the steering toggles is to pass the toggle through the brake line above the guide ring. This will almost always result in a premature brake release. It will also usually result in damage to the fabric toggle keeper, as the load on the brake line will go directly to the keeper rather than to the guide ring. I see this one quite a lot, and the jumper is always blown away when I point it out while they are packing. Better a moment of embarrassment on the ground than a premature brake fire in the sky. On that note, if you experience a premature brake release, or snap a brake line during deployment, your canopy will turn. On many parachutes, this turn can be quite fast, and it is likely to increase in both airspeed and rate of rotation. This means that time is of the essence when dealing with this kind of malfunction. This, however, does not mean that the correct response is to claw for the stowed toggle like a crazed monkey. Yes, you do need to unstow the remaining toggle, but having this singular goal in mind has resulted in many cutaways, AAD fires and even some fatalities. When you open up in a spin, your first job is to try to stop the spin, while remaining aware of your altitude. If you apply opposite harness input or simply pull the rear riser on the side of the canopy that has experienced the toggle release or broken line, you will slow the situation down. By holding a heading, you will be losing much less altitude, and will afford yourself the time and brain power to properly execute whatever procedure is next. Also key to your safety is the condition of your equipment. For instance, if the toggle keeper has become loose due to wearing over time, even sufficiently stowed toggles will unstow prematurely. Since we stow the toggle in the same way every time, the toggle eventually becomes deformed, narrower at the load point, which can cause the toggle to jam when you try to release it. Also contributing to this possibility is the inevitable shrinkage of the “cat’s-eye” hole in the brake line on spectra lined canopies. This is caused by heating of the line due to friction as you unstow your toggles. The melting point of spectra is 297 F and the material’s response to heat is shrinkage, unlike George Castanza. Most cat’s eyes begin at about 25 millimeters on new canopies, and by 3 or 400 jumps, it reduces to a 19 or 18 millimeter passage. When combined with a narrow point in the toggle, a brake-lock malfunction is quite likely. This problem can easily be avoided through regular replacement of the mid and lower brake lines, and pinching of the toggle with plyers to create a uniform width. When the tip of the toggle fails to extract from the cat’s-eye, it is possible that the jumper unstowed the toggles in a gentle, slow motion, allowing the friction to hold the toggle in place inside the brake line. This phenomenon can often be avoided by making it a habit to always unstow the toggles with a sharp, snapping motion. This method has served me well for many years, and has totally eliminated the “stuck toggle” malfunction for me. On the topic of toggles that do not want to release, we have another malfunction that shows up from time to time. There are many things you can do with your excess brake line, depending on your particular riser design and your personal preferences. Some skydivers choose to pass the excess line through keepers on the opposite side of the riser. This is perfectly acceptable. If, however, the free end of the brake line is passed down through the keepers and then around the bottom of the toggle, a complete failure to release is possible. This occurs when the upward relative wind blows the brake line up over the toggle during opening. The jumper then can grab the toggles below this loop of line and unstow, causing an irreparable knot around the keeper loop on the opposite side of the riser. Another way that jumpers sometimes cause a toggle-lock is by passing the excess brake line through the soft links, and then securing the end of the loop through the tip of the toggle. Although this method has proven to be perfectly safe, and may make it easier to pull the slider down after opening, a serious danger exists. If the soft links are not sewn in place with tack-cord, the loop of brake line can get caught on the tab or ring on the soft link, causing a locked toggle malfunction. It is true that a toggle-lock does not need to result in a cutaway. If the jumper cuts the brake line with a hook knife, the parachute will fly straight. Nevertheless, this fix requires the canopy pilot to land with a rear riser flare, something that many are not prepared to do. If you have never performed this maneuver in premeditated circumstances, you are not likely to perform the task well in an emergency. As I often say, there is no such thing as an emergency if you have practiced the solutions; it is just a change of plans. The last toggle-related problem that I will discuss is failure to stow the excess brake line at all. It is true that many jumpers have been leaving “free range” brake line for many years without incident. In most cases, these are jumpers with small canopies who have very little excess brake line to deal with due to the size of their parachutes. Regardless, it is my experience that it is just a matter of time before this free line snags on something. It might be your GoPro. It might be someone else’s GoPro. It might be the door of the airplane or something even worse that I can’t even think of. The bottom line is, the procedure of stowing your excess line costs you only a few seconds, but it can save your life. Deal with it, please. It is the smallest of details that usually result in the worst and best experiences on the dropzone. Skydiving is a sport of tiny issues that add up to big consequences, and if we continue to enjoy the process of paying attention to these little particulars, we can continue to enjoy the sport for a very long time. If we flippantly skip off the tops of the waves so-to-speak, and pretend that the danger does not exist, this sport will prove us wrong in the most painful and terrifying ways. We are always at risk when we skydive, but fear is not what keeps us safe. It is attention to the details, and the positive emotions that come as a result of knowing that we are doing everything we can think of to stay alive. If we are happy, we are more skillful, and skill definitely increases the chances of a happy landing. About the Author: Brian Germain is a parachute designer, author, teacher, radio personality, keynote speaker with over 15,000 jumps, and has been an active skydiver for 30 years. He is the creator of the famed instructional video "No Sweat: Parachute Packing Made Easy", as well as the critically acclaimed book The Parachute and its Pilot. You can get more of Brian’s teaching at Adventure Wisdom, Big Air Sportz, Transcending Fear, and on his vast YouTube Channel