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  1. admin

    The Legend of Roger Nelson

    Roger Nelson: If you're a skydiver, chances are you've heard the name. If you're not a skydiver, chances are you've watched one of the few movies that were inspired by this man. While the tales of Roger's life have been passed around to keen ears, mostly between jumpers, as a kind of folk lore, the words that have been spoken have often been words bound in mystery. The lines between truth and exaggeration, as with most stories passed through word of mouth, can get a little blurry at times. However there is no doubting the colorful nature of Roger Warren Nelson's life. Skydiving Career Roger began skydiving in 1971 at a dropzone in Hinckley, Illinois. He was always a bit of a rebel and never quite fitted in with the then aesthetic standard that prevailed within the skydiving community at that time. In the beginning of the 70s recreational skydiving was still in its early days, with many of the then participants coming from military backgrounds, and both Roger and his brother Carl stood out from the crowd. It's said that the term 'Freak Brothers' which was given to both Roger and Carl stemmed from their less than ordinary presence at the dropzone. As skydivers, Roger and Carl were pioneers. They both laid the groundwork for what is known today as Freeflying. At the time, skydives were done belly down, in a standard practice, but the 'Freak Brothers' threw a spanner in the works when they started what was then known as 'freak flying'. Freak flying was the Nelson brother's own unconventional freefall style, which was described by Roger in 1978 as any body position that saw the flyer's stomach facing up and their back down, towards earth. So while Olav Zipser is recognized as the father of freeflying, the 'Freak Brothers' were already laying the groundwork for unconventional freefall positions years before. In the mid 1970s the brothers started a "zine" called the Freak Brother Flyer, which ran from 1973 until 1976. Freak Brothers became more than just a term for him and his brother Carl, after a while Freak Brothers became an organization and a community with thousands of followers around the world. The Freak Brothers Convention was later organized with the help of Jeanie (Roger's wife) and Carl. These boogies were some of the largest around at the time and drew in over 600 passionate skydivers. In 1979 the Freak Brothers suffered the loss of Carl, who died in a skydiving accident. From 1986 to 1989, Roger ran the Illinois dropzone "Skydive Sandwich". Later in 1993, he went on to found Skydive Chicago, which is now recognized as one of the world's leading dropzones. Roger spent much of the 80s partaking in world records, while spending much of the 90s organizing them. Between the years 1999 and 2002, he won 2 silver and 2 gold medals as Captain of the Skydive Chicago STL 10, in the 10-way speed event. The Other Side of Roger Nelson What separates Roger's story from the average accomplished skydiver's, is the other side of his life. While Roger was a well loved individual with much support, particularly in the skydiving community, during the 1980s, he was dealing in some rather shady operations, to put it lightly. Roger used aircrafts to smuggle drugs into the United States, while also working as an informant for the US government. After he was arrested in 1986 on charges that included racketeering, conspiracy to distribute drugs and currency violations, his life would become a enveloped in court dates and uncertainty. He pleaded guilty and in 1987 was sentenced to 10 years behind bars, but was released after serving half of his prison sentence. After his arrest, Roger called out the DEA on not acting to tips he had provided them, that would have helped capture Carlos Lehder, who at the time was considered one of the largest cartel leaders in the world. Despite the information Roger provided to the DEA with regards to being an informant, the DEA would later shrug it off, saying that Roger had not played any significant role in slowing down the influx of drugs into the United States. In 2003 Roger was killed in a canopy collision incident. There was more to Roger than just criminal controversy and skydiving, he was also a family man. His eldest of two children, Melissa recalls in a recent piece of writing, how her and her father wouldn't always see eye to eye, but in his death, has come to realize the leadership he instilled in her. She continued to say how her father had taught her to stand on her own feet, and create her own legacy as opposed to living in her family's. Sugar Alpha This is all but just a fraction of Roger's life and the reality is that it's hard to summarize such an eventful life. Roger and Melissa have authored the newly released book entitled "Sugar Alpha: The Life and Times of Senor Huevos Grandes". A description of the book offers some insight in what to expect: "Skydiving and drug smuggling pioneer Roger Nelson lives life out of the box. Fueled by a love for adrenaline and adventure, Roger goes after everything he wants with gusto. But now Roger is ready to retire from smuggling. With a parachute center to run and a family to raise, Roger knows it is time to stop the cat-and-mouse games he has been playing with the authorities for years. He and his longtime partner, Hanoi, plan one final run to Belize, where they intend to fill their Douglas DC-3 with enough cannabis to set them up for life. But then Hanoi dies in a plane crash in an attempt to make some "legitimate bucks" flying fish in Alaska while they wait for the growing season to end. Left without a partner or plane, Roger remains determined to return to his family for good. To do so, he decides to stay true to himself and follow through with his retirement run. Roger must rely on a colorful cast of characters and the most unlikely airplane for a gig ever-Sugar Alpha, the legendary DC-3 with the secret fuel tanks and not-so-secret paint job-to help him complete the most daring run in the history of smuggling." With extremely positive early reviews, this book is a must for any skydiver, though you definitely don't have to be one to enjoy it. Get your copy from Amazon.com
  2. Get Ready: Here Comes the Turbine 206 When Joel Strickland and I jumped in all fifty states this summer for our Down For 50 project, we saw the insides of a lot of 182s. A lot. That’s no surprise, of course--the 182 is the undisputed workhorse of our sport. It could be argued that the valiant little 182 keeps our sport going. But what if there were a better way? As it turns out, there is. I found out about it when Joel and I made our Oklahoma stop. Understandably, we fully expected to see another 182 out there. Instead, when we wandered across the hangar of the (super tidy, spacious and impressive) Oklahoma Skydiving Center to see what was parked outside, we had to double-take. There was a 206 parked out there. A 206 with a very funny face. A turbine. For reals. Our first look at the toothy open grin of that jumpship was to start something of a minor obsession for me. First of all, it became apparent that its presence there had engendered the healthiest sport community of any smaller dropzone I’d ever visited. No wonder: that thing gets six jumpers to 14,000 feet in less than half the time it took the DZ’s old 182 to huff four folks up to 10k. The door is big. And this thing -- for lots of reasons -- puts turbine power within the reach of dropzones that never dreamed they’d be able to get there. I’ll let its champion, Andy Beck, cover all that. (Andy Beck is Co -DZO of the Oklahoma Skydiving Center, a small DZ between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, as well as the co-owner of BAM Aviation, which has been specializing in this conversion since Andy himself discovered its existence.) Pretty cool, right? I’ll leave the explanations to the expert. Below follows the conversation I had with Andy about this beautiful beast. If you’re not as enchanted with this plane as I am by the time we’re done here, I’ll be very surprised. Q: What’s your love story with this plane? Andy: My dropzone [the Oklahoma Skydiving Center] is somewhere between a small and a medium-sized DZ. For years, we were, like, man, we want a turbine airplane, just as instructors and fun jumpers. It’s easy to relate to that. I grew up on a single airplane drop zone. That’s where I started; that’s how I learned to skydive: A single airplane 182 drop zone. When you’re in a situation like that, you spend your whole life sitting around, watching people skydive, doing tandems and AFFs, just praying that there’s an airplane load that has empty slots. And that’s okay, because that’s all you know. But then you go somewhere and you suddenly realize there’s a different model that means you can skydive more than once or twice a day. you see how much more time you have for the fun part of the sport in a turbine, compared to what you can get out of the 182 that’s waiting for you back home. Since my wife Alyssa and I bought this dropzone four years ago, we wanted to bring that other model to our own DZ. The first thing we did -- immediately -- was to bring in a second 182, so we could have one for tandems and AFF and one for fun jumpers. I understand why people don’t want to mess with fun jumpers, but to me the reason that I think that you need the experienced-skydiver scene is because -- if you don’t -- then how do you convince anybody to do more than one jump? If all they ever watch is tandems, they’re one-and-done. They think that’s all there is. If they have to go somewhere else to jump after AFF, that’s not good either. People want to stay where they learned. They know the people. They want to travel and visit, but they love their home. That’s where they want to be. That’s their home base -- their friends -- the people they like to jump with. To teach people to jump and then tell them to go somewhere else just seemed dumb to me. So you have to grow to support your experienced skydiver community. Q: Why not just get an old King Air like everybody else? Andy: Long story. As a DZO, when you start looking at turbine airplanes, yeah, you think, maybe I can afford a King Air, but the only ones that anybody sells that any small-to-medium DZ can afford are about worn out, and worn out King Airs are a huge maintenance situation. Then, you think: I really love the Caravan. And that’s a cool plane. It is one of the starter-type turbine investments. But most of the Caravans worth having cost between $1.2 and $1.8 million dollars, and you’ve got 16 to 20 slots to fill. At a smaller DZ, you just can’t reliably fill it. That’s just not a very doable business model. And before, there really wasn’t anything that was, basically, half of a caravan. So I kept looking. The 206 has been around forever as a skydiving plane, but it really has a bad reputation because -- with the standard configuration -- it’s super slow. In the Oklahoma summer, you can hardly get to 10,000 in one, even if you’ve got the turbo version. For our purposes, it’s just not much of a plane. Then, one day, I heard about the new Pratt Whitney PT6 turbine 206 conversion from a fun jumper. It sounded like a myth, but I was intrigued, so I called the aircraft conversion inventor, Van Pray, who was partnering with Turbine Conversions on the Turbine 206 concept. Van has been around dropzones, skydiving, and airplanes all his life and turbine conversions has been modifying agricultural aircraft to turbines for decades. I asked Van to bring his plane down for a weekend so I could see if maybe this was going to be the answer to my problem. Turns out, it was better than I could have ever imagined. Anyway, Van and Emiko Pray brought their plane down, and we basically rented it like a boogie for two different weekends to try it out. I wanted to see how it cash flowed; how much fuel it used. There is no way anybody could tell you that information without seeing it for yourself. Since I paid all the bills, I could really see how economical it was. After that, I just knew that’s what I had to do. We had to build one. Q: What do the numbers look like? What does the turbine 206 specifically bring to the table here? Andy: Well, you can get a 182 for about $60,000 dollars. The Turbine 206 goes for around $600,000 depending on airframe, engine, etc... So of course it’s expensive when you look at it like that. But you have to remember that what you’re actually getting for that is half of a Caravan. Depending on your airframe -- engines and all that -- the fuel burn is half of a caravan or less too. Before I got the turbine 206, we had an average of three planes at OSC. We would always fly two, but on a lot of really busy days we would fly all three. In the summer, with a 520, or a PPonk, or a higher-horsepower 182 that actually can go to 10,000 feet in a reasonable time, you burn 7 to 8.5 gallons of fuel alone. Obviously, when they’re full, heavy and hot, it’s more like 8 to 8.5 gallons, but when you’re flying cool, light loads you could do a little over 7 gallons. That’s what my average was, at least. The turbine 206, on the other hand, will average ten gallons consistently to 14,000 feet AGL. The other big thing is that AV gas is getting a little bit harder to find in the first place, and the price of it is consistently higher than jet fuel pretty much anywhere you go, especially in more remote areas -- but if there’s a commercial airport anywhere around, no question, you can get jet fuel. So: When you look at expenses, the turbine 206 doesn’t burn very much more fuel per load, and the fuel it burns costs less. You also get the industry standard Pratt Whitney PT6 dependability and reliability. With the high-horsepower 182, I could count on two loads an hour: four people per load, to 10,000 feet. With the turbine 206, you get six people per load and you can do three loads per hour -- to 14,000 feet -- with one plane. Every hour throughout the day, you just keep getting farther ahead, because the plane doesn’t slow down with the heat. The density altitude doesn’t affect it the same way. It just goes and goes. On a good Saturday we do 30 loads in the 206 -- three loads an hour for 10-plus hours. We just fly and fly and fly. Q: The fun jumper community here seems to be seeing some real benefits. These guys have crazy healthy jump numbers for being based at a small dropzone. Andy: Yeah, we’re proud of that. The quality of every skydive is better, and that makes a difference to the bottom line, too. We wanted to offer the best possible experience to all of our jumpers! In the last two years, we’ve finished way more A licenses and created way more fun jumpers, because on each skydive they’re not getting 25 to 30 seconds of freefall, they’re getting from 50 to 60 seconds on every jump. It’s like trying to ride a bike. If your parents let you ride a bike for 10 to 20 seconds, take your bike away, then give you another 10 to 20 seconds on it the following weekend, it is going to take a long time to learn how to ride a bike. Skydiving is way harder to learn than riding a bike. If you give them more time on task and more jump availability, people are going to learn and be better and safer skydivers. They’re more current. They’re more excited. They make more jumps. It just gets better in every direction. Fun fact: We do 18,000-foot jumps occasionally, and we could even go higher than that if we wanted to. This plane climbs just as good at 18,000 feet as it does at 10,000 feet. It’s just a whole different beast. We have a lot of fun here. Q: So when did BAM Aviation start doing the conversions? Andy: That’s a funny story. When we built the first one, we had absolutely no intention of building more airplanes. That wasn’t why we did it in the first place. We did it for our dropzone. But, in the process of figuring out how to do it, we partnered up with Turbine Conversions and they made us an authorized installation center. They came and took a tour of our facilities, saw what we had and asked if we wanted to take on some more. This conversion is not crazy-hard, but it’s not just a straight, bolt-on modification and it takes real skill to do. It is a lot of sheet metal work. And I was lucky enough to have access to some real talent with Mike Palmer and Brian Wattenberger. I myself am learning, but the two guys that work with me really are master mechanics. They’re very unassuming, but when you get in the shop and watch their creativity, it’s incredible. They are true masters of the trade; true craftsmen. There would be no airplane business if it wasn’t for Mike and Brian. That’s a fact. I mean: I’m the skydiving business owner, and the guy that came up with the idea to convert the first plane, but without the mechanics, there would be no BAM Aviation (which stands for Brian, Andy, Mike). That’s for sure. At this point, it’s busy here. We have another one that we’re more than halfway through and several others in the works. We’re prepared to scale up, depending on need. I’m sure that the more people that know about it, the more people are going to be interested in it, because it the turbine 206 is a real option for that small/medium drop zone to be able to expand without going a million and a half dollars in debt. I do it because it’s good for my dropzone and it’s good for the sport.
  3. admin

    Tandem Skydiving

    What Is Tandem Skydiving? Tandem skydiving is an extremely popular form of skydiving and an excellent introduction into the sport, it allows one to experience the adrenaline and excitement without having to commit excessively to the activity at hand. While AFF training and static-line jumping consists of hours of training prior to the jump, going tandem only requires around 30 minutes of ground preparation prior. The reason for this is that while both AFF and static-line skydives require you to learn how to control your canopy and establish a deep knowledge of maintaining specific body positions in free fall, with tandem skydiving you only need to know the basics about how you should position your body relative to your tandem master. The fact that your tandem instructor will be responsible for your chute leaves you with the ability to spend more of your effort focusing on the sheer excitement of the jump, as opposed to what procedure who'll be doing next. You, the tandem student, will be strapped to a tandem instructor by use of a secure harness system which makes use of a shoulder strap on either side, a chest strap which secures across your chest, as well as leg straps. You will be strapped onto the chest, or front side of the tandem master, so you can be sure that you'll have the best view in the house. While tandem jumps are most common as once off introductions to skydiving, they are also sometimes used in conjunction with training courses, specifically in the early stages of a course. Using tandem jumping in training methods when you want to learn how to skydive can be extremely effective as it allows the student to experience both freefall and canopy flight without the feeling of being thrown into the deep end, so to speak. There are also students who look to perform several tandem skydives prior to their training course in order to familiarize themselves with the environment. A tandem freefall generally lasts between 45 and 60 seconds, followed by a four minute canopy ride to the ground. Where To Start? For starters, you want to make sure that you are going to be skydiving at a drop zone that has a good reputation. There are over a thousand drop zones around the world and each offer a different experience, some good and some poor. Dropzone.com has been developed around helping you to find the best drop zone in the area of your choice, and providing you with user ratings and reviews to help you make your decision. Look for drop zones with large volumes of positive reviews, and take the time to read through them and see what issues other users may have experienced at any particular drop zone. Unlike static-line progression for example, tandem skydiving is done at almost every drop zone, so you should be fine in that area, but be sure to check and make sure. When comparing drop zones it's vital to make sure you that you understand what you will be receiving with your jump. A tandem skydive can take place between altitudes of anywhere from 10 000 to 14 000ft, if free fall time is of importance to you it's certainly worth querying this topic with the drop zone. Another important question is, if you're paying a lot for your jump, are they offering you the best services for the amount you're paying? Does your jump include video footage or still photography, most have this as an extra cost - so be sure to check what the drop zone is charging for their video services. And if it does offer video services, is this filmed from a mounted camera attached to the tandem instructor or are they pulling out all the stops and having a separate photographer joining the jump solely to take some quality photographs of your jump. These are all aspects which should be examined and considered when you're scouting for the best drop zone in your area. Once you've located a drop zone near to your destination, give them a call or send them an e-mail, they should be more than willing to address any questions you may have about your jump and guide you through the booking process, setting you up with a date to jump. Some Advice To Consider Before Making Your Tandem Jump While you're likely to be walked through the correct dos and don'ts during your pre-jump ground briefing, it doesn't hurt to prepare prior to the day for what you should be doing and what you shouldn't be doing for your jump. Remove jewelry and accessories prior to Tandem Skydiving. At 120mph, it begins very easy for loose jewelry or accessories to come loose during free fall and get lost. It's a good idea to leave the jewelry at home on the day of your jump. Remove piercings, specifically nipple rings. When the canopy is opened during flight, your chest strap will pull against you, and there have been cases where people have had nipple rings pulled when this occurs - learn from their mistakes. Remember that there are also harness straps around your legs, so be sure to remove all piercings that may be impacted. Removing all piercings leave less gambling for something getting snagged, but nipple and surface piercings are definitely best removed. Tie up your hair. Whether you're male or female, if you have long hair it is a wise idea to tie it up in a manner that makes it least likely to get caught in the harness at any stage - and also remain out of the TIs face. Tucking it into the helmet once tied is also not a bad idea. Stick close to your tandem instructor. Once you're leaving the manifest for your jump, be sure to remain close to your tandem instructor. Always listen to your tandem instructor. They are the ones that know best, despite what you think you know - as an inexperienced tandem skydiver, your tandem instructor should not be questioned when it comes to anything related to the procedure of, or the jump itself. Be respectful and polite. While you may be frustrated at things like weather holds, it's important to remain calm and realize that these events are often out of the control of the instructors and the manifest staff. Image by Lukasz Szymanski Tandem Instructors The tandem instructors or tandem masters are going to be the ones in control of your skydive. The fact that the tandem instructor has control over the safety of the jump has prompted strict rules and regulations, especially within the United States, as to who can lead a tandem jump. The current requirements set in place go a long way in providing peace of mind that you're going to be in excellent hands when in the air. Before a skydiver is able to be the tandem instructor on a jump, he has to go through several procedures. First he has to be an experienced skydiver with a minimum of 500 jumps and 3 years of skydiving experience to his name, secondly he must possess a 'master parachute license' which has to be issued by an FAA-recognized organization, such as the USPA (United States Parachute Association). Furthermore, they are required to undergo training and acquire a certification related to the canopy they are going to be flying. On top of these requirements, the USPA has a few more of their own. Up until late 2008 in the United States, one was able to either be a tandem master with a manufacturer's rating or a tandem instructor which required the USPA training, though this was changed and now requires all those leading tandem jumps in the United States to hold a tandem instructors rating. The details of the ratings systems and the requirements vary between countries. One thing that separates the best drop zones from a bad drop zone for those doing a tandem jump, is the attitude and behavior of their tandem instructor. Luckily, if you've done your research and found yourself a good drop zone, this shouldn't be a worry and you may well end up making a new friend in the process. A good instructor is one that is able to answer any questions you have, while at the same time making you feel comfortable and relaxed. The best instructors find a perfect balance between safety and professionalism and humor, after all the jump is pointless if you don't enjoy yourself. Should I Be Nervous About Tandem Skydiving? It's completely normal to feel nervous about skydiving, even those of us who seek adrenalin constantly have some level of nervousness at times. Jumping out of a perfectly good plane, whether it is while experiencing a tandem jump or even the thrill of wing suiting, is not something natural to us as humans, and you can be sure that you're not alone in what you feel. With that said though, as with many areas where what you're facing is foreign and unknown, your fear often tends to turn to excitement once you're in it. I have seen a countless number of first time tandem skydivers being a bit unsure in the beginning but once their feet touch the ground their mind set changes completely. These are often people performing a bucket list jump with no intention of ever skydiving again, but after they've experience the feeling of free fall, they are hooked - and often end up booking their AFF courses to become a licensed skydiver just a few days later. Tandem skydiving has an excellent safety record for most parts of the world and you can take comfort in the fact that according to the United States Parachute Association, around half a million people each year choose to tandem skydive in the US alone. How Much Does A Tandem Jump Cost? The price of tandem skydives vary between drop zones, generally you're looking in the price range of about $70 to in excess of $300. This cost can either include or exclude the cost of things like a camera man and a DVD copy of your skydive. We highly recommend that you look into the prices and the specifications at each drop zone. For more information read below... Things To Know About Tandems There are typically restrictions on age when it comes to performing a tandem jump, the exact age varies depending on country and drop zone. The typical requirement from most drop zones is 18, though some drop zones do allow for 16 to 18 year olds to perform a tandem jump as long as they have parental consent. It is best to speak to your local drop zone about their age policies. When booking a tandem skydive it's important to know what to expect, often once off tandem jumpers go in without knowing what a skydive entails, how drop zones operate and what to expect. Understand that skydiving hinges on the weather conditions, when the winds are too strong or it's too cloudy, or if there's fog - you may well find yourself on the end of a weather hold. This is an aspect of skydiving that no one is free from, and the experienced jumpers get just as disappointed when they don't get to head out. Weather holds can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 days, depending on the conditions. Because of this it's best to plan your skydive around your local weather, if you're in an area with lots of summer tropical rainfall - it may be best to book in the autumn or winter months when rainfall is less likely, otherwise booking for an earlier time in the day before daytime heating causes the development of thunder showers. In areas of winter rainfall, summer is obviously your best bet, though nothing can ever be guaranteed. There are areas where weather holds are rare, and if you're in one of these areas that sees little annual rainfall, you're likely to see your jump happen without any hassles. It's highly recommended that you discuss deposits and payments with the drop zones prior to booking. While most DZs will gladly discuss openly and honestly with you their rules and restrictions in regards to deposits and refunds, many fail to bring up this topic prior to finalizing their booking and they end up upset when they find out that there is no refund issued for deposits on jumps that are postponed due to weather holds. How Safe is Tandem Skydiving? A common question asked by those intrigued by the idea of a tandem jump, is whether or not it is safe. And just how safe it truly is. We've long tracked fatalities in our database and can help in easing some of the anxiety you may have around tandem skydiving safety. The reality is that as with any high risk sport, there is the potential for death, though with that said - tandem skydivers remain the least likely to suffer at the hands of a fatality than other jumpers. Between the years 2005 and 2017 there were less than 100 tandem fatalities, with our records pointing closer to around 60. In that same time frame, our records indicate a total of just more than 700 fatalities, meaning that less than 1 out of 10 skydiving fatalities were tied to tandem skydiving. The important thing to remember is also that tandem skydives are extremely popular and on average there are an estimated 250,000 tandem jumps performed each year in the United States. So while calling tandem jumps safe may be a bit of a subjective statement, the truth is there are a number of aspects of your daily life that hold more risk than completing a tandem jump. The Technical Side And Skydiving Gear There are a few things you should remember when you are looking at the more technical side of your skydiving gear. Skydiving canopies are designed specifically for certain disciplines of skydiving, for speed and immediate response smaller canopies are used - such as those designed for swooping, these smaller canopies are also more dangerous, allowing for less margin of error. For tandem skydiving, where safety takes priority, the canopies (parachutes) used are much larger than those that you find in swooping for example. This is both because the canopy is going to need to carry twice the regular skydiving weight and because of the desired gentle nature of the canopy flight. The rig that is used by your tandem instructor is set up so that it will provide optimum safety for you on your jump. The rig contains an AAD (automatic activation device) which is a safety device that is designed to automatically fire the main chute after a skydiver descends past a certain altitude and has not yet fired the main canopy. There is also the special tandem canopy, which will be the parachute that is deployed during freefall, also known as the main. There is also a reserve canopy, this is a backup that exists in case of a failure on the main, an example would be, if a main canopy opens with a line twist and one is not able to recover from it - the main would be cut and the reserve deployed. These are packed into what is known as the container, the backpack looking item on the back of the tandem instructor. The instructor will also be carrying an altimeter on him, usually around the wrist, which can provide visual or audio information on the progression of the descent, so that he can release the main canopy at the correct time. During free fall, you can expect to reach speeds of up to 120mph (180km/h). Once you've done your skydive, remember to come back to dropzone.com and let us know what you thought of your experience, by rating the drop zone you jumped at. Safety and Training Forum Find a place to jump in your area.
  4. Dr. Randy Brown of the UW STOMP Study Talks Us In If you huck yourself out of aircraft for fun, you already know that it doesn’t always go according to plan. It follows that there are a couple of facts of which you should probably be aware: Victims of traumatic injury are at greater than normal risk for opioid addiction. Initiates of opioid misuse who progress to injection frequently cite prescription of an opioid for an injury as their first exposure to opioid, and the event that led to their eventual addiction. If you’ve been in this sport for a while, you almost certainly know someone who ended up battling opioid addiction for precisely that reason. And, if you’re in a hospital bed with a ‘fun button’ under your thumb the first time you think about opioids, you might be in for a rough ride. It was next to just such a hospital bed, after a very bad couple of days, that I first heard about the STOMP study. (“STOMP” stands for the Screening in Trauma for Opioid Misuse Prevention.) The three-year study, based at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, draws on expertise in Addiction Medicine, Trauma Surgery, Public Health, Systems Engineering, Social Work, Pain Medicine, and Primary Care. The goal: to improve medicine’s understanding of opioid misuse and the development of addiction specifically in the context of traumatic injury (Ding! Ding! Ding!) and pain management. Ultimately, its goal is to develop protocols which will intervene early in the process to prevent opioid misuse, addiction and related complications. The STOMP program is hope on the horizon. I reached out to the program’s Principal Investigator, Randall Brown, MD, PhD, FASAM, to get a little wisdom for those of us tossing ourselves into harm’s way. Annette: How’d you become interested in pain medicine? Dr. Brown: I did my initial training in family medicine in California’s central valley, in a town called Modesto. At the time I was doing my training, the area was producing 90% of North America’s methamphetamines -- and consuming a fair chunk of it, as well. In hospital, we saw a ton of complications resulting from injections, methamphetamine use, and the struggles in that population -- where, despite having a horrifically painful surgeries and hospital stays, would reliably leave the hospital and resume their use. It made a deep impression on me. For someone to go through the pain these patients went through and return to the use so immediately, this addiction thing must be a pretty compelling state of affairs, and I don’t think the health care system, in general terms and settings, is adequately prepared to facilitate recovery from addiction. I found that troubling and fascinating, and so I pursued further training and gradually moved my focus from broader family medicine to substance use issues, prevention and treatment. I came to Madison in 2001 to do a research fellowship. I have been here involved in that sort of work to some extent for 17 years now. A: What changes have you seen in the field over that 17-year period? Dr.: In brief, the opioid crisis the biggest thing that has emerged since I’ve been doing this. Opioids are a much bigger deal than they were when I started on this path. Substance use issues have always been a major problem -- and, currently, substance misuse is the most common root cause of preventable death and morbidity in the US. It shifts from time to time, but it is always there: whether it is alcohol, which is always there, or methamphetamines, or opioids, which picked up steam in the 90s. Opioids have really skyrocketed over the last 15 years. A: How did opioids rise to power, would you say? Dr.: The literature guiding pain treatment in the 90s evolved over a landscape of imperfect science. The message that experts in pain management were putting out there back then -- with fair frequency -- was that “we are not treating pain adequately.” They specifically meant chronic, non-cancer pain. The literature out there in the 90s insisted that we should be using opioids more liberally to alleviate that suffering. The literature insisted that addiction was rare; that complications were rare. Honestly, we didn’t really know otherwise. There really weren’t data out there to tell us that wasn’t the right thing to do, and it seemed like the right thing to do -- to alleviate pain and suffering. The other thing that was put out there via the literature was that opioids don’t really cause any organ damage, so there wasn’t a clear ceiling to the daily dose. Again, we didn’t really have data in the literature to tell us otherwise. Around 2009 and 2010, the state of science started changing a little bit. We did have studies appearing in the literature indicating that these higher doses were associated with greater risks, particularly for overdose and death. That’s where there really started to be a sea change around prescribing patterns; trying to rein in those daily doses; trying to bring them down to less risky levels. On the flipside of that, from the public health standpoint, while it’s a smart move to reduce the absolute supply of opioids out there, the tricky piece is doing that in a reasonable and compassionate way, not cutting people off or assuming that these dosage recommendations are a hard ceiling for everybody. Opioids are still really important medications. They aren’t going to -- and they shouldn’t -- go away. We just need to be more mindful about monitoring their use, and educating patients about how to handle of them, to dispose of them appropriately if they aren’t using them. A: Can you summarize the STOMP study for me? Dr: STOMP recruits UW hospital patients who have been admitted for a traumatic injury. We collect information from them about their medical history, their personal history and their mental health. We then follow them forward for six months after discharge to collect further information that measures around mental health symptoms, anxiety, post-traumatic symptoms that may have developed as a result of the injury, information around their current opioid and other substance use patterns. We are trying to tease the data apart to see if there is some way that, all the way back to the time of injury, we can identify some factors that are strongly predictive of someone developing difficulty controlling their use of opioids. A: Let’s talk about my community: the “skyfamily” of airsports athletes. A lot of us are highly mobile, without an established healthcare provider, and a lot of us get injured when we’re traveling. Oftentimes, we’ll find ourselves inured far from home, where there the standards of medical care may be very different than we’re used to. Where would you suggest that folks go if they’re in that position and they need good information? Dr: That’s a really great question. Honestly, when we were putting this study together, STOMP, Screening in Trauma for Opioid Misuse Prevention, I was not finding much of anything out there, to tell the truth, and this was only a couple years ago. The stuff that is out there in prominence and taken up widely really is more targeting chronic pain -- like long-term stuff. The CDC has released a good set of guidelines regarding the reasonable taper rates for opioids and a patient information packet. The most common situation that folks struggle with after a more serious injury is that taper, and that information is good to have as soon as possible. These can certainly apply in situations with injuries which have resulted in severe pain that needs to be managed for a few or even several months. The other information contained in those guidelines that I think is really important for folks to know regards the safe and responsible handling of opioids: storing them appropriately, not advertising to the world that you have them (because of the potential for being victimized) and the safe disposal of unused medication to protect public health. In the setting of traumatic injury, I honestly have not been able to find a lot more out there. That’s why we’re doing this study. A: Is there any additional wisdom you want to offer an athlete who suffers an injury and realizes that they may be facing the reality of a long-term course of opioid medication? Dr: Recognize early that successfully navigating this process will take a collaborative effort with an established provider that can track your progress over time. Even if you’re lucky enough to be living in a stable residence geographically, know that, in this clinical setting, you’re likely to be moving between specialists and other care providers. Sometimes, monitoring -- and appropriate care in coming off of higher-dose opioids -- can fall between the cracks. Establish a relationship with a provider and stick with it for a period of months. That’s a challenge anywhere, but particularly for folks who are highly mobile. A: What are a couple questions that folks can ask of a potential provider to establish whether or not the provider they’re with has an appropriate functional understanding of opioids, so that we know that the experts we’re trusting really understand what they’re prescribing? Are there flags that can indicate if you are dealing with a savvy and empathic prescriber? Dr: My instinct would be to ask that provider the fairly open-ended question around their philosophy regarding the use of opioids for managing pain after an injury. Warning signs would be, for example, a provider who tells you that they “hate prescribing opioids, ever,” or, conversely, someone who says, “No problem! We’ll keep you on opioids as long and as much as you need them!” The provider should have a thorough, thoughtful answer to that question that incorporates a balance. That answer should involve informing you that there is some risk for physical dependence, but giving assurances that s/he will be here to work closely with you as you’re coming off of them when it becomes appropriate. You’re looking for a provider who demonstrates mindfulness of what physical dependence and opioid withdrawal is like, but isn’t someone who is just going to write the opioid prescription because it is the easy thing to do. A: Tell me about what the future of pain management might look like. Dr.: It’s pretty exciting, actually. We have been doing work here at UW to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances, primarily Psilocybin, but also MDMA. We are going to be launching another study to see about the therapeutic potential of Psilocybin in the setting of opioid addiction or opioid use disorder. We are excited about that. Then we also have a study upcoming on therapeutic potential of MDMA for PTSD, which bears a relationship to substance use risk. It’s important to differentiate between clinical and recreational use. One of the really important components of the studies on the therapeutic potential of Psilocybin and MDMA involves the pieces of the intervention referred to as “set and setting.” Set refers to a number of things, including a relationship that is built up with a guide, the development of trust, orientation to the experience, exploration of current symptoms of mental health issues or underlying issues and preparing the participants for the therapeutic session itself. The setting can also be quite important. These supervised administrations tend to happen in an environment that is comfortable, homey, and not your typical clinical research, hospital-ish looking room, but the variables are still all under strict control, and the patient is being monitored by medical personnel. Both set and setting are understood to be really important to the potential therapeutic outcome. Recreational use takes all those controls away, so the extent to which those experiences can be therapeutic is a lot more unpredictable. Luckily, we’re getting closer and closer. When these treatments will be approved is a little unpredictable, but both are moving toward FDA approval. We’re participating in the studies that will hopefully lead to that, but it’s probably a couple years down the road. It’s an optimistic future, for sure. To learn more about Dr. Brown and the STOMP study, visit the study’s landing page at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine website.
  5. nettenette

    Lessons Learned with Amy Chmelecki

    Images by Amy Chmelecki When we catch up with Amy Chmelecki, she’s getting ready for what is, for her, a pretty normal travel schedule. From her Eloy home base, she’s heading out for one week on the coast of Barcelona, and then two weeks in Portugal’s Algarve, and then one week at a pop-up drop zone in Sicily. “I’m not sure of the details of where I’m going to be off the top of my head,” she laughs, “mostly because I couldn’t pronounce any of the names.” At this stage of the game, Amy’s own legendary last name is the one that needs the most emphatic pronunciation. She’s at the top of her game, after all: a flagship athlete with Red Bull, and certainly one of the most sought-after skydivers in the world. With head-to-toe branding, of course, comes great responsibility. Amy is no stranger to high-profile skydiving--she’s been a leading athlete in the sport for many years. Even so, her career’s constant up-level trajectory wouldn’t be a great fit for just anyone. “I’ve debated the ‘sacrifice’ question on a philosophical level with some of my friends,” Amy muses. “Sure, there’s a level of financial insecurity involved in this kind of career, but I don’t mind it. You have to be comfortable with the constant unknowns and have faith that it is going to work out. I get it that some people wouldn’t be comfortable with that, but speaking for myself, I don’t feel like I’ve sacrificed anything. Like having children, for instance. A lifestyle like this would be difficult with children, but I’ve never really wanted them--so it just fit.” It doesn’t hurt that Amy has had some pretty awesome female mentors along the way. “I actually talked to [Rigging Innovations Co-Owner] Brenda [Reid] quite a bit about this,” she continues. “I don’t know if she remembers those conversations, but they meant a lot to me when I was starting off in my career. The ‘kids’ question was something that I was nervous about, because there was this fear in the back of my head, like, am I going to regret my choice? Brenda has never had children, and I sat her down and talked to her about it extensively. She really filled me with a calm that I needed. Here was this extremely successful woman in the sport of skydiving. Since then, she has been put in the Skydiving Hall of Fame. She and [husband and Rigging Innovations Co-Owner] Sandy [Reid] have this beautiful marriage; life; career. And she has zero regrets about not having children. It was nice to hear that from someone that I admire so much.” “People still tell me I’m going to change my mind,” she laughs. “It’s happening less and less, but it still happens. The other day in Atlanta, a taxi cab driver told me I’d want kids one day, just wait and see. I’m like, dude, I’m 41. I’ve been all around the world this month. He had no idea what he was talking about. It was funny.” As any woman in airsports knows all too well, that cab driver’s oafish mansplain certainly doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Even for us girls in the rank-and-file, misconceptions abound. Amy, however, gets the rarified opportunity to blow them to bits. For instance: recently, Amy was hearing a murmur in the press bemoaning the fact that Red Bull only hires teenage girls to be its star athletes. “So then Red Bull puts out this video on Women’s Day,” she grins. “And I was, like, hey! Guess what! I’m in that video, and I’m 40. I like representing this new part of me, being a woman in her 40s and still an extreme sport athlete and still getting better, and evolving, and doing more and radder things. Sometimes, like everybody, I get a little bit of an impostor syndrome--but I’m really proud of that video and what it meant for females. This is really still happening. I’m still doing this. This is possible.” The idea of “possibility” is one that Amy gets to play with quite a lot in her daily life as a top-shelf airsports performer. If you’ve seen any of the jumps she does in that shiny silver helmet with the bull on it, you know just how far she (and the rest of the team) are able to push possibility on any given day. I’m sure we can all agree that it’s inspiring for a tidy stack of reasons. That said: Not all impossible feats are what they seem. For instance: Most people probably assume that the hardest demo Amy has ever done was the landmark wingsuit flight over the New York City skyline. Surprisingly, Amy insists that it wasn’t. “Honestly, it was relatively easy,” she insists. “There were no obstacles on the entry to the barge, first of all. We had space all around. We could approach from any direction, so we were able to go favorably into the wind.” “There was a moment when I was coming in for the landing,” she adds, “where I thought I was going to go a little long. I just let my wingsuit fall from up on my chest down on my legs. In hindsight, I was okay already, but that little bit of added drag slowed me down just a touch. That was easy to manage. There was lots of room for forgiveness on that one.” It is not, as you might imagine, always that way. “Compare that with some of the other demos we do,” she says, “where the only possible approach is to, for instance, make a right-hand 180, get close to something in the turn, avoid the crowd lined up all along one side and slip in somewhere. Those are a lot harder, even if the landing area might appear to look a lot bigger. Or, of course, a stadium demo.” And what about Amy’s dream demo? If “possibility” didn’t have to figure in anywhere? Her answer comes in record time. “I’d jump off a rocket,” she laughs. “No one has done that, have they? I should do a two-way with Jeffro out of a rocket.” She pauses to think. “I wonder if Elon Musk drinks Red Bull? He must. It says he sleeps only 4 to 5 hours a night. There has to be something keeping him up. I’m sure we could get him involved. Anyway. who doesn’t want to go to Mars?” “Seriously, though,” she leans in, “for me at this point it’s mostly about continuing to do what I’m doing--and taking care of myself more, because as you get into your 40s you have to make changes physically, and you have to work harder at being able to keep up with this type of lifestyle. My goals are to keep this sustainable for as long as I possibly can. To me, that means caring for myself physically and emotionally, and just continuing to do the hard work and evolving as a sponsored athlete.” Wise words, indeed. We wanted to know: From all that wisdom, what would 40-year-old Amy have to say to 20-year-old Amy if 40-year-old Amy walked into the Bent Prop on her kid counterpart’s very first shift? “Buy bitcoin,” she deadpans. “Okay, right. If I could go back with the knowledge and the experience and the brain that I have now, I would nurture a plan B along the way more. I would save money earlier; budget a little bit more wisely; invest. Now: The reason I say ‘with the mind I have now’ is that, honestly, I wasn’t capable of that kind of thing in my early 20s. Living this lifestyle, that’s one thing. Harnessing and nurturing a Plan B as well as saving money along the way? That’s something else entirely. When you’re younger, you’re thinking, ‘what if I die tomorrow?’ Then you get to a point where you’re, like, ‘what I live until my 90s?’ Living is way harder.” Anyway, with this kinda life--why would Amy want to do anything differently? In all honesty: she doesn’t. “Even with my own advice,” she chuckles, “I would probably do everything the same.” Good choice, Amy.
  6. StarLog Skydiving & Rigging Logbooks Price: $12 Brand new line of Skydiver and Rigger Logbooks. All spiral bound for easy logging and fit inside all standard size logbook covers. StarLog Skydiver holds 304 jumps StarLog Pro holds 1456 jumps StarLog Rigger holds 684 logs Available at ChutingStar Power Tools Price: $19.95 Want a great stocking stuffer with a low price? Give your loved one a Power Tool packing tool in holiday colors! Available at Para-Gear Hanging Handcrafted Wood Swooper Dude Price: $20 Made of mahogany, coconut and jute, the details on this handcrafted swooper includes a canopy, lines, rig on the back, hair, determined swoop face and skirt. Available at ChutingStar Rig Hangers Price: $42 With these colorful hangers you can hang your skydiving rig wherever you want. Whether it's on a rack at the dropzone hangar, on the back of a door, in your closet or anywhere else you can think of. These powder coated hangers make it easy to spot your skydiving rig, as well as give it a nice accent. Available at Para-Gear The Summer I Became A Skydiver, Children's Book Price: $25 Skydiver Ben Lowe wrote this children's book that tell's the story of a boy's introduction into a summer of skydiving. This 29-page hardcover book is a great short story that also helps explain skydiving to youngsters. Available at ChutingStar Glow Face Alt III Galaxy - $169 Meters and Black Only. The phosphorescent face provides a background glow to assist in low light conditions. The glow lasts over 2 hours in complete darkness, and is perfect for either night jumps or those sunset loads when it starts to get dark. The Glow Face Altimaster III Galaxy features a field replaceable lens. In case your lens gets scratched or cracked you will now be able to replace it yourself instead of having to send it to get serviced. Available at Para-Gear Selections Skydiving Photo Book by Michael McGowan Price: $43 This giant, hardcover photo book from McGowan is the perfect coffee table book of some of the most amazing shots in skydiving. Packed with more than 100 large, full-page photographs. Includes forward by Michael McGowan as well as liner notes from Angie McGowan and Tom Sanders. Available at ChutingStar Para-Gear Parachute Gear Bag Price: $85 Durable fabric and heavy duty zippers make this bag ideal for storing and carrying all the gear needed for skydiving. ID sleeve for personal information Dual zippered main compartment with zip protector Back pocket with additional inner zippered-pocket for storing accessories and documents up to size A4 Rubber handle on top and side Heavy duty metal buckles and comfortable-shoulder straps Durable, easy to clean, splash proof material. Available at Para-Gear
  7. nettenette

    Why and How to Stop Believing in Talent

    Your Mindset Matters, In the Sky and On the Ground Usually, when someone tells you that there are “two kinds of people in the world,” you’re either in for a bad joke or a cringeworthy platitude. That said, here you have it: Illustration by Nigel Holmes So: Are you blue, or are you green? If you’re a skydiver, there’s a good chance you’re green--and that’s a good thing. (We’ll get into that later.) The above graphic, and the decades-long body of research behind it, derives from the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, Ph.D. In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol goes into some depth regarding how the belief in our ability to change over the belief that we just kinda *are* one thing or another conspire to create us. Here’s her TED talk summarizing the work: https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve#t-106915 While Carol’s TED talk revolves around this mindset dichotomy in the context of childhood development, make no mistake: This is by far not a kid thing. This is an everybody thing. According to Dweck’s research, a “fixed mindset” insists that our character, our intelligence and our abilities are carved in stone from the start. They’re static. We can’t change them in any meaningful way. If a fixed mindset person enjoys a success, it’s because they are successful and talented. The flipside is that fixed mindset people feel like they must avoid failure, no matter what the cost, because if they fail they are a failure, and that they’ve proven wrong the people who praised them for being smart and being good at things. Every challenge, then, is a gladiatorial trial whereby they’ve gotta prove themselves or wear the cone of shame. When the pressure is on, fixed mindset would much rather lie and cheat than ask for help. A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, doesn’t look at it that way. A growth mindset sees failure as a heavier weight to lift so it can develop a heretofore weaker muscle. Failure isn’t failure. Failure is simply the state of not having succeeded yet. And, instead of running from challenge (academic, interpersonal, developmental, athletic, and onward), growth mindset runs toward the empty spaces. When growth mindset meets success, it says “Okay, then. What else ya got?” Growth mindset wants to be better where fixed mindset wants to look better. Ironically, growth mindset has an uncanny knack for scoring on both counts. Growth mindset, as Dweck puts it, “luxuriat[es] in the power of ‘yet.’” Fixed mindset is “gripped in the tyranny of ‘now.’” There’s more. Disquietingly, whichever mindset looms predominant tends to act as the motor for our entire lives. It drives not only our functional relationship with success and failure, it drives our behavior, our choices, our relationships and, in the endgame, our happiness. So, now, to the sky. Look around you for the good news. The lion’s share of skydivers, most of the time, are growth-mindset people. Y’know that graphic that pops up on Carol’s talk at about 07:40? The one that shows electrical activity in the brain when subject students encountered an error? I’m willing to bet that’s every skydiver’s brain on pretty much every jump. As a group, we just love to build out our neural networks, and our culture helps us along that delightfully meandering uphill path. First off, we see and we honor the work. We watch the hard-charging learning process of the athletes we acknowledge to be good at what they do. We share the workshop where they make their refinements. The exact measurements are up for debate, but we still rattle off jump numbers and tunnel hours and years in the sport when we calculate our expectations. Our licensing system, even, reflects that deference to workmanship and walking the long path over showmanship and cutting corners. Secondly, our sport has a pretty stark way of showing us the danger of operating out of a clearly deterministic mindset. Generally speaking, jumpers who consider themselves talented tend to behave more recklessly than jumpers who consider themselves lifelong learners. Right? Finally, our sport’s podiums are consistently graced with teams who bootstrapped themselves into shiny medals. We inherently know that, if we put the time and effort in, we can get there too. Here’s the cool part: For all that focus on growth, we can still get better. There aren’t “two kinds of people in the world,” after all--and Western culture has doused us in such a steady stream of fixed-mindset malarkey for so long that it’s really hard to get the stains out. First, we can rinse the idea of “talent” out of our collective hair. “Talent” is a fixed-mindset classic. It describes an ingrained quality, not a hard-won achievement. “Talent” is limiting, and it tends to keep the athletes under its banner from trying anything that might leave its fingerprints on their carefully burnished shine. Secondly, we can use every available opportunity to praise more wisely in situations where we’re called upon to give feedback. Instead of praising talent (“You’re a natural!”), we can praise process (“I saw you working to control that spin. It was much better this time.”). Finally, we ourselves can learn to love “not yet.” We can stop laughing off forged logbooks, pay-to-play ratings and the practice of egging ourselves (and other jumpers) on into extralimital skill situations. We can continue the tradition of our forebears in the sport, who carved out enough deep space for growth that we can sink our roots in deep before repotting. The space they created for us is a cherishable gift. As Dr. Dweck puts it: “Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.“ ---------
  8. nettenette

    The Last Frontier

    Down For 50 Jumps Alaska, And Annette O’Neil Tries to Rise to the Occasion Image Credit: Melissa Dawn Burns When I grapple my way out onto to the float, I notice two things immediately. First: It’s impossible to maintain a relaxed attitude while sitting on the pontoon of a floatplane in full flight. My mental image of myself doing this is going to take a major revision in the translation to reality. Secondly: My pilot chute has never felt so vulnerable in all my jumps. For almost the entirety of this once-in-a-lifetime skydive, as I keep a resolute smile trained on the camera aircraft flying next to us, a sepiatone clip plays over and over in my head: A pinch of (actually very securely and conscientiously packed) fabric managing to wiggle itself out of my (actually tight-as-a-new-pair-of-jeans) BOC and bolt mischievously between the pontoon and the step, deploying my beautiful new Crossfire one last time as we spiral, nose-first, into Alaska’s forested wetlands. But I digress. Before we came to Alaska, we were warned. “Ah, mosquitoes: Alaska’s state bird,” said one. “They don’t bite you. They carry you home and feed you to their children.” “You’re only there for five days?!,” breathed another. “Good luck with that. You should have planned on at least a week. You’ll never get a break in the weather.” “A college kid just got eaten by a bear while he was running a half-marathon out there in Anchorage,” chimed in another. “It chased him off the trail and into the forest. He was calling his mom as it was running him down.” Since my previous knowledge of Alaska was gleaned almost entirely from the Calvin & Hobbes ‘Yukon Ho!’ collection and a single viewing of Grizzly Man, I’m a receptive audience. I decide not to go for runs. When I arrive in Anchorage, I walk through a neighborhood from my airport hotel to a car rental storefront. The gardens, clearly nothing more than a salad bar for the local deer population, have been scrupulously stripped of anything edible. The one with remaining flowers is surrounded by a high fence. A woman crosses in front of me, walking her toy yorkie. She is carrying bear spray. I speed up, having no toy yorkie to cast off as bait. Image Credit: Melissa Dawn Burns When I get to the rental place, they issue me a Subaru. Clearly, they assume I’m not messing around. And clearly, we are not. The next morning, we—myself, my Down For 50 co-adventurer, Joel, and Brett, along for the ride on this particular state’s adventure—are on the road, bound for the town of Talkeetna. Ah, Talkeetna, Alaska: the acknowledged “doorway to Denali,” home to a heterozygous mix of hippies and lumberjacks, a private pilot mecca. The latter becomes evident even miles away, on the long road into town. The traffic overhead, after all, is significantly more congested and varied than the traffic on ground level. I’m glad I’m not driving; I’m transfixed looking out and up, checking out the rush hour trucking over the trees. Soon, following the instructions given in a flurry of arranging emails, we wind through a series of deeply wooded roads to arrive at our pilot’s lakehouse/hangar/office/flight school/community hub. The pilot himself, Don, is an affable fellow with a handsome mustache and the air of a man you’d immediately trust with your life. In fact, I do: When he suggests that we head over to the airport to conduct a quick aerial requisition of the available parachute landing areas “in the Breezy,” I immediately offer myself up. We hop in the rough-and-ready fuel truck (okay: the rusted-through blue pickup with a tank of AV gas in the bed) and off we go. The airfield is, to put it mildly, a candy store. All manner of aircraft sit gamely waiting, lined up as tidily and fetchingly as pretty ladies in an Old West brothel, all waiting expectantly for a pilot. Don and I cruise along in front of their expectant glass faces. Will we hop into the shiny red one? The bare-metal number that looks like it’ll have a sign on the door that says “silk scarves required”? The race-car-faced green-and-white one with its dancing shoes on and the freshly-chamwowed gleam? What’s this blue thing? As I’m wondering what I’m looking at, we pull to a stop. I take a closer look. This aircraft—I’m finding it difficult to call it a “plane”—is a robin’s-egg-blue latticework of metal with a wing laid across the top. There’s a prop. There’s an engine. There’s a Wizard-of-Oz-style picnic basket strapped in for storage behind an open, park-bench seat. It looks like the pilot is meant to perch on a piece of wood that sits directly in front of that. Suddenly, I realize that Don’s walking right towards it. Oh. The BREEZY. That looks pretty breezy, alright. Don hands me a motorcycle helmet and a bib jumpsuit “so he doesn’t have to worry about me.” I sit down on the park bench. I fasten the single lap belt as fastidiously as I can manage. Then, as Don works the engine like a lawnmower, I read the little metal placard fastened to the seat in front of me. It says, “Passenger warning: This aircraft is amateur-built and does not comply with the federal safety regulations for standard aircraft.” For some reason, that’s all I need to start enjoying myself. As we taxi out, I’m smiling so hard in my helmet it hurts a little. Twenty minutes later, I’ve found Jesus. I’m reeling from the feeling of being in the dead-on sweet spot of everything I love about flying and motorcycling and adventuring, all bound up into one ugly-ass not-quite-aircraft. We rode the river like a track day. We bounded over forested hillocks and gravel outcroppings and one enormous, out-of-place old satellite dish. We buzzed the lakehouse, waving at my astounded companions. As we land, I decide I might not be bluffing about wanting my fixed-wing license anymore. I tell Don. “Oh, you don’t need a pilot’s license to fly this thing,” he grins. “I can get you checked out on it this afternoon.” I backpedal. Hard. When we arrive back at camp, it’s late. It doesn’t look late, but it is late. Don, the pilots and us jumpers congregate on the dock, four floatplanes bobbing cheerfully around us, and go over the flight plan. As it turns out, they want to do our jump as a stacked formation—each of us in our own chariot—with queenly Denali throwing her white skirts around in the background. There will be a photographer (my preternaturally gifted, multi-hyphenate wonder of a friend, Melissa) passenging in a camera plane, ready to capture it. Our flight instructors thrill to the plan. I am assigned the one that’s mostly purple, bedecked with little hippie daisies. I am much pleased. After the meeting, Joel and Brett and I trundle up to the room that Don has graciously offered us, with its wide deck overlooking the twilit lake and the visiting pilots trading stories around the fire pit. We (very ineffectually) close the shades. We try to rest. Tomorrow’s a big day. Image Credit: Melissa Dawn Burns The night segues seamlessly into the morning. I wake when my sleep mask shifts and the 4:30AM sun sears my eyelids. Brett wakes when I bump his shins, hanging over the padded arm of the loveseat upon which he reclines. Joel is already up. Coffee in hand, we meander down to the dock under a cloudless, bluebird sky. There’s a four-month-old Bernese-Blue Heeler mix rolling around the lawn, doing its best to learn how to be a dog, its fur bunching adorably in handfuls, waiting to be grown into. Two chubby golden retrievers stalk fish offshore. Two pigs, wire-haired and curious, wander over and present themselves for belly rubs. We kit up. Taking off from water is a new experience entirely. It’s smoother than I think it’ll be, as the glassed-off lake is feeling nary a tickle of wind this fine, blue morning. Before I know it, we’re tooth-and-clawing our way up to six grand. “I forgot how pretty it is from up here,” my pilot smiles when we get to around four. I, for myself, had forgotten that most people—especially people around here—don’t blow through four grand like the front door on a cold night. Once we’re up at six, we circle, building the formation. Let’s be clear: these are really, really good pilots, but they’re not formation pilots, and there’s most certainly a trick to it when you’re wrangling low-performance aircraft that were made to do nothing of the sort. With the door open, six thousand feet over Alaska at the entrance to glaciertopia, it is cold. The twenty minutes it takes them to get together has me clinging to the back of the passenger seat like it’s a lover returned from the wars. I hope my hands still work when it’s time to get out. Image Credit: Down For 50 Which, coincidentally, it is. I see Melissa’s plane figuring its way alongside us. I uncertainly stick out a foot and screw it down onto the sandpaper surface of the step. Then I offer my body up to the full blast of the relative wind and lunge for the strut. I get a purchase. I, ungainly, perch. I’m doing it. There’s a yoga to staying here, one iron grip around the strut, the other hand “casually” in my lap, my brain stuck firmly to my pilot chute. Most of me aches to tumble into the familiar arms of freefall. The rest of me grabs that part of me by the cheeks and shouts into its face: For chrissakes, woman, pay attention to this and here and now, because it has an expiration date that is less than a minute in the future and this is what you came for. I heed it. Suddenly, I can see. I see the red and white camera airplane, framed by impossible mountains. Denali, of course; Mount Huntington; Moose’s Tooth; Little Switzerland. I see a sky of a blueness Alaska pretty much never sees, yet here I am, sitting in it. I see Melissa, concentrating behind the winking black eye of her lens. I can’t see them, but I feel Joel and Brett, doing their own pontoon yoga practice behind me and above me. I see so much of what I love about being in this world, hanging here and now in the suspended animation of complete attention. And then there’s the landing area below—a cleared construction pad, tucked up next to the Talkeetna airport runway. My pilot nods. I had planned some sort of fanfare for this exit. As it stands, however, all I can manage is a dizzy-eyed smile and a bog-standard hop. My pilot hollers to watch me go. She’s never seen anything like it before. When we land, parachutes slung over shoulders, I’m exhausted with the effort of committing it all to memory. I decide to walk back to the FBO and let it all process—Don’s generosity; the force of the community here; the entirely new sensations of flight. It overwhelms my hardware. It’s only later, as we hunch over plates heaped with pancakes, that I happen to glance at the collection of grinning pilots clustered in black-and-white on the Talkeetna diner wall. It crystallizes what I’m feeling: The momentum of a long tradition. Those smiling faces, proudly next to their planes, captured over the entire history of aviation, seem to prove that this place—Alaska, the last frontier—was created by and for adventure. Alaska turns energy to adventure like some sort of spiritual chlorophyll. Every single one of these guys grew tall, strong, enduring lives with the force of that alchemy. Alaska pushes out the envelopes of the willing like leaves bursting from ever-lengthening branches. This is its job. It does it well. ----------- Down For 50, the first 50-state skydiving road trip accomplished in a single journey, is happening from May to October of this year. To follow the journey, to check out when it’s coming to your state or simply to help out (thanks!), visit downfor50.org.
  9. Three Cognitive Tools to Help Keep You In One Piece Image by Kenneth Grymen Uncertainty is a foundational element of skydiving, and managing that uncertainty is one of our most important responsibilities in the sport. Right? Right. Unfortunately: what we know from laboratory experiments is that when humans come up against probabilities—all of which are, technically, conditional probabilities—our minds seize up when they try to make an inference from that data. We all hold carefully constructed illusions that comfortably surround the ideas of certainty, responsibility and safety. Learning about the structures we build out of those illusions forces us to open up to the idea that we don’t know jack. And man, we don’t like to do that. As a culture, we’re also tripped up by the fact that statistical thinking isn’t a cornerstone of our educational system. We’re friggin’ terrible at juggling statistics, in fact. (Esteemed mathematician John Alan Paulos calls this phenomenon “innumeracy”: literally, an illiteracy of numbers.) With that in mind, co-nerd along with me on this path to understanding how we stumble around in our own heads. Clearly, a library of cognitive phenomena relate to our beloved sport; I’ve picked my favorite three biggies to start the conversation. #1: The Dunning-Kruger Effect If you walk away with only one new tool in your cognitive toolkit, let that be the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a relatively new discovery, as these things go. It was set out in experiments run by David Dunning and Justin Kruger at Cornell in 1999. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias (defined as a systematic deviation from rational thinking) that prevents people from being able to know with any accuracy how skilled and/or informed they are. Basically, the research found that incompetent people overestimated (sometimes, hilariously vastly) their own abilities. Skilled people, however, tended to downplay their competency. What repercussions does this have for you as a skydiver? Holy dachshund puppy in a hot dog bun. SO MANY. It only takes a little extra listening to recognize it in the people around you--and yourself. Our sport is--just like the rest of the world--chock-full of the “confident incompetent”: those who lack the metacognitive ability to recognize that they (at least for now) suck. What’s a smart skydiver to do? Firstly and most importantly: Underestimate your abilities and the abilities of the jumpers around you. Get professional coaching to uplevel; that’ll come with a bonus of an outside perspective on your actual skills. Then make it a project to find truly competent fun jumpers to enrich your educational environment. Remember: People who know nothing are far more likely to make themselves be heard than people who know a lot. The fun jumpers who actually know a lot will likely be much quieter, so it’ll take more work to find them. #2: The Stress-Influence Tendency Every human makes decisions under varying intensities of stress; far fewer of that number regularly, intentionally make life-and-death decisions under stress. Of that smaller population segment, a pretty large fraction does it for a living. For fun? Yeah. We’re a weird crowd. We play stress games. We need to play them as consciously as possible. The Stress-Influence Tendency pops up when the stakes are high and not enough information (or cognitive resources) are present to reasonably guarantee a good choice. Here, it’s the pressure that matters. High-pressure environments dramatically change human decision-making strategies. You might think that your decision-making under pressure is solid, but you’d be wrong: Studies that compare outcomes often show vast differences in decision-making quality between high-pressure and low-pressure environments. Here’s why. According to psychologist (and Nobel Prize laureate besides) Daniel Kahneman*, we humanbeans have two routes to the endgame of a decision: the fast route, labeled System 1**, and the slow route, labeled System 2***. System 1 is snappy and pretty much automatic, kicking in to respond to an external stimulus. System 1 can be the result of genetic hard-wiring (Eek! A rat! Climb up the bookcase!) or long-term, hard-practiced skillbuilding (Eek! A rogue toddler in the LZ! Braked turn!). These responses have a tendency to feel involuntary. System 2, on the other hand, has to do a bunch of library research and take up the whole damn operating system to do its work. System 2 puts together a spreadsheet and a PowerPoint presentation of the pros and cons associated with each option. It’s the farthest thing from involuntary, but it can flexibly check, modify, and override the decisions from System 1, if given the chance. Ideally, System 1 sits down with System 2 and offers a solution, and System 2 either vetoes that judgement call or gives it the blessing of reasoning. An overdose of stress, however, pulls that chance right out from under System 2. It diverts all the cognitive resources that System 2 needs for its ponderous function, subbing out instinct for conscious reasoning. In lots of cases, that works out just fine. The problem is that System 1 is simple. It’s a habit memory system. It’s rigid; it only has a hammer, so everything looks like a nail. System 2 can bring the rest of the toolkit to bear on the problem, but only if it has the chance to get there. The only way to reliably get System 2 into the room is to reduce the amount of stress you’re under. Strive to limit your variables. Example: Doing your FWJC? Awesome. Doing your FWJC at a new dropzone in suboptimal conditions? You just locked yourself in with System 1 and chucked the key out the window. If you need a more reasoned solution for a problem than the one System 1 throws out first, you’ll be out of luck. Another thing: When you’re learning new skills that overlap with skills you’ve trained deeply, be mindful that your System 1 responses are going to overwhelmingly favor what you’ve trained. (This is why swoopers have a tendency to over-toggle paragliders, and why multi-thousand-jump skydivers sometimes panic-pull off of big-wall BASE exits in the opening phase of their low-speed belly careers.) #3: The Availability Heuristic (a.k.a. The Availability-Misweighing Tendency) Because our decision-making process has its roots in the systems that sent us scrambling for food and running from better-physically-adapted beasts, those systems are built for immediacy. They’re designed to make quick assumptions and finalize a decision using that scant criteria while consuming as few resources as possible in the process. The system works like a search engine, and we’re only ever really interested in the top three results. In precisely the same way as a search-engine ranks its resultant listings, the system ranks the stuff that pops up according to the number of times it has been accessed. “Availability” is analogous to top-ranking search position. Top ranking alone creates the illusion of truth and reliability. It’s easy to forget that simple repetition got it there. Beliefs, in kind, propagate by repetition, and our sport is no exception. Examples abound. A nail-biting number of skydivers (and aircraft operators, besides) remain super-casual about seatbelts in the jump plane because it’s pretty rare that a forced landing makes the news, making them cognitively unavailable for decisions. Make no mistake: There are plenty of forced landings goin’ on. In another example, the prevalence of a certain brand of gear on your dropzone (or in the advertising you consume) will make it significantly more “available,” driving your purchase decision more than you realize. And another: A regional community’s oft-repeated mantras (Ex.: “If we didn’t jump in clouds, we’d never jump!”) are most certainly available due to repetition and not the unaltered truth. Thinking outside of availability takes work. It takes curiosity. Often, it takes the willingness to say or do something out of lockstep. How often do you visit the second page of the search results? Maybe it’s time to start. As I said before: There are loads of these cognitive heuristics that, in one way or another, bring their kerfuffle to bear on your skydiving (and, of course, your life at large). Most of these biases complicate the problem by tending to overlap and interweave, creating a series of false bottoms and fake doors in your thinking. Learning to recognize them is a good first step; the rest of the demolition work is up to you. * Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow ** “Intuition” in the “stress induced deliberation-to-intuition” (SIDI) model *** “Deliberation” in the SIDI model
  10. joelstrickland

    Improving Your Indoor Flying Outside The Tunnel

    How First-Person Videos Can Supplement Real-Life Learning Image by alphamedak If you’re like most people, there’s only one reason you’re not, like, the best tunnel flyer in the world. It’s the annoying digital thing that barks out at you from the driving room window. 00:00! 00:00! 00:00! The cruel little clock leaves you with a knuckle-biting question that lingers in the air: Is there training that you can do that optimizes the time you spend in the airflow while the damn thing isn’t ticking down? Apparently, there is. But let’s dig into a bit of theory, first. Embodied theories of learning and instruction are having something of a moment in airsports. When we talk about “embodied learning,” we’re talking about the ways our physical actions lay the neural groundwork for new information to take root in meaningful ways. That neural groundwork is a physical, real-world thing that’s being manufactured in your head right now. The material is called myelin, and its part in the process is called myelination. Without myelin, you’ll never nail that layout. Myelination is the method by which your brain paves the pathways you tell it are most important. Like wrapping a copper wire in rubber, it wraps the axons of those prioritized neurons, protecting the neuron and helping it conduct signals more efficiently. Repeatedly, deeply practicing a move--getting it a little wrong, making adjustments and trying again--is the most efficient way to build up that myelin and, by extension, get better at what you’re working on. (For more of this in a super-readable pop-sci format, check out Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code.) When you only have a few minutes in the tunnel--or a few seconds, hopefully very occasionally, to mess with a malfunction--you need all the help you can get to get the myelination process wrapping neurons. If you’re not actually doing the activity you’re trying to myelinate, the trick is to make your brain believe that it is the actor that’s practicing the action. Learning physical skills has always begged for embodied learning methods, but modern technologies are hopping the fence in places between the things you absolutely have to be physically present to learn and the things you can reinforce--or even learn--on your own couch. Take, for example, the virtual reality malfunction videos released as a collaborative project between Sig.ma and the USPA. These are, in this author’s opinion, set to exponentially improve the way new skydiving students learn malfunction response. (Heck--they might even be instructive for you if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing one or two of these babies overhead.) Visualization has proven useful for this kind of thing, but you have to keep in mind its limits: Visualization works, but only if you’re able to very realistically, very precisely visualize the task at hand. You already have to know what you’re doing first. Visualization is a very useful tool for competitors training for a world competition; it’s not terribly helpful for someone at the first stages of working on an outface snake. First-person/VR environments are for learning new stuff, and they do it very well. The results are in: first-person video works. Check out this 2017 study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, which tested whether first-person videos were better task-teaching tools than third-person videos. (Sure, the study participants were assembling components on a circuit board, but doesn’t putting together a complicated line kinda feel all fussy-fiddly, too?) Across two experiments conducted in different labs, the first-person group performed the task more accurately, hands-down, and more time-efficiently to boot. There’s a problem, of course: It has not, historically speaking, been an easy task to find first-person video of tunnel flying. And that’s where Johannes Bergfors, a Swedish tunnel instructor and coach, comes in. Johannes has produced a fine set of these, available for free on YouTube, called First Perspective. Simply put, it’s a series of online videos filmed from the flyer’s POV. They show repetitive flying of dynamic flying motions on several speeds, both solo and duo. Filmed over a few days in the Flystation wind tunnel in Munich, local instructor Nick Poland flew the lead as Bergfors filmed following. (As a bonus, there are also some first-person videos posted there of non-single-move exchanges between Bergfors and Poland and also freestyles by the legendary Leonid Volkov.) "Your visual experience is a muscle memory,” Johannes explains. “For example, if you’re trained as a gymnast and have made a thousand front flips from the trapeze, then you will be more prepared to do a front layout, because you have already seen your world spin in front of you on the vertical axis so many times and will be able to navigate at the same time. If you don’t have that experience, you can expect everything to be a blur in front of you. Without that basis reference, you’ll have to perform a new type of body motion at the same time as your visual is dramatically changing." The idea for First Perspective has been on Bergfors’ to-do list for quite some time. Before he took his first tunnel gig in 2014, he had about 20 hours of tunnel time, which he’d paid for with a less-than-princely chef’s salary that made every second count. “Also, I was not a very good student,” Bergfors laughingly adds. “I was always complaining. My expectations were too high, and I spent a lot of time stressed out. I also had really lousy body control since I never really did any sports before that except for skydiving. If I had videos like these when I began, I think they could have helped me, and I think that’s probably true for a lot of people out there. I don’t claim it’s perfect, and it’s not a series of instructional videos about how to fly--it’s about what could be presented visually in front of you when you fly certain lines, and about teaching your body to embody this information in kind-of a sneaky way.” Johannes plans to expand and improve the collection in time. That said: It’s a damn good start. For those of us who’ve been looking for a way to invest in their progression without the clock ticking down the dollars, it’s a sweet discovery--and, hopefully, one of many emerging innovations for inspired airsports instruction. First Perspective on YouTube: https://tinyurl.com/fallrates2018
  11. admin

    How Green Is My Skydive

    by Bryan Burke Images by Serge Shakuto Friends, co-workers, and visitors to Skydive Arizona often comment on my interest in environmental topics and my rather restrained consumption of goods and energy, at least by American standards. This is in sharp contrast to my job, which is helping to run the biggest drop zone on the planet. I freely confess I have probably pumped more jet fuel into jump planes than anyone on earth. My fuel supplier is on speed dial and I order 8,000 gallons of jet fuel with a 15 second phone call. When things are busy I make that call two or three times a week. National Championships or Holiday Boogie busy? Every other day. Yet we strive to keep our operations as efficient as possible. This is good business: burn less fuel, save money. Over time, every incremental gain in efficiency saves a few gallons of fuel here and there, just as people who plan their weekly driving to minimize miles and maximize efficiency will see huge savings over time, in thousands of small increments. I reconcile my environmental leanings with my job in this manner: if someone else was doing it, a lot more fuel would be wasted. On a busy day I figure my expertise and commitment to efficiency saves Skydive Arizona at least two Otter loads worth of fuel consumption. Just how much does our sport consume, and how does that compare to other ways oil is used or wasted? The numbers that follow are rough - sometimes very rough. Comparisons are difficult because as numbers get bigger and bigger, they tend to get harder to evaluate for accuracy. Even rough numbers will give the curious reader something to think about. A Twin Otter burns about 30 gallons of jet fuel per load. If a drop zone operates at high efficiency, meaning most loads are close to full, that works out to about 1.4 to 1.5 gallons per jumper through the door. Other jump aircraft can be assumed to come in somewhere near that figure. A Cessna 182 burns a lot less per load in volume, but in terms of jumpers per load and time flown, they aren’t that different. Single engine turbines are probably about as efficient as it gets. But on the other hand, if you lose an engine on an Otter, you’re still in an airplane. If you lose the engine on a PAC or Caravan, you’re in a glider. That’s the main reason Skydive Arizona likes to run twin engine jump ships. Gasoline turns into Carbon Dioxide at a rate of about one gallon into 20 pounds. Jet fuel is a little less clean, coming in at 21 pounds per gallon. Therefore, for every 100 jumps you make, about 140 gallons of fuel are burned, and 2,940 pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted. That’s one and a half tons. Does your log book suddenly feel heavier? If you are having trouble wrapping your head around this figure, think about the raw energy involved in getting to altitude for a skydive. Imagine climbing 13,000 feet on foot, say from the lowlands around Mt. Rainier to the summit, which is 14,411 feet above sea level. Skydive Arizona is 1,500 feet above sea level, so when your altimeter says 13,000 on jump run, you’re at about the same height as the summit of Mt. Rainier. It would take several days, lots of meals, and enormous effort to get to that summit on foot. We do it in 15 minutes using a jump plane. How? By turning long dead plants and animals into explosive energy funneled through a turbine engine. By USPA’s figures, approximately 3 million jumps per year were made in the USA between 2007 and 2016, which works out to 4,200,000 gallons of fuel and 88,200,000 pounds of CO2. That’s 44,100 tons of CO2 emitted by skydiving in America each year. Multiply that by ten years and we’re talking about a lot of emissions! Let’s look even further back. Based on the jump estimates published in the April 2013 edition of Parachutist, annual jump numbers were at or below 2,000,000 until the late 80s, then climbed steadily throughout the 90s to their current levels. This makes sense. Prior to 1990, turbine aircraft were few, equipment less reliable and “one size fits all,” and training less sophisticated. People packed their own rigs. The pace was just a lot slower. Improvements in all these areas allowed the sport to reach out to a much broader demographic, resulting in more jumps made. Driven by curiosity I started pulling numbers off USPA’s bar graph estimating number of jumps per year through 2013 and then added on through 2016. I made my best rounding-off estimate, coming up with about 70 million jumps in the history of US skydiving through 2016. Obviously as data gets harder to read, or scarcer, numbers get fuzzier. Rough numbers suggest that about half of all jumps made in the world take place in the USA, so globally the skydiving total might come to about 140 million jumps made in the entire history of the sport. That would mean that since 1960, the sport has burned through somewhere around 196,000,000 gallons of fuel, sending about 2,058,000 tons of CO2 out the exhaust pipes. How do we stack up against other fuel figures? The State of California estimates that 26,221,917 gallons per year are burned by Off Highway Vehicles, including motorcycles, ATVs, and snowmobiles. That’s almost six times the total national fuel consumption for skydiving. Put another way, OHV recreation in California alone burns more than twice as much fuel as the entire world’s skydiving. The Department of Defense is the world’s single largest buyer of fossil fuels, with an estimated consumption as high as 14 million gallons per day. That’s more than all skydivers in the world use in a year and a half. To fly Air Force 1 to Hawaii and back is about 50,000 gallons of fuel, or about 36,000 jumps – enough fuel to run a mid-sized seasonal drop zone for a year. So much for motorized comparisons. Let’s look at some other fossil fuel uses. In my home state of Arizona coal-generated electrical power produced 33,402,462 tons of CO2 in the year 2016. In just one year, that works out to 16 times the entire skydiving fuel burn, globally, in all of history. The Earth Policy Institute estimates that America’s bottled water demand requires 714,000,000 gallons of oil annually for materials, packing, storage, transport, and cooling. That works out to more than 80 years of jumps for the entire skydiving world at current levels of jumping. In a more graphic image, the Pacific Institute says each bottle of drinking water would have to be filled about ¼ of the way up with oil to represent the energy it used! A gallon is 3.8 liters (which makes one jump about 5.3 liters, don’t you love math?) so you only need to drink about twenty-one 1-liter bottles of water or other beverages to waste as much oil as one skydive. Of course, this doesn’t count the energy used to get you to the DZ and make your rig, jumpsuit, and accessory equipment. Or make the airplane, pave the runway, and put up the hangar. Then comes the most disheartening element of fuel of all, the waste. The Exxon Valdez spill released about 11,000,000 gallons of fuel over the space of a few days, enough to supply the entire global fleet of jump ships with fuel to fly for over a year. Exxon Valdez pales compared to the ten largest spills in history, all of which amounted to more than 45 million gallons each. The Deepwater Horizon spill alone was estimated to be approximately 200 million gallons, which would cover all the skydives ever made in the world, with about 30 million gallons left over for rigs and jumpsuits, and shipping them to customers. Here’s my favorite. Around three billion gallons of gasoline are estimated to be wasted annually in the USA by cars idled in traffic congestion. If that amount was used for skydiving, the entire world could keep jumping at current levels for another 350 years. Daily fuel wasted in American traffic jams is the equivalent of almost six million jumps, or an entire year of the entire world’s estimated skydives. I didn’t bring up all these very dark comparisons to make skydiving look green against a black background. There’s just no way we can rationalize skydiving into being green. To visualize just how much CO2 you generate on each jump, take that 29.4 pounds of CO2 and visualize it as six five-pound bags of charcoal briquets. Every jump, piling up on the DZ. If a bag of briquets is about one cubic foot, even a small drop zone would have a big pile out back. Skydive Arizona would have enough to fill four structures the size of the Colosseum of Rome, plus one Parthenon. On the other hand, clearly skydiving is a small element of the whole picture. At the personal level, if you are the average American your annual car emissions are the equivalent of 340 skydives per year. Even so, how can it be justified? Philosophically, I do it this way. Play is a fundamental need coming in right after food, water, shelter, and security. Skydiving is high quality play, as good as it gets, but it comes with a cost. We can’t eliminate that cost, but we can mitigate it by simply focusing on eliminating waste and inefficiency throughout our society and off-setting the damage through environmental restoration. Wasteful use of oil, such as bottled water, cars stuck in traffic, industrial scale agriculture, consumer culture in general, and incredibly fuel consumptive military adventures around the globe are examples of where savings could be had. These require some personal and political commitment to steer away from a system that practically glorifies waste. Why not take that lesson skydiving with you? Maybe carpool to the DZ with a friend. Take an apartment closer to your job to avoid that wasteful commute or use mass transit to get to work. Buy a couple re-useable five-gallon water jugs to fill at a local water filtration facility, then refill smaller bottles from that rather than buying a pack of one-liter bottles for the weekend at the DZ. Set your air conditioning a little higher in summer and a little lower in winter. Make your driving as purposeful and efficient as possible by planning your errands carefully and buying a car that is practical rather than a statement about image. Buy less stuff. Not only does stuff need to be moved from source to consumer, it must be mined, refined, transported to manufacturing plants, and so on. An I-phone 5S has a carbon footprint of 150 pounds - five skydives worth of fuel. I find that visualization really helps me make immediate choices. If you visualize the bottom quarter of that throw-way beverage bottle as filled with bitter jet fuel that you must drink, you’ll never want to touch it again. Sodas, same way. All that high fructose corn syrup was grown on highly mechanized farms before it was heated, treated, dyed, stuffed into a plastic bottle, and trucked to its air-conditioned home in a machine! When I contemplate a road trip, I visualize chucking a five-pound bag of charcoal out of my window every five miles and ask myself just how important that trip is to me. It’s harder to hide from the truth this way. I’ll still make the trip, but I allow myself only so much total annual fuel consumption – a budget, if you will – and making that trip will require that I tighten up consumption in other areas. Most Americans could reduce their overall consumption of energy, goods, and services by at least a third with a little thought and better practice. Finally, don’t waste money and fuel on lousy skydives! Focus on well planned jumps that have a high probability of success and the feeling of reward that comes with that. You’ll learn faster, be safer, and maybe be just a tiny bit greener too! There’s an old saying, “Dirt dives are free.” Use your time on the ground wisely and your time in the air will be well spent.
  12. admin

    Demo Skydiving for N00bs

    How To Be A Hero, Kinda Maybe you’re a limelight magnet and maybe you’re not-- but if you like to mess around with parachutes, the limelight might follow you regardless. Even if you don’t necessarily seek it out, there’s a chance that someone will find out you’re a skydiver and ask you to--well--jump into something. A grand opening, for instance, or a wedding, or a local event. Before you slink away, hold on! If you’ve got the experience under your belt, there’s really no reason to turn it down out-of-hand. This could be a great learning experience if you’re able to commit the time and wherewithal to put in the planning. Expanding your skill as a jumper is always a worthwhile endeavor. After all, a demo (or, as it is officially known, an exhibition/display jump) doesn’t have to be a stressful proposition. Unless you’re Kenyon Salo (or anyone else on the Denver Broncos Thunderstorm team), it doesn’t necessarily stipulate a nail-biting night jump that swoops you through a spiderweb of cables to a landing in front of a screaming stadium audience. It may surprise you that, for demo jumps performed under specific conditions, you don’t need a USPA D-license or a pro rating. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t even necessarily mean that you’re landing in front of an audience. Doing a demo jump simply means that you’re jumping into a location other than an official registered drop zone. To get a little clarity, I talked to Neil Amonson, who has been a demo jumper par excellence for quite some time. Once a member of the legendary GoPro Bomb Squad, Neil now runs Jump For Joy--an incredible skydiving-driven inspirational/educational youth project. (You should stop scrolling right now and sign up.) For a little help getting your homework started, read on. Give It Time A demo starts -- of course -- on the ground. If you’re approaching the idea of doing a demo jump for the first time, you should give yourself about a month’s worth of lead time to make all the necessary arrangements and file paperwork. Aside from the not-insignificant challenge of finding an aircraft to do the deed, you can expect more than a few checklists to work through, the details of which change according to the details of your unique jump plan. Determine Your Level. If you skew to the new, you’re very likely going to find your footing as a Level One or “Open Field” demo jumper. While the experience and license requirements are the same between the two. but Level One and Open Field jumps are classified differently based on area. If the landing area covers up to 500,000 square feet, the landing area is classified as Level One. If it clocks in at more than 500,000 square feet, that’s when it becomes a "open field.” “There are some little details between the two that makes a Level One slightly more advanced,” Neil explains. “For my jumps, when I measure up the LZ and see how many square feet it is, that lets me know how complex of a demo it is likely to be. ‘Open field’ is a piece of cake and very low stress. Level 1 is still pretty easy, but I probably couldn’t do it blindfolded. Level Two is more serious--and a stadium usually has my butt a little puckered.” “Because it shows up on the paperwork, I think the level system helps the FAA understand how much risk is involved,” he adds. “The lower the level of the LZ, the less they probably stress about the jump as well.” To jump into a Level One or Open Field LZ, you’re going to need at least a USPA C license and 200 jumps in your logbook, 50 of which must have been made within the past 12 months and five of which need to have been done on the same model and size canopy you’re planning to use on the demo. If you’re significantly more seasoned, you can hook up with an Instructor-Examiner and get your PRO rating to do Level Two demos. This is the rating you’ll need to jump into any stadium, no matter now big. (Ask anybody who has jumped into a stadium why that’s the case, and they’ll probably tell a rotor story that’ll curl your hair.) Assess the Landing Area If you’re considering a demo, your first stop should be a technical requisition of the landing area. (If this wasn’t going to be the top item on your list in the absence of advice, we would perhaps recommend binning the idea of a demo entirely.) If you’re a level-one demo jumper, you’ll need loads of room. You’ll soon see why the “open field” moniker applies. For a Level One jump, you’ll need to be jumping into a landing area no smaller than 250,000 square feet. When you’re jumping into an area over 500,000 square feet, you’re in an “open field.” Most open-field athletic areas constitute a Level One area. That might sound enormous--and it is, at a minimum of 500’x500’--but don’t sniff too soon. The additional stresses of a demo jump are going to make the experience sufficiently interesting to hold your attention. Get The Rest of Those Ducks In a Row After you’ve collected all your in-date identification (specifically, your parachuting license and reserve repack card) for presentation, you’ll be working with the aircraft operator to do the paperwork. Get ready to leap into the exciting world of waivers, any required secondary insurances and the holy NOTAM. Let’s take a second to define “NOTAM,” if this is the first time you’ve come across the term. NOTAM is an acronym that stands for “Notice to Airmen.”* A NOTAM is, essentially, a heads-up to pilots and the FAA at large that flags what you’re up to in the airspace. A NOTAM allows you and your aircraft to fly a stated altitude and pattern within a stated time window. As well as Google Maps, you’ll also be using a website called Skyvector to complete your filing, because the FAA will want see your LZ on a sectional chart as well as a satellite image. It’s important to note that a NOTAM is not a guarantee that your jump’s gonna happen. It can be turned down by the FAA. Neil suggests filing a 7711-2, also called the "Application for Certificate of Waiver or Authorization,” no matter what level of demo you’re planning. “While it's not required for Open Field and Level One landing areas, it's the one piece of the puzzle that absolutely ensures that everyone that needs to be on board is on board,” he explains. “It's basically the golden ticket from the FAA that says ‘we approve of your plan.’ I used to try and skirt the rules for doing the paperwork and--even though I was legal!--one time, the FAA called my pilot and told them not to let me jump because we disagreed on what type of landing zone it was. Ever since then, I’ve done a 7711-2 for every demo and I haven't had one turned down in ten years.” While page 169 of the SIM explains how to fill out a 7711-2, Neil says that a little mentorship will go a long way. “The best way to learn how to fill it out is to have a local pro-rated jumper--who has filled one out before--let you see one they’ve submitted,” he explains. “If you were just to look at the application, it’s kind of confusing, but when you see it filled out it makes more sense.” Take note: The higher-profile your jump, the more likely it is that the FAA will come out and watch to make sure you didn't ask permission for one thing and then do another. Dial In Your Comms and Your Crowd Control You’ll need to conspire with a ground crew to manage your adoring crowd in accordance with the guidelines in the SIM (unless you’ve figured something else out and gotten it officially waivered). For Level One demo jumps, the crowd management suggested by the USPA allows skydivers to drift over the spectators with sufficient altitude (250 feet) to prevent a hazard to anything or anyone on the ground. (That means you’ll be landing at least 50 feet from the spectators. The USPA, in its benevolent wisdom, doesn’t want you toddler-bowling.) “A rule that is often forgotten about,” Neil warns, “is the requirement for ground-to-air communications between the ground crew and aircraft. This is easy accomplished with a radio--or even texting, when you’re only going up to hop-and-pop altitude.” “There also needs to be a backup, if those comms are lost,” he adds, “that can signal to the jumpers that the LZ is not safe. That’s your ‘no comms’ plan. On my demos, the ground crew usually puts a big X down where we are supposed to land. We tell the ground crew that, if we lose comms and we should NOT jump, to remove the X from the LZ. If we look out of the plane and don't see the X marking the spot, we know something happened, and to stay in the plane. In all the years I’ve been doing demos, we've never actually needed to do this, but it's good that your ground crew knows, in case the FAA shows up, to make sure you are sticking to your plan.” ...And Don’t Jump When It’s Not Jumpable Great! So you have your filings approved, your ground crew is stoked, your crowd is assembled and your prop is turning...but the trees are bending over more than a little bit at the top and there’s weather creeping in. The USPA recommends a maximum wind of 15 mph for a demo jump. What now? “The hardest part of a demo just is knowing when NOT to jump,” Neil notes. “It is soooo hard to say no when it's game day and you just want to pull it off the winds are strong and gusty.” “Also watch out for the winds aloft,” he insists. “Your spot is everything. There have been a few times I've done demos where we’ve drifted into the next county, and that always happened because it was calm on the ground but NUKING up high-- our pilot wasn't a jump pilot so he didn't think it was important--and we mistakenly assumed that calm winds on the ground meant calm winds above the ground. Whoops.” Use Your New Skills For Good> Demo skydiving inspires people. It does! There’s something semi-magical about descending from on high and (hopefully) touching down like goddamn Tinkerbell in front of a cheering crowd. That crowd’s general concept of what-is-possible for themselves, the world and physics will change, at least a little bit, for the good...and that’s almost certainly worth the effort of prep and paperwork. N’est-ce pas? *This author looks forward to a verbiage change away from crusty old gendered language. “Notice To Airpersons,” perhaps?
  13. The ‘father of skydiving’ shares a glimpse into his incredible knowledge. Prepare for knowledge bombs, anecdotes, and entertainment as Bill takes you on a 50 year journey through his experience of skydiving in his renowned ‘History of Skydiving’ presentation. Video shared from Skydive The Mag
  14. March is safety month, and what better time than just before the Northern Hemisphere's summer season to refresh yourself on information you may be rusty on, or just become more educated in the various safety aspects. Last year we published an article with what we felt were some of the most important safety related articles published on Dropzone.com at that time. Since then we have had several new pieces of information published, that may help you in staying safe out there, from canopy control to exit separation. We've also included several safety day events that are happening around the world later this month. Here's a list of what we feel are 5 of the most important articles submitted over the past year: Teaching Students To Navigate The Landing Pattern In our most recently published safety article, coach and IAD instructor rated Corey Miller discusses some of the core aspects of landing patterns and how students are taught to navigate them. The article focuses specifically only the way instructors relay landing information to students over radio, while perhaps not allowing the students to truly learn for themselves what is important to look for and more closely address the subject of learning to land as opposed to being told how to land. Staying Current During Winter While this article may be a bit late for the northern hemisphere, winter is approaching down south and many useful tips can be learned. In the article, Brian Germain discusses the benefits to staying current during the off season and provides readers with a number of useful exercises that can be done to ensure optimum efficiency when you return to the sky. There's numerous images included to help you understand the setups and how they work, as well as exercises that addresses specific individual disciplines. Exit Order Safety Another article by Brian Germain, on the topic of exit order safety. The main focus of the article revolves around establishing and discussion the different types of jumpers and how their time under the plane may vary, and in turn to establish who should jump when and why. Not only is the direct exit from the aircraft addressed, but the article further discusses exit order importance with regards to exit timing and landing area. In the comments section, Brian goes on to acknowledge the possible ambiguity in the term "prop-blast penetration", used in the opening paragraph and says that the term can be replaced by such terms as "forward throw", "relative wind penetration" or the more self-explanatory "horizontal distance traveled". When Should You Upsize Your Canopy The first of two very useful articles on the topic of canopy size, this article was a combined effort by Melissa Lowe, Barry Williams and Jason Moledzki. It uses numbered points to address 10 factors that one should look at when considering canopy size. Most of the time the thought is on downsizing, as one feels more comfortable with their current setup, but for some people - the solution to many of their problems may actually be to head in the other direction and consider upsizing their canopy. There are numerous variables involved that could prompt one to require an upsizing, from gaining weight to even jumping at a higher elevation. At the end of the discussion, there is a Canopy Risk calculator (created by the USPA), which is intended to act as a guideline for you to see how much of a safety risk you are with your current setup and skill level. It's Not Only Size That Matters - Thoughts on Canopy Upsizing The other canopy upsizing article we featured was submitted by Dave Kottwitz and focuses more on retelling lessons learned when he upsized from a Triathlon 210, to a Spectre 230. On his third jump on the new, larger canopy Dave ended up breaking his leg in six places as well as dislocating his shoulder. In the article, he looks at what caused the problems and why one has to realize that upsizing your canopy is not an immediate guarantee for an increase in safety.
  15. admin

    All About Naked Skydiving

    Advice From Jeff Dawson, The World Record Holder for Birthday Suit Skydives Milwaukee might seem like an odd place to rack up a truly epic number of naked skydives. You might expect conservatism and bitter winters to, y’know, get in the way. However, that’s exactly what Jeff Dawson--based at Sky Knights, near Milwaukee--has been doing for more than two decades. Of a little under 4,000 skydives, Dawson has done 722 of them naked, which is the world record by a long shot. Along the way, he has founded the Society for the Advancement of Naked Skydiving, or “SANS,” which keeps track of the world’s current naked skydiving records. (See what he did there?) At any rate, Dawson presents a wealth of hard-earned wisdom for skydivers eager to strip down before they jump out. Whether you’re doing the traditional birthday-suit huck for your hundredth or a way to pass the time while your jumpsuit is at the cleaners, Dawson has you (un)covered. We reached out with our most pressing questions. Q: Why is it that you love jumping naked so much? Dawson: It started off it was a naughty thing to do. I am a fairly conservative person, and it was naughty, so it was fun. Then it got to be the thing, and now it has become a creature all its own. The fact is that I’m not really a group-skydiving guy. I like just to get out of the airplane and enjoy the world around me by myself, just enjoying the awe of the situation. Naked skydiving makes that just so much better. You are just hanging out there. Nobody can see you. There isn’t a care in the world. That, to me, is pure freedom. I never set out to be the world record holder for naked skydiving. It just happened. I don’t go out to see how many naked skydives I can make; it’s just that I like doing it and the club I belong to is very naked-jumping friendly. I have made naked skydives where nobody has said one word about the fact I was naked. They are just so used to it. I have made at least one jump in every calendar year for almost 21 years, and I have made at least one naked jump every calendar month for 16 years. I did three naked jumps this past December when it was maybe 20 degrees Fahrenheit. At Sky Knights, they call [a wintertime naked jump] a “Dawson Pop” because I’ll be doing a hop-and-pop naked. Q: Okay--some basics. Since we all quite obviously have to wear some gear when we jump out of a plane, what is actually considered a “naked jump”? Dawson: Everybody has their own idea of what qualifies. For the purpose of the Society of the Advancement of Naked Skydiving, we say wrist to wrist and neck to knees. That allows safety equipment: a helmet, goggles, gloves, altimeter, shoes and socks if that’s what you choose to do. I have done only one jump where I was completely, 100% naked (with the rig, of course). No helmet, goggles, shoes, altimeter, socks...they called it a “naked naked” jump. Q: Did you start doing the naked thing before you started jumping or did you start doing the naked thing after you started jumping? Have you always been into naturalism? Dawson: Absolutely not. I made my first naked jump on my 100th skydive, but as far as the rest of it goes, no. I don’t even wear shorts in the summertime; always pants. I have nothing to do with nudism, naturalism...anything like that. Except for the naked skydiving. Q: What was it about that first naked skydive that got you into it? Dawson: Actually, it wasn’t that first one that got me going. Actually, it wasn’t that first one that got me going. I didn’t do another naked jump for probably 3 or 4 years afterward. A young female jumpmaster who liked to skydive naked put together a 4-way for a jumper’s hundredth jump, and she asked me to be a part. I think that was September 2001. The same thing happened a month later in October. We decided that we would see if we could make at least a 2-way every month for a year. We did, and of course there were several other people involved at different times. After a couple of years, she moved away, but I just kept going. Q: If someone is visiting Sky Knights on any given weekend, how likely is it that at least one person is going to be naked at some point? Dawson: Pretty likely. I do it more than most people, of course. If the conditions are right, I usually do my last jump of the day naked. Q: What’s the first step to doing a naked skydive right? Dawson: The first thing you have to do is to see if your dropzone even allows naked skydiving. I travel a lot and have been to a lot of different dropzones and talked to a lot of people about this. You have to understand that there are plenty of dropzones that actually can’t facilitate naked skydiving; where if there is any nakedness going on of any kind, the dropzone will get kicked off the airport because that’s in their contract, or charter, or whatever. Then you have to decide how public you want to make it. Cameras and social media are out there in such prevalence today that you have to be careful that someone’s livelihood could be endangered if this type of thing got out in the way that things do now. Unless you want the entire dropzone out at the landing area with cameras, you’ll have to have help to keep it quiet and under wraps. I blame social media for the fact that naked jumping isn’t as popular now as it used to be. Q: How can you set about controlling those variables? Dawson: If you want to do a naked jump stealthily and not have the whole dropzone watching, you can make that happen by arranging for a separate pass or landing area--or just talking to the people who are on the jump and asking them to turn off their cameras. People should understand that it’s a very legitimate concern. Q: How do you go about preparing for a naked skydive? Dawson: First off, I would definitely suggest doing it with someone who has done at least one before. You will want to decide what you are going to do about clothes. Sure, you’ll have a 200-square-foot toga to wear, but what next? Personally, I have a set of shorts that I wear over my leg straps, and then I have a pocket on one of the leg straps. When I am in the plane, I take the shorts off and put them in my leg pouch to put on after I land. I have seen people tie shorts onto a leg strap with pull-up cords. I knew one person who actually stuffed his shorts in the tail of his canopy. Amazingly, it didn’t affect the opening. You can always stash clothes at the landing area, of course. When you’re gearing up, make sure that your straps are relatively tight. We have a saying for the guys: Make sure that you have your junk in the right spot, because you can always cut away from a line-over but you can’t cut away from a nut-under. Nipples can be a problem, too. You can deal with that by either locating the chest strap above the nipples so that they’re out of the way or use band-aids to reduce the snag hazard, especially if you wear jewelry there. I have never seen it myself, but I’ve heard of at least one person who had jewelry ripped out of her nipple. Q: What’s different about the jump itself? Dawson: What tends to happen is that, after one person decides they’re going to do a naked jump, a bunch of people get on it. It can easily turn into a big zoo, with a dozen people on the jump who have never jumped naked before. That’s not a good idea. Naked jumping is entirely different from clothed jumping in that it changes the amount of control you have over your bodyflight. There’s a whole different dynamic: for instance, coming into a formation. If your mode normally is to come in fairly hot and slow down last minute to enter the formation, you’ll soon discover that that doesn’t work as well with a naked jump because you don’t have the drag. People often find they can’t stop. So if you can do it with 2 or 4 people--something like that--it usually works out better. When you’re in freefall, you’ll feel like the container is falling off of your back--or is not centered--because it’s touching your skin and you can actually feel where it is. Don’t freak out. If you’ve done your straps up nice and tight, it’s not actually coming loose; it just feels different. Also: You don’t want to get too wrapped up in the naked part of the skydiving and forget about all the other parts, which brings me to probably one of the most important parts about naked skydiving. This goes for any kind of extraordinary skydive. You’re still making a skydive, and you still have to do it safely. You have to make sure your equipment is right, and you do all of your checks. It is really easy to get caught up--especially if we’re talking about a 100-jump person--in the excitement of what’s going on, and forget about the things that are necessary. One more word to the wise: Choose a day when the conditions are right for a stand-up landing. If you slide in even a little bit, you are going to know it. Even grass acts like sandpaper. Q: Any final words of wisdom? Dawson: Do everyone a favor and be cool about it. If you go out and flash unsuspecting tandem students and airport authorities, then you’re crossing the line. Sky Knights operates a PAC in the summertime and when I’m ready to make a naked skydive, there will usually be tandems on the load. I won’t surprise them with my nakedness. Before they are even manifested, I’ll find out from manifest who they are, introduce myself and ask if they’d mind if I’m on the same load. I’ll also do that with other jumpers I don’t know. Most people are fine, especially when I tell them it’s going to be a world record--because every time I make a naked skydive, it’s a world record. I try to be sensitive about who is on the load and not make anyone feel embarrassed. Being polite about it has allowed me to do all those jumps. Got at least one naked jump? Join SANS! It costs a whopping $5 dollars to join, and with that membership fee you get a member number, a certificate for the wall of your cubicle, some stickers and a refrigerator magnet.
  16. How Not To Become Dog Food Like That Indiana Jones Guy Image by Lukasz Szymanski Remember that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Indiana Jones is on an active airfield. He’s duking it out with a bald, mustachioed, wall-of-meat Nazi, and he’s kinda losing. Finally, he manages to distract the dude with his puny, tickly little punches until a propeller can chop his shiny evilness into dog food. And we cheer, and we laugh. Because ha! That guy was so stupid, he didn’t even see that propeller. Hilarious. Well, my friends -- we could all easily be that bald, mustachioed, wall-of-meat Nazi if we’re not careful. We’re around propellers all the time, after all. We’re accustomed to hearing and feeling them -- so much so that they’re almost invisible. Statistically, we’re in their immediate presence enough for the risk to be proportionately higher than it is for someone who’s rarely on an active airfield. So: here’s your game plan. Always sneak up on fixed-wing aircraft from behind. Props are located in on the fronts of fixed-wing aircraft -- either on the nose or on the fronts of the wings themselves -- so always approach a fixed-wing aircraft from well behind the wing. Teach yourself to do this every time, whether or not the plane is running. This will lessen the chance of you bumbling into the “fool processor” with a boogie beer in-hand. Always stare helicopters in the face. (Kinda.) Helicopters don’t like to be snuck-up-on. Think about it like you’re establishing dominance -- always approach helicopters from the side-front, where the pilot can see you. (The real reason for this is the danger posed by the rear rotor, but -- if you think about it -- helicopters kinda have faces you can stare down.) The rule of thumb is to stay in front of the boarding door, never behind it, and not directly in front of the helicopter where it tips during takeoff. Never chat with the pilot from outside the plane. Have manifest radio them with information, or -- if you must -- do the annoying half-gesture, half-shout thing inside the cabin. They probably don’t want to talk to you, anyway. Never touch a propeller unless you’re filling out a timecard to do it. Touching a propeller is like sticking your hand into a beehive. You may or may not get stung, but it’s an inarguably dumb idea. Even if the plane is tucked in for the night, it’s not okay to saunter up to a propeller and stroke, push, spin, crank, pull, lean, poke, lick or fistbump it. They’re heavy, sharp and kinda unpredictable, especially if you’ve been drinking (which you probably have been). Just leave it alone. Don’t take the shortcut. Is the shortest distance from the LZ to the hangar a straight shot through the loading zone (or any other aircraft operating area)? Do the right thing and walk around it. If you start cutting through the no-walk zone to save a couple of minutes, your fellow jumpers, students and spectators will likely follow suit. Restricted areas aren’t restricted unless it’s hot and you’re tired and you double-manifested, and you -- or someone who waddles along after you -- might pay a high price for the choice. Don’t wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care on a heli huck. ...until you’re either hanging from the helicopter strut, safely landed, or mugging for a freefall photo you’ll be embarrassed about later. There are spinning scimitars up there while you’re exiting, dude. Do your part to muddy up the gene pool. Especially on crowded weekend days, boogies, demo events and any other place that more than two mouthbreathers are gathered in the name of skydiving, you are going to witness stupidity. If you see one of the horde wandering cow-faced towards the propellers -- almost always, led by a GoPro or smartphone -- please grab them, divert them and ask them nicely not to procreate as you lead them gently behind the signs they’ve so blithely ignored. Maybe remind them of the bald, mustachioed, wall-of-meat Nazi guy who became dog food. (Everybody remembers that part.)
  17. admin

    Understanding Camera Switches

    Introduction Taking photos while skydiving is easier today than it has ever been, yet doing the job properly remains serious business. Camera technology marches ceaselessly forwards, and while the gap between the products aimed at the casual consumer and the lofty professional is narrowing - any freefall photographer that considers themselves proper job will very likely rock a stand-alone stills camera as part of their setup. Try as you might - you will never be this cool. Action cameras are great. Their small size, plus both the features they present and the quality of media they capture make them highly useful for everything from skydiving to attaching to your cat to find out where it goes at night. However - any occasion you have to directly compare the images recorded by these teeny wonders with those of a more traditional camera will highlight the superior quality a dedicated stills unit has to offer. The exponentially multiplying capacity of digital memory means that with a GoPro or whatever, you can just set it going at some point before the start of your jump, forget all about it until at least ten minutes after you finish packing then sift through an ungodly amount of chaff later in search of the choicest shots to share about the place. Everybody knows this is cheating though, and that photos created serendipitously by a piece of gadgetry that happens to be attached to your forehead is not your work - but is in fact the subtotal of all human endeavour leading up to this exact point, where you got lucky. A stills camera is the tool of the craftsperson and must be activated manually when something awesome happens. There are a few choices available for this, all of which involve using your mouth to activate the camera and get the job done. As with a lot of things in skydiving, people sometimes feel very passionately about what they believe to be correct tool for the job and will offer to fight you to the death for besmirching their good word by thinking differently - and camera switches are no exception. While all pretty straightforward to operate, they each have some subtle strengths and weaknesses so a little forethought might help you arrive at what is best for you. This man is called Trunk. Trunk runs a company called GetHypoxic. If you are building a camera platform or simply wish to geek out about skydiving technology - this is your guy. Bite Switch The bite switch is either straight or L-shaped with a section somewhere in the middle that you hold between (specifically) your front teeth and bite softly to operate. The Good: Good Feedback: Of the choices available a bite switch provides the most satisfying little clicks to reassure you that you are getting shit done. The Bad: - Head Movement: Operating a bite switch involves moving your jaw a little bit to bite down, which can put a visible wiggle in your framing - particularly if you are capturing video. - Moisture. If you eventually chew through the plastic casing, condensation or saliva can get inside and short out the connections. Blow Switch The blow switch is a small unit about the size of your thumb that you mount to the outside of your helmet. The part that goes into your mouth is a straw-like tube that you blow into to activate the camera. The Good: - Durability. With no wires and such directly in your mouth there are fewer parts that are subject to moisture or wear, and you cannot damage it by biting too much. The Bad: - Low Feedback. With nothing that clicks actually pressing against any part of your mouth you do not receive any direct indication of operation from the device itself. - Breathing. The action of blowing into a tube to depress the button can potentially disrupt your breathing, and vice-versa - having to breathe at some point can interrupt your photo taking. - Gunk. Clean it, you filthy animal. Tongue Switch The tongue switch is usually L-shaped. You grip it between your teeth wherever it feels most comfortable and depress a little button with the tippy end of your tongue. The Good: - Separate Actions. By holding the switch with one part of your mouth and operating the button with another, this option has a sensible tactile nature. - Flexibility. You can hold this switch anywhere amongst your teeth that feels right for you. The Bad: - Due to the available mobility, the internal wiring can wiggle loose and the switch possibly wear out over time. - Moisture. As with the bite switch - if you eventually chew through the plastic casing, condensation or saliva can get inside and short out the connections. - Hilarity. If you use a tongue switch you will quickly grow very, very tired of jokes about your increased sexual powers - from pretty much everybody. A tongue switch and a bite switch respectively. Photographed on a moist houseplant. This is me. The truth is that all these devices work perfectly well. I have a tongue switch now because I have always had a tongue switch. I don’t remember why that was my choice and yet I see no reason to change it. Every now and then someone will tell me it is a worthless piece of shit good only for the bin, yet I rarely miss a photo. There is immense satisfaction to be found in ‘getting the shot’ and if you are serious about the role of aerial photographer a good stills camera is essential. High pressure situations like freefall turn small issues into bigger ones, and although just a small element your mouth switch is an important piece of your camera helmet. One that works well for your needs over something not-quite-right can be the crucial difference between kicking ass or not kicking ass much more often than you think.
  18. Be Aware of the Risks Choose a method of training Find a Drop Zone Set a date and jump! Get licensed Depending on how much time you have, how much cash you've got to spend, and how strong your nerves are, you have three options for what method of skydiving you'll use for your first jump: tandem, static line, and accelerated freefall (AFF). These methods vary in that some are designed to give you a quick experience and introduction to skydiving while others start with full blown first jump courses that will set you on the path to becoming a certified skydiver. Consider your options. Think about the experience you'll get out of each of these and your reasons for doing it. Then pick one. Whichever method you choose to expose yourself to the sport we know you won't regret it. You'll have fun, broaden your horizons and shift your boundaries. Tandem Jumping Tandem jumps are a very popular way to make your first jump. They allow the curious potential student to experience, first-hand, the thrills of skydiving without the stress of AFF or SL progression. Most dropzones are set up to offer tandem skydives under two different scenarios: the "one-time fun jump"", or as part of a hybrid training method sometimes called "tandem progression." The former only requires about 30 minutes of ground preparation; the latter is generally completed after a fairly standard First Jump Course (FJC) which can last up to four hours or more. Tandem jumping, by definition, consists of an experienced jumper called a "Tandem Master" or "Tandem Instructor" and the passenger. The tandem master rides on the back and wears an extra-large parachute system capable of carrying weights of up to 500 pounds; easily able to safely suspend two people. The passenger (or tandem progression student) wears a specially designed harness that attaches in four points to the front of the tandem master. A tandem freefall generally lasts between 45 and 60 seconds, followed by a four minute canopy ride to the ground. Tandem jumping provides an obvious advantage for the adventurous spirit who cannot adequately meet the physical or proficiency requirements for the S/L or AFF jumps. By relying on Tandem Master's skills, they will still be able to experience the thrill of skydiving. It should be noted that, in the United States, tandem jumping is conducted in two different modes: as a "ride" by manufacturer-rated Tandem Masters, and as bona fide skydiving instruction by USPA Tandem Instructors who also hold the manufacturers’ ratings. Only USPA-rated Tandem Instructors can teach tandem as a part of hybrid skydiving instruction. In most of these hybrid courses, a student makes three or four tandems and then finishes training starting with a level four AFF jump. The utility of this hybrid method is that there is never more than one instructor involved in any one skydive, thus freeing up staff to more quickly train the student load. Jumps made with a USPA-rated Tandem Instructor count towards student proficiency, those made with a non-USPA rated Tandem master do not. Tandem jumps range in cost from as low as $70 dollars (US) to over $300, so it’s best to shop around for the best deal. Static Line Training (S/L) This method has evolved over the last ~30 years from its military origins into a successful method for training sport parachutists. The student gets 4-5 hours of ground training and is then taken to an altitude of about 3000 feet for the jump. The jump itself consists of a simple "poised" exit from the strut of a small single engine Cessna aircraft, or the side door of a larger aircraft. As the student falls away from the plane, the main canopy is deployed by a "static line" attached to the aircraft. The student will experience about two to three seconds of falling as the parachute opens. Subsequent S/L jumps require about 15 minutes of preparation. After 2 good static line jumps, the student will be trained to pull their ripcord for themselves. The student then does 3 more static line jumps where they demonstrate this ability by pulling a dummy ripcord as they leave the plane (the static line is still initiating the deployment). The student is then cleared to do their first actual free fall. The first freefall is a "clear & pull", where the student initiates the pull sequence immediately upon leaving the aircraft. Next is a 10 second delay jump. Subsequent jumps go to progressively higher altitudes with longer delays. After 25 free falls, and meeting certain other basic requirements, the student receives their A license and is cleared off student status. Accelerated Free Fall (AFF) The AFF program was instituted in 1982 as an "accelerated" learning process as compared to the traditional static line progression. The AFF program will give you a true taste of modern sport skydiving. The ground training is a bit more extensive than S/L (~5 hours) because the student will be doing a 50 second freefall (that's right!) on his/her very first jump. The student will exit the aircraft at 10,000-12,000 feet along with two AFF instructors who will assist the student during freefall. The instructors maintain grips on the student from the moment they leave the aircraft until opening, assisting the student as necessary to fall stable, perform practice ripcord pulls, monitor altitude, etc. The student then pulls his/her own ripcord at about 4000 ft. The official USPA AFF program is a 7 level program. Levels 1, 2, & 3 require two AFF instructors to accompany the student. These dives concentrate on teaching basic safety skills such as altitude awareness, body position, stability during freefall and during the pull sequence, and most importantly- successful ripcord pull. On level 3, the instructors will release the student in freefall for the first time, to fly completely on their own. Levels 4, 5, 6, & 7 require only one freefall JM (less $$) and teach the student air skills such as turns, forward movement and docking on other people, moving forward, "superman" exits from the plane, etc. Each AFF level is designed to take one jump, and requires about 45 minutes of training. After successfully performing the objectives of each level, the student moves on to the next level. After graduating Level 7, the student enters a less structured educational program called the Integrated Student Program, where they jump on their own and with coaches to improve their skills and learn more advanced maneuvers. Once they reach 25 jumps they are ready for their A license. Once they have their A license they are free to jump however they choose, within the dictates of good judgment and the guidelines of the USPA’s Basic Safety Recommendations (BSR’s.) Prev: Be aware of the risks Next: Find a Dropzone Prev: Be aware of the risks Next: Find a Dropzone More related information: The Student Skydiver's Handbook Sample: AFF Course Material Safey and Training Articles Safety and Training Forum Skydiving Glossary
  19. How NZ Aerosports General Manager Attila Csizmadia Found His Niche When I talk to Attila Csizmadia, he’s out of breath. He has just finished shaking down his four-year-old son for a set of puckishly “stolen” car keys, and it was a hell of a hunt. “Sorry,” he says, “I was running around the house like crazy looking for them.” Hidden keys are certainly not the only thing Attila runs after during the course of any given day. Since 2005, he has been the General Manager of NZ Aerosports--the central hub of operations for one of the sport’s most innovative, prolific and beloved parachute manufacturers. This is a dream job for a lot of skydivers, naturally, but it didn’t come easily. Indeed, one can’t help but think that running an office staffed with 30 to 40 staff is excellent preparation for the rigors of parenthood. The four-year-old is one of Attila’s two; the other is 13 years old--not far off from the age Attila was when he first started skydiving. “I am not sure if [my sons] will skydive or not,” he muses. “If they want to and they ask me for it, then I’m going to make it happen. It’s up to them.” It’s worth mentioning that if Attila’s boys start jumping, they’ll be a third-generation legacy. His own father was a skydiver and, though he stopped jumping when Attila was born, he’s much of the reason that Attila dove into the parachuting industry. “He was jumping in Hungary, where we’re from,” Attila explains. “He was old-school, a military guy. As I was growing up, he was in keeping contact with his friends that were still jumping, and they were always talking about skydiving, even when I was a little kid. Then, when I was about 14 years old, I was talking to one of his friends who was still jumping; listening to his skydiving stories. I remember saying--and meaning it--that I could never skydive. But then a friend of mine brought it up. He’d just watched a record attempt or something on TV. He begged me to try it with him, and I agreed. He stopped after five jumps; it changed my life.” “For me as a 16-year-old, getting into that group of people was just perfect,” Atilla remembers. “I was in school. It was all boys. I didn’t enjoy it. But then I went out to the dropzone and there was this friendly, crazy bunch. I was like, this is totally me. It felt like coming home.” It was 1988. At the time, Hungary was still Communist country. Everyone skydiver in the country jumped really old, really dodgy military gear that was “15 years behind the rest of the world,” and every skydiver in the country knew every other skydiver in the country. In 1991, the World Championships were held in what was then Czechoslovakia. They brought out some helicopters for the event, and the German, French and Italian 4-way team all came to Hungary to train. “They were jumping these square parachutes that we’d never seen in real life before,” Attila laughs. “These guys were swooping, and we were just, like: what is happening here?! It was like watching spaceships land. We didn’t know what was possible. When these guys came here in these jumpsuits and small gear and like awesome canopy work, we were blown away. And I was inspired to start doing 4-way and competing.” A few years of hard work later, Hungary had a young team. “Because it was a new sport in Hungary,” he grins, “We won the Nationals pretty easily. Then we were the national team for a long time--almost 10 years. I was burning to get out there and travel and to jump everywhere I could overseas and to get a better rig and just do more.” He split his time between the US and Hungary for about five years, studiously avoiding European winters; he switched his seasonal pattern to Australia when he went to the World Championships there in 1999. To date, in fact, he has competed in no less than seven world championships. “The last time I tried it, I couldn’t extend my visa,” he explains. “So there I was, facing returning to the middle of a European winter. I just couldn’t do it; there was nothing for me there.” His solution: Hop the channel to New Zealand. He got a work visa and picked up a job at a dropzone throwing drogues and teaching AFF. He soon joined the NZ 4-way team. Everything was going well--but then the tone changed. “My boss at the DZ was becoming a real a**hole,” he explains, “And I just desperately wanted to leave, but no one was hiring. Everybody had their staff. I needed to keep that work visa or I was going to be thrown right back to Hungary.” As a last-ditch effort, he asked a couple of friends who worked for NZ Aerosports and if they were hiring. They were. It was 2005. Attila went right to work making line sets and cutting canopies. “When I started working here, I thought I knew a lot about parachutes because I had been flying them a lot,” he says, wryly. “But when I got into the manufacturing side of it, I realized how little I actually knew. I found it really interesting and wanted to learn more and more.” He found a peerless mentor in NZ Aerosports’ legendary founder/mad scientist/gear innovator/party animal, Paul ‘Jyro’ Martin. “Jyro enjoyed that I was really interested in this stuff, and he just gave me so much information,” Attila says. “Then the guy who was managing the company at that time left. Jyro asked me if I wanted to do it. Of course I said yes.” It had been just six months since Attila had first accepted the job. At the time, NZ Aerosports was a much smaller company. They only made six canopies at that time, and they had two sewing machinists. When Attila started managing, he was still the one cutting all the canopies. As he did so, he’d always have the office phone on him, taking orders; he’d be sorting out emails and charging credit cards with one hand and shipping out the canopies with the other. The work was, to put it mildly, intense. “One of my main tasks,” he laughs, “Was making sure the beer fridge was always full.” “At the beginning it was really hard,” he relates. “I didn’t have any background in the business and hardly knew anything about it. English is a second language for me, so that made it a little bit harder too. I had to pretty much figure out everything for myself. At a certain point, I almost gave up because it was so stressful and things were not going really well. But then we pulled ourselves together with the manufacturing and started developing some new canopies. First, we released the JFX. We hired some new people, which brought in a nice newenergy. Then we met Julien [Peelman, Aerodynamics Engineer], and we started working on some of the really new canopies. There was no way I was leaving after that.” Now, the NZ Aerosports office buzzes with the work (and play) of about forty people, all of whom report to Attila. “It was a big learning curve, figuring out how to manage such a large number of people and deal with personal issues so that they still enjoy working together with all their differences-- the cultural gaps, the religious gaps and the age gaps between them. We have a big range. The youngest [staffers] are fresh out of school, and then we have some 60-something-year-old people working right next to them. We have people from Fiji...Canada...from all around the world, really. It’s like a dropzone.” If you talk to anybody at NZ Aerosports, they’ll tell you that much of that vibrant energy came from Jyro’s influence--and, in March of 2017, we lost him. The loss of “the soul of the company” took a massive toll on the community that had formed at his feet, and Attila had to work even harder through his mourning. However, the spirit that Jyro instilled--in Attila, in his team at large and in the business--kept it from coming unglued. “It is good to make some money, sure, but Jyro made sure it has never been our number-one motivation,” Attila explains. “You can see that the team is here all day, every day, working hard, and we always wanted to create a really nice environment for them that they truly enjoy working in. Because of that, people don’t really leave here. We’ve hardly changed any staff since I got here in 2005, and I think it’s because this is just a really good place to be. We all really pulled together when we lost Jyro. I think that’s what saved us--the people here, and our customers’ faith.” Attila insists that that faith--the passionate support of the NZ Aerosports fan base--is the phenomenon that really drives the machine. “I think that people respond to the fact that we are always trying new stuff; that we’re always improving,” he says. “That’s the part that’s interesting for us. We aren’t just developing new products. We actually want to make better products, and so we’re always searching for improvements on the designs. We have like 20 skydivers working here, so it is not just about driving revenue. I think that’s why people relate to it so strongly. This has always been more of a lifestyle than a business.” If NZ Aerosports is indeed about lifestyle, Attila is great evidence that they’ve nailed the art. “I think I found what I was trying to find in my personal life--a balance between family, the hobby and the business--in NZA,” he smiles. “I think that was always my goal, even if I didn’t know it at the time. Right now I feel that I’m in a really good place, and I’m ready for whatever comes next.”
  20. admin

    10 Gift Ideas for Skydivers 2017

    We're back again for the 2017 festive season, bringing you some gift ideas for your skydiving buddies or family members. We've spoken to the guys over at ChutingStar and Para Gear, and asked them what they recommend to those looking to fill some the stockings with some skydiving gifts, while at the same time, not breaking the bank. Full-Face Helmets - $285-$428 Get a free ChutingStar Helmet Bag with the purchase of any Full-Face Helmet on ChutingStar.com. Just put both items in your cart and the ChutingStar Helmet Bag will be discounted 100% at checkout! ChutingStar stocks full-face helmets from Cookie, Bonehead and Square1 in all sizes and colors. Available at ChutingStar Selection of Goggles Provide your mate with quality eye protection, with an affordable gift of goggles. Para-Gear offers a variety of skydiving goggles to fit your price range. Available at Para-Gear Manufactory MX Series Shorts - $149 MX Series Skydiving Shorts are triple-needle stitched with reinforced seams and bartacks on all high stress areas. A Cordura Nylon exterior with an internal breathable mesh liner allows effortless comfort with structural integrity. Available in 4 colorways in sizes 2XS to 2XL! Available at ChutingStar Glow Face Alt III Galaxy - $169 Meters and Black Only. The phosphorescent face provides a background glow to assist in low light conditions. The glow lasts over 2 hours in complete darkness, and is perfect for either night jumps or those sunset loads when it starts to get dark. The Glow Face Altimaster III Galaxy features a field replaceable lens. In case your lens gets scratched or cracked you will now be able to replace it yourself instead of having to send it to get serviced. Available at Para-Gear USPA Skydiving Calendar 2018 - $15 13 months of incredible 11x14-inch photographs by skydiving's best photographers! The 2018 USPA Skydiving Calendar is the perfect holiday gift. Available at ChutingStar Cookie G3 Helmet - $379 Welcome to the G3 headgear, Cookies latest release full-face headgear and a result of significant refinement of the previous full-face headgear. The G3 features the original VMech Visor Locking System that works unlike any other in the industry. The system makes for easy opening and positive locking of the headgear visor. The visor is 2mm polycarbonate and features a complex curved design for extra strength, unsurpassed field of view and an anti-fog coating. The headgear's cinching system is simple and secure, adjustment can be made to customize the headgear fit and once locked down just throw the headgear on and jump. Available at Para-Gear Parachuting Flipping Santa Musical Christmas Ornament - $24 This large parachuting Santa Claus sings Jingle Bells while he performs front flips and back flips under a round parachute! The perfect skydiver Christmas ornament! Available at ChutingStar Power Tools - $19.95 Want a great stocking stuffer with a low price? Give your loved one a Power Tool packing tool in holiday colors! Available at Para-Gear Dropzone.com Picks In addition to the products above, selected by both ChutingStar and Para-Gear, we've selected some of our own staff recommendations for gifts this season. Turned On GoPro Status Indicator - $79 The first true hard-wired status indicator for extreme sports, tells you the exact status of your GoPro Camera while it’s mounted on your head. Its ultra-bright LEDs shine unmistakably in your peripheral vision: blue for “standby,” red for “record” and yellow for “warning/error.” The Turned On device gets your mind back in the game -- and off your headgear-mounted GOPRO® HERO3, HERO3+ and HERO4. As you know, optimal performance in extreme sports requires an absolutely clear head (and nothing good can happen when personal safety takes a backseat to a blinking light). Available at Para-Gear Aluminum Personal Rig & Helmet Wall Rack - $99 Tired of seeing your spouse's gear lying around causing a clutter? The personal rig & helmet wall rack will provide an ideal way to store their skydiving gear in a style way that keeps their helmet and rig up on the wall. Available at ChutingStar Happy shopping!
  21. bryanburke

    When Right is Wrong

    By Bryan Burke, Safety and Training Advisor Image by Serge Shakuto In March of 2017 I posted a review of a canopy collision that took place at Skydive Arizona on December 30, 2016. The post included two videos, one shot by a participant in the collision and one shot by an outside observer. The videos make it pretty clear what happened and I hoped they would spur discussion about traffic management. If you have not read the thread in the Incidents Forum and watched the videos it might be helpful to do so before reading on. Before going on, though, let me caution the readers about a few things. One, some of the comments to my post are stated in a way that suggests the commentator knew what was actually going on in the heads of the two who collided. We don't know, and this kind of baseless assertion seriously diminishes the usefulness of the Forum. Two, if you watch closely there was traffic to both right and left of the overtaking canopy. Lens distortion makes it hard to know just where it was in the final seconds before the collision, but it may have affected the decision making of the top canopy pilot. We could argue endlessly about whether or not the top pilot could have avoided the collision. The fact is that he did not come up with a solution to the problem fast enough to avoid it. Three, the landing area is tight even without heavy traffic. Nevertheless, this collision could have occurred anywhere because it essentially was caused by one parachute turning into the path of another, which is the ultimate cause of almost every canopy collision. Finally, Skydive Arizona does have a lot of guidelines because we have a lot of visitors from drop zones that apparently don't. Breaking the rules isn't a grounding offense in most situations. In this particular case I doubt if either collision participant was actively thinking about those guidelines. In all likelihood the bottom jumper let established habits override the guidelines, and the other was trying to deal with that. I found it worrisome that several people staunchly defended the concept that "Low Canopy has Right of Way" overrides all other considerations under canopy. In this case the low canopy was almost entirely responsible for the collision and the event never would have occurred if that person had flown in a safe, predictable manner. I want to review the concept of Right of Way and challenge whether it is even a useful or safe idea to teach in skydiving when expressed as an absolute. If we are going to retain the concept we need to understand the origins and the exceptions. Technically the term Right of Way has nothing to do with navigation by boat, car, parachute, or other conveyance. It is a legal term to describe access to property. For example, if my land is surrounded on all sides by someone else's land, I can be granted a legal Right of Way to my land. Similarly, if tradition allows the public to cross private land at a specific place, a Right of Way exists. At some point the phrase was adopted to nautical traffic, although technically the proper phrasing is "give way" as "In situation X, vessel 1 gives way to vessel 2." But to be absolutely clear, the rules about who gives way in traffic have a lot of exceptions, all based on common sense. Ultimately they are intended to minimize confusion and de-conflict traffic problems, but they are not in any way absolute rules. Here are some examples: A powered vessel gives way to a sailing vessel. Unless the powered vessel is actively fishing, or needs a deep channel that the sailboat does not. And any sailor with an iota of experience and common sense knows that sailing a yacht in front of a massive container ship is a sure way to be run down, regardless of your unpowered status. Between two sailboats, the default rule is that a vessel on a port tack gives way to one on a starboard tack. For those who aren't sailors, that means if the wind is coming over your left side, you give way to a boat that has the wind coming over its right side. In fact this is probably where the phrase "right of way" comes from because the boat on the starboard tack is to the right of a line drawn back to front through the boat on the port tack, and vice versa. Eventually this was applied to cars: if two cars were approaching a crossroads, the one to the right had ‘right of way.’ Obviously this didn't work very well with cars, or we would not need four-way stop signs or roundabouts. But for the purposes of this discussion, we're much more like sailboats than we are like cars or powerboats. To further confuse things, if we go back to sailing there are many more exceptions to the rule. A windward vessel gives way to leeward. Shallow draft gives way to deep draft in a narrow channel. An overtaking vessel gives way to the slower vessel, ideally passing to the rear if they are on different courses. But most importantly for applying these guidelines to skydiving, the vessel being overtaken is obliged to maintain course and speed, or if it must maneuver, clearly signal its intention! Parallels in skydiving would be that a canopy over open area should give way to one over obstacles, higher to lower, and so on. But regardless of the guidelines, it is understood that the root rule is all flight in the landing pattern must be predictable! Without predictable flight no set of guidelines or rules can prevent collisions. This collision came down to that: an unnecessary and unpredictable turn into the path of an overtaking canopy. Let's also get over the idea that all parachutes are similar in handling characteristics and therefore a blanket rule can keep them safely separated. For example, USPA asks Group Member Drop Zones to separate "high performance" landings from - presumably - ordinary landings. What does that mean? A Valkyrie at 2.4 on a straight approach is going as fast as a Sabre 2 at 1.2 coming out of a 180. It's too much to ask skydivers to sort themselves by canopy type, wing loading, and flying style other than by a general designation of high performance landing areas. In Skydive Arizona's case, we limit one landing area to turns of 90 or less, and nowhere do we allow turns over 180. (Except when the jumper exits on a pass dedicated to HP landing.) However, we do ask that people refrain from S turns or flying at an angle across the final approach. This is something we should expect of everyone, and if everyone does it, there should be minimal problems with a fast parachute finding a clear lane next to a slow parachute. In the collision in question, the low parachute failed in the most basic of navigation duties: maintain course and speed and make your intentions clear. This is a cultural issue. Older skydivers or those taught by older skydivers may have been taught that right-of-way is absolute, taught without the essential caveat “maintain course and speed, make intentions clear.” It may also involve drop zone culture; wide open DZs without much traffic seem to neglect canopy control skills and DZs where people don't travel much may spend little time teaching their jumpers what to look out for when they visit a big DZ. We used to teach people to fly in deep brakes and perform S turns to fine tune their landing point. Now we know this is dangerous in traffic and we don't teach it any more. There is no reason a big seven cell can't safely land in the same area as a tiny, ultra-high performance canopy, but not when using obsolete rules of the road. The low person does not have the right to turn into the path of an overtaking canopy, period. Finally, low or high, never assume you know where all the traffic is. The assumption you should make is that there is overtaking traffic above and behind, in your blind spot, and you must fly predictably to minimize the chances of them colliding with you.
  22. admin

    The Horizontal Flight Problem

    By Bryan Burke, S&TA; at Skydive Arizona Identifying the Problem All of the following events took place during our spring 2013 season here at Skydive Arizona. Some have been repeated several times. Since I started to look into this subject and inquire as to what other drop zones are seeing, several similar incidents have been brought to my attention. In addition, there are several reports of serious freefall collisions that have resulted from tracking, angle, and wingsuit dives around the world. Example One Angle flying dives, also known as atmonauti or tracing dives, are recording fall rates comparable to freeflyers. They not only fall faster than true trackers, they do not cover nearly the horizontal distance that true tracking dives do. (Inexperienced trackers, especially on their backs, often have essentially the same flight characteristics, much faster down than experienced trackers and not much horizontal travel.) In one case, a group of very experienced angle fliers insisted on exiting first, saying they were trackers. They fell at freefly speeds, about 170 miles per hour. The dive was planned to go roughly 90 degrees to the line of flight, but they didn’t go very far, covering less than half the distance a real tracking dive would. This type of dive tends to include a lot of highly experienced freeflyers experimenting with new stuff, so they were jumping very fast canopies and opening between 3,000 and 3,500. A conventional belly flying group followed them out. They had a long climb-out, about 15 seconds, broke off at 4,500 feet, tracked, and deployed between 3,000 and 2,500. All of them were experienced and competent trackers in the conventional sense of the word. There was nothing unusual about the conditions. Up on the jump run, the airplane was covering ground at 150 feet per second (about 90 knots) and the horizontal distance between Group 1 and Group 2 at exit would be about 2,250 feet. Because of the longer freefall time for the second group, about 500 feet of that was lost to freefall drift in the winds aloft. This leaves their hypothetical center points at opening about 1,750 horizontal feet apart, still adequate separation for two conventional belly flying groups opening within a few seconds of each other. However, because of their fast freefall speed, followed by the climb-out time for the second group, the angle fliers deployed their parachutes nearly thirty seconds before the second group, but also 500 to 1,000 feet higher. They immediately turned towards the landing area under canopy; otherwise they would not get back, at least not with enough altitude for a big swoop. During that thirty seconds, they only dropped about 700 - 1,000 feet or so vertically, but they covered between 1,500 and 1,800 horizontal feet in that time. This does not even take into account the ground covered by tracking at break-off from either group. Canopy winds were light. In thirty seconds, a modern fast canopy in normal straight flight will do 60 feet per second horizontally. That puts them 1,800 feet back towards the DZ and line of flight. Mentally, skydivers tend to think freefall separation is an exit problem, not a canopy problem. Once they have a good canopy, they are conditioned to think about canopy traffic and their landing – not about what might be in freefall overhead, because in the past this has not been a problem since we figured out that fast fallers should follow slow fallers out in the exit sequence. So, at about 2,500 feet the two groups effectively merged into a single large mix of deploying freefallers and people already under very fast parachutes. The only reason there were no collisions was blind luck. Mind you, every one of these jumpers was experienced, current, and well trained within the existing paradigm. Example Two A very experienced jumper with a cutting edge wingsuit was logging freefalls of over three minutes and opening at about 3,500. We had three aircraft flying. Our procedure is to leave a minimum of two minutes between drops for conventional freefall loads, three with wing suits or students, and four after a load with tandems. The wingsuit jumper exited. The plane behind started a three minute clock. Although the wingsuiter opened about half a mile away from the jump run, he then made a riser turn towards the landing area and left the brakes stowed as he fiddled with his suit. A minute later, he was just under 2,500 when canopies were opening around him. Example Three Taxiing out from the loading area, the pilot called me to ask which way trackers should go. This piqued my curiosity, trackers are supposed to know this when they manifest. I told him “east” and asked if he could tell where they were in the exit order. Meanwhile I checked with the manifest to see if anyone on that load had reported they were planning to track or asked for information about which way to go. None had. A bit later the pilot replied that they would be exiting first. I got out my binoculars to watch. The three-way tracking group exited and flew straight up the line of flight, opening between the next two groups in the exit order. Naturally I noted their canopies and rounded the three up in the landing area for a discussion. Initially they were confused about what the problem was, although they did acknowledge that there were other canopies in the sky closer than they had expected. The leader of the dive had seventy jumps. It was his first tracking dive, and he was leading it on his back. He had planned to turn off jump run and fly east and was completely unaware of his failure to do so. The other two had about 150 and 200 jumps, not enough to be aware that he had failed to turn. Even if they had been, there was no plan on how to signal course corrections to the leader, and they were not close enough to do so in any case, due to the lack of experience. Two of the three, including the one with 70 jumps, had GoPros on, which no doubt distracted them from the navigation problem as they tried to video each other. It was a de-briefing nightmare as I learned more and more about how much they did not know. It was their first time at a large, busy drop zone. They had never received any coaching or advice on tracking. They had no idea about USPA’s recommendations for jumping with a camera. This episode made me realized that the manifest in-briefing that had served us well for years, with minor modifications now and then, was no longer adequate. In the past we never felt the need to screen for camera use or horizontal flying, merely informing them that if they were planning to track or wingsuit they would need to get a daily update from the safety officer. Example Four A total of twelve wingsuit jumpers landed out, the nearest almost half a mile from our normal landing area, the farthest over a mile out. After I rounded up the entire group (not one of them local jumpers) I made it plain that this was unacceptable, not just from a safety point of view, but also because many of them landed on private property or public roads, not a good thing in terms of our relations with the community. Questioning them about their flight planning, I learned some very interesting things. First, it was two groups, not one. The less experienced group was planning to take an “inside track” while the second, more experienced group was planning to fly a wider course, both of the tracks parallel to the original jump run. (This is a fairly common practice at DZs with a lot of wingsuit activity.) To make this easier, the individual who had taken charge of planning asked the pilot to turn 90 left at the end of the regular skydiver jump run. In theory the two wing suit groups would then simply exit and turn 90 left, paralleling the normal jump run back to the DZ and gaining horizontal separation from the climb-out time on jump run. Unfortunately this plan did not take into account that the winds aloft were about 30 knots out of the west, and the standard jump run was south. Thus, a left turn gave the plane a ground speed of about 130 knots, and each group took quite a while to climb out. Once in flight, they were already well down wind of the planned flight area and would have more cross-wind push the entire flight. Clearly this plan was doomed from the start, and anyone who had the slightest idea what the winds aloft were doing would know this. Winds aloft are very easy to find on line these days, or someone could have simply asked the Safety Officer what his observations were. Not one of those twelve wingsuiters questioned the incredibly bad plan the group leader had come up with, which was based on completely wrong assumptions. Even if anyone had looked down, they were already committed and had no Plan B. Example Five I picked up a wingsuit jumper who landed over a mile off the dz. (Nearly 1.5 statute miles, in fact.) The only reason I even knew about him was a bystander saw his canopy in the distance and pointed him out. I never would have seen him, his opening point was well beyond our first exit group on the normal jump run! His story? With very little experience on his new high performance suit, he was jumping a new helmet and camera set-up for the first time. He reported that he had problems with the helmet throughout the flight (shifting and vibrating) and forgot to pay attention to where he was going, flying downwind and away from the DZ the entire time. Example Six Trackers landed out, on the approach to the runway. When I inquired about the flight plan they said that when they got to the airplane, there was another tracking dive. The two groups decided to exit first and second, each going 90 degrees to the jump run in opposite directions. This put the out-landing group exiting at the extreme early end of the jump run, tracking downwind, then faced with penetrating back into the canopy winds. They had no chance to make it to the normal landing area and their opening position put them in a canopy descent to a clear area directly on the extended centerline of the runway. These are real world examples at one drop zone over the course of a mere couple of months. Along with similar problems reported from other drop zones and the incidents of actual and near-miss collisions associated with horizontal dives, it seems clear that training in these fields is completely inadequate. Before Freeflying came along in the early 90s, the skydiving environment was very simple. Everyone fell almost straight down and parachutes flew about 25 miles per hour. In the 90s, we had to figure out how to deal with a new, much faster fall rate in some groups, and canopies almost doubled in horizontal speed. In the last decade, even more variations in skydiving have popped up. These didn’t really show up much on DZO’s radar because so few people were doing them, but now they are increasingly common. Approximate Speeds of Various Forms of Skydiving Activity* Activity Vertical Speed Range Horizontal Speed Range Freefall time (13,000) FS 120 – 130 mph 0 – 20 mph** 00:60 - 65 Freefly 150 – 180 0 – 20** 00:40 – 50 Tracking 120 – 140 30 – 60*** 00:55 – 65 Angle 140 – 160 20 – 40*** 00:45 – 50 Wingsuit 40 – 70 50 – 80*** 01:30 – 3:00 *Approximations derived from videos and recording altimeters. **Random drift due to things like backsliding, one side of the formation low, etc. ***Best guess, based on distance covered in freefall time. Thus, on a single load there might be freefall times from exit at 13,000’ to opening at 3,000’ as little as :40 seconds and as much as three minutes. Horizontal speeds will range from zero to 80, with distances of up to a mile on tracking dives and flights of several miles possible for expert wingsuit jumpers. Note that these speeds will vary considerably. For example, experimenting with tracking myself and observing tracking contests, I could get well over a mile in 60 seconds and many people can out-track me by a significant margin. However, actual tracking dives are usually not done in a max track position because it doesn’t lend itself to maneuvering with others. On a calm day, a tracking dive going 90 off the line of flight usually only covers about half a mile. Identifying the Risks Collisions within Groups Within groups, tracking, wingsuit, and angle dives are showing a disproportionately high rate of collision injuries. Even the best planned dives can still involve high closing speeds as the group forms and breaks up. And, as Bill von Novak has pointed out: On a tracking dive there is no focal point; no base you can dock on or, failing that, at least keep in sight for break-off. Everyone tracks in effectively a random direction at the end of the dive and hopes for clear air. In some cases they even barrel roll just to add some more randomness to their directions. To a newbie a tracking dive sounds lower pressure than a big-way; you don't have to dock, you just have to go in a similar direction as the leader. This tends to attract lower experienced jumpers, and those jumpers often shed the jumpsuit they are used to for a freefly suit or no suit at all - resulting in new and hard to predict fall rates/forward speeds. To that I have to add the potential for huge closing speeds, sometimes due to lack of skill but often due to poor organizing. Tracking dives in particular have a history of being “loose” or “pick-up” loads. Many times I have seen people “organizing” a tracking dive by making a general announcement to give a ticket to manifest if you want to come along. There is often very little screening for experience and ability. Then, it is common to group the more experienced people close to the leader, and that person is often in a floater position on exit. Anyone who can remember learning to do larger formations knows that novice divers tend to dive too long, even if they have been forewarned about the problem. (If you dive out two or three seconds after the base, that base is way ahead of you on the acceleration curve, so they appear to be getting further away – which they are. You dive more aggressively, something you don’t have much practice at. Then, when the base hits terminal velocity, they suddenly rush up at you because you are now going much, much faster than the base. You then go low, or collide.) Now add to that the significant horizontal movement, burbles that aren’t directly above the lower jumper, multiple vertical levels, and huge blind spots since you are looking ahead, not around. The potential for collisions is incredibly obvious once you think about it, but apparently few people doing tracking dives are thinking about it. Collisions Between Groups Although these are still rarely found in the accident record, I have seen many near misses, which suggests that it is only a matter of time. This is particularly disturbing to me because in a group-to-group collision, it means someone was exposed to an extreme hazard that they had no knowledge of, expectation of, or control over. Skydiving is risky enough with the known hazards. As drop zone operators and safety professionals it is morally wrong to expose our customers to a risk where their only real control would be to look at who else is on the load, and pull off it. Landing Out Out landings have two problems, one a risk to the jumper and the other, to the drop zone itself. The record shows that out landings have a high risk of landing injuries, especially from low turns to avoid obstacles or turn into the wind. This risk is exacerbated by the fact that the drop zone staff might not even know of an injury, and if they do, the response can be complicated. The second risk is aggravating the neighbors or airport authorities. Every drop zone has at least some neighbors or authorities who are opposed to skydiving. As long as these are a small minority a DZ can usually get by. Once skydivers start dropping into neighborhoods, landing on runways, and otherwise drawing unwelcome attention, the political balance can change. A classic example of this is the tracker landing on the roof of a two-story house 1.3 miles south of the DZ at Longmont, Colorado early in July of 2013. He not only broke his leg, he damaged the roof and required a complex rescue. At the time of the incident, he had 64 jumps in over a year in the sport. The wind was blowing from the north, but he tracked south, towards a heavily developed suburban area. In his own remarks, he accepts no responsibility for the incident, blaming it entirely on the winds rather than his extremely poor planning. Changing the Paradigm What do these activities all have in common, from the standpoint of skydiving culture? There is very little expectation, or even definition, of quality. Success is defined as mere participation and survival. Near collisions, actual collisions, landing out, and other problems do not seem to be perceived as failure. The video evidence alone is proof of this attitude. Just randomly browse YouTube for tracking, wingsuit, and angle dives and you’ll see some really bad, sometimes frightening, flying. Yet the comments are almost never critical. In order to turn this around, drop zones will have to set higher standards and change the definition of acceptable. This is not the first time we’ve been down this road. I started skydiving in 1978. Sequential FS was really starting to take off, but for the typical jump group there was no reason to plan a second point. As an old friend of mine said of those days, “I remember when a good 8-way was a 4-way!” It was learn by doing, and we had a lot of accidents from the hard docks, funnels, and collisions on the way to and from the funnels. But we learned a lot, and fifteen years later, when freefly came along, RW was at a pretty advanced, safe stage of technique. Those who were around in the early days of freeflying saw history repeat itself. Freeflyers didn’t want to dirt dive, debrief, or set goals. That was for RW jumpers, and anything to do with RW wasn’t cool. It was simply “Let’s jump together and do some tricks.” Eventually, they came to realize that just led to a lot of wasted jump tickets, AAD fires, and hard knocks in freefall. Now freeflying uses exactly the same philosophy as FS: train, set goals, set standards, and most of all, plan dives appropriate to the experience and ability of the participants. Now we see a new discipline emerging. On the one hand, angle flying is somewhat like freefly, where the recruits are already fairly experienced skydivers. Tracking is often more like early RW, where there was not a lot of skill among many of the participants, and not much meaningful leadership from the ones who had managed to survive. Wingsuiting seems to be in a class by itself, a population split between regular skydivers wanting to try something new, and BASE jumpers who feel that rules are a curse. One thing most of them seem to lack is good training about the surrounding environment. Training The general lack of training, supervision, and experience in this field is part of the problem. For example, although most wingsuiters take a first flight course of some type, I have visited web sites naming instructors with as few as 300 total jumps and only 100 wingsuit jumps! Based on the quality of some wingsuit jumpers, clearly some instructors have pretty low standards as well as low skills. All of the training materials I have seen make some mention of navigating and awareness of wind conditions, yet not one of the wingsuit jumpers I have spoken to after they land out has reported that their instruction included specific details on how to plan an effective flight path. After debriefing countless wingsuit incidents including malfunctions, traffic problems with other jumpers, out landings, and so on, I have come to conclude that a USPA Wingsuit Instructor Rating is a good idea. Training should included a detailed syllabus and written and practical tests, including flight planning, before they receive a wingsuit endorsement. At present it cannot be assumed that any wingsuit jumper has adequate training. Tracking attracts people with very little experience and has even less formal training than wingsuiting. It is perceived as something anyone off student status can do, since there is no need for enough skill to dock on a formation or turn points. In fact, some tracking dives are put together with the clear expectation that some participants won’t even be able to keep up. Since tracking itself is perceived as easy, I believe this translates into a mind-set that there is nothing to worry about. Hence we see very poorly organized dives with little or no screening for ability or experience, and often no meaningful flight planning. Angle flying also requires better screening for skill. Initially this activity was mainly undertaken by highly skilled freeflyers, but now that it has been popularized on media sites a lot of less experienced jumpers want to get involved. Like tracking, these dives require a flight plan that takes into account the rest of the load, and the high descent rate. In my opinion angle flying is more akin to freeflying than to tracking, and should exit in conventional freefly order with great attention to flying 90 degrees off the line of flight but not into the same airspace that slower falling trackers may also be heading for. Standards for Experience and Participation Unlike Freeflying and Formation Skydiving, horizontal flying cannot be learned in a wind tunnel. The only way to acquire skill is to actually do it. As everyone knows from learning Formation Skydiving or Freeflying, you don’t take people with 70 jumps up on large formations with mixed experience levels and minimal planning – at least not with a reasonable expectation of safety and success. We also know that you don’t develop skills very effectively if you have no expert coaching - or at least competent leadership. This should include goals set for the skydive before you are on the way to altitude, a useful dirt dive, and then a good post-dive debriefing, ideally with a video that is useful, not a sloppy, shaky GoPro video with constantly changing reference points. After giving it extensive consideration, I’m planning to screen new arrivals much more aggressively and have minimum standards they will have to adhere to. Just as most skydiving associations feel 200 jumps is a good minimum for wingsuits and cameras, fifty is a good number for a night jump, and so on, I feel that tracking dives should not be undertaken, except as one-on-ones with an experienced coach or instructor (or approved solos after consulting with an I or STA) until 100 jumps. At that point, the jumper can go on slightly larger tracking dives led by a coach, instructor, or approved organizer. For those with more jumps just taking up tracking, I feel that regardless of experience your first ten tracking dives should be with an approved Coach, Instructor, or organizer and these individuals should have an understanding with the dz about keeping the dives small and simple, just as we would with an expert FS jumper exploring freeflying. To lead a tracking or angle flying jump, I am thinking about a minimum of five hundred jumps, including at least 25 tracking jumps (and 25 angle flying jumps for that activity, not a total of 25 combined). The minimum skill set to lead will include awareness of collision risks and how to mitigate them, the importance of staying away from the jump run, how to make a flight plan that guarantees everyone will get back, how to plan with other groups on the load to ensure adequate separation, etc. Leaders must screen all participants for skill and have a well planned dive from exit to opening. Dives for which anyone can sign up by bringing a ticket to manifest are not allowed. Leading on the back is not allowed unless paired with another skilled tracking leader as a co-pilot flying face down. Information, Screening, and Guidelines Skydive Arizona’s plan to get better information out and establish our intentions and expectations with the horizontal community is simple. Once our procedures are established, or whenever we change them, the procedures will be posted on our web site, displayed near the loading area on a multi-sided “Safety Kiosk,” and available as flyers or hand-outs at manifest. As jumpers arrive they will be asked if they have any intention of participating in horizontal jumps. If so, they will receive the hand-out and a special briefing, in addition to the usual DZ briefing. Depending on their experience level they may be limited in what they can do, or directed to our coaching department. (Although the GoPro problem is only peripheral, we’ll be adopting a similar strategy there.) Drop Zone SOPs Besides improved training, screening for skill and experience, and better coaching and organizing, drop zones can also implement standard operating procedures to mitigate some risks. Exit Order The phenomenon discussed in Example 1, above, indicates that angle flyers should never go before belly flyers. If they do, we not only have the well known problem of differential freefall drift in winds (the faster fallers drift less, the slower ones, more) but we then combine that with fast canopies having 20 or 30 seconds of flight to eliminate any remaining horizontal separation. This has already happened here, at Elsinore, and on the east coast that I know of; doubtless it has happened elsewhere. Trackers can leave just about anywhere in the order, provided the flight plan works with the overall scheme of things. If they have a slow fall rate and a fast horizontal rate, leaving first works fine, providing the leader takes a course that does not put them too far away. In practice, the pilot is always trying to get the first group off the plane at the earliest possible point from which they have a reasonable chance of getting back. This creates the best opportunity to get the entire load out on one pass. If the trackers leave first and fly 90 off the jump run, they are now further out than that “earliest possible” point. Leaving first, they must do a minimum of 45 off the line of flight, or 90 for half the jump followed by 45 for the rest, or 60 the entire time - something that gains a little ground back towards the dz while at the same time getting well clear of the jump run. Clearly, any exit position still presents the possibility of a tracking group flying up or down the jump run. The only way to mitigate this risk is to limit tracking leadership to experienced, well trained skydivers. Flight Planning I will be asking everyone in the horizontal community to take much more responsibility in flight planning. As I see it, the proper planning procedure has several steps. Get a clear understanding of the overall DZ geography. If, for example, going to the right of the line of flight will put you over the ocean while going left will put you over a safe, open field, left might be the best choice if winds allow. Get current wind conditions, exit to surface. Find out if there are any other special concerns, such as a second plane dropping military or CF jumpers in an airspace box adjacent to the normal jump run. Plan an opening point from which everyone can safely get back to the DZ. From that point, reverse engineer the freefall portion taking into account never flying under or over the jump run and avoiding other horizontal groups on the plane. In the event that winds, geography, other DZ activity, or some other issue makes it unlikely that all points of the flight plan will be successful, cancel the dive until conditions are more favorable. On every dive we will hold the flight leader responsible for devising such a plan and executing it properly. Any safety infractions or out landings will result in grounding until they can prove they understand the situation better and have devised a strategy to prevent a repeat. Per Load Limits Depending on whether or not the DZ and jump run offer the option of flying to both sides of the line of flight, it is possible to get up to four horizontal groups out of a plane safely. If the airspace is limited to just one side of the jump run, three seems to be about the limit. I’m more concerned with keeping everyone safe than with pleasing everyone if significant risks are involved, so we will start limiting the number of horizontal jumps on any given load. On this subject of pleasing customers, the situation is analogous to the HP landing problem. If the risk is to the participant only, then a little extra risk might be considered acceptable. However, when other skydivers have no control over the risk, it is completely unfair to expose them to it. Just as HP landings don’t belong in the normal traffic pattern, horizontal flight that might endanger other groups on the load is not acceptable. Minimum and Maximum Opening Altitudes I am not a great believer in relying on vertical separation, since a stuck pilot chute, premature deployment, or spinning malfunction can erase it in seconds. However, there is no reason not to add it to the arsenal. Some drop zones are mandating a minimum 4,000 foot deployment altitude for wingsuits and a maximum 3,000 for trackers and angle flyers. I haven’t made a decision on this yet, but it makes sense in some situations. Enforcement After the alarming close calls in our last season, and looking back on the canopy discipline problem that plagued the sport for years (and still does, in places) Skydive AZ recognizes that modifying behavior requires both positive guidance and, when necessary, some penalties. We’ll be asking horizontal flyers who create safety problems to stand down from their activity until they can demonstrate a better understanding of our concerns.
  23. "We live longer in three seconds than some people live their entire lives." That's one of my favorite quotes from a fellow BASE jumper, and it was at the forefront of my mind as I read BBC broadcaster and psychology writer Claudia Hammond's new book, "Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception." The book tackles the alternately baffling and encouraging science behind our brains' relationship with the arbitrary measurements of our wristwatches. More to the point: It puts that information in a framework that makes total sense for an airsports athlete. Time works a little differently for us, after all. Linear time lies at the heart of the way we organize life, sure--but it also lies at the heart of the way we experience it. This might be the bigger concept--because what's within our own minds is under our own control. Skydivers--especially in high-stakes moments, like competitions and records--can relate to the curiously changing shape of time. Saturated with focus, it feels as though some experiences are being scrubbed through in super-fast-forward, while others are playing out almost frame-by-frame. It turns out that fluxes in time perception aren't simply an athletic and personal deficiency; these mental gymnastics around the concept of time's passage are a "defining feature of how the human mind works."It turns out that, in a physiological sense, the "slow-motion car crash" isn't a myth -- it's "a cognitive reality." Hammond's hypothesis is compelling in its simplicity: that the way we experience the passage of time is not an external process we're subjected to. Instead, time as we know it is actively created by our own minds. It isn't reliable and it is certainly not objective. Neuroscientists and psychologists call this "mind time," and Hammond describes how we as humans -- and, by extension, we as extreme athletes -- can shape it and use it to our own benefit. Much of the challenge we face as airsports athletes is exerting a practical amount of control over our physical and mental responses to overwhelming stimuli. No amount of mental gymnastics will turn a BASE exit with a seven-second rock drop into an exit with a 12-second rock drop; however, if we can start to see "mind time" as flexible and ourselves as active participants in our experience of it, Hammond suggests that we can stay in flight just a little longer in our own minds. (This is a deeply appealing and useful thought experiment for athletes who practice a sport that often requires us to dedicate days of our time for scant minutes of freefall.) "Time Warped" is a profoundly conceptual but still, somehow, practical book. It addresses the way our internal clocks dictate our lives and the ways in which mindfulness works as a tool to master that internal clock. One of the book's most beautiful passages sums it up brilliantly: "We will never have total control over this extraordinary dimension. Time will warp and confuse and baffle and entertain however much we learn about its capacities. But the more we learn, the more we can shape it to our will and destiny. We can slow it down or speed it up. We can hold on to the past more securely and predict the future more accurately. Mental time-travel is one of the greatest gifts of the mind. It makes us human, and it makes us special." Other Resources: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman Felt Time: The Science of How We Experience Time by Marc Wittmann
  24. Exit at Mother City Skydiving. Image by Christopher Teague If the long flight puts you off--or if you’re new to the whole African-continent thing--let me be the first to tell you to get over it and get down here. You’ll be so glad you did. When the skydiving season is literally cooling off in the northern hemisphere, the southern hemisphere is just heating up. And it gets good. While December-friendly dropzones in the States tend to be one-trick ponies (I’m looking at you, middle-of-the-desert DZs), their South African counterparts offer more than drafty hangars and lukewarm swimming pools for your landside entertainment. Much, much more. In fact, this author insists that every skydiver in the Northern Hemisphere should get a gear bag together and abandon bad weather for points south. (Spoiler: Sure, it’s about the jumping--but it’s about so much more than the jumping. When it comes to adventures, Africa never disappoints.) Reason #1: Trip-of-a-lifetime ways to get your boogie on. December is smack-dab in the middle of the summer boogie season in South Africa, so skydivers have even more incentive to book the trip. Skydive Mossel Bay, for instance, is planning some seriously sweet turbine-fueled freefly shenanigans for December 16-31. You can expect gold-medal coaching, all the organized jumps your fluttery little heart desires, a flurry of exotic aircraft, landing after landing on the bay’s powdered-sugar beach and a South-African-style party you’ll be talking about for years (if you register in time). If that’s not enough, point your navel at the ground and make some shapes at the belly-themed JBay Boogie, where you’ll jump with a view of the world-famous righthand pointbreak that is Jeffrey’s Bay. (Pro tip: Book both boogies and bring all your swimwear.) View of the Cape Town area, with Table Mountain, as seen from Signal Hill. Image by Bryn De Kocks If you end up in-country in November instead, don’t despair: There’s the Tonto Boogie up in Johannesburg from November 25-27. Sure, there’s no jaw-dropping ocean view--but there are plenty of planes, plenty of organizers, plenty of new friends and plenty of good vibes to make up the difference, and the “braai” (bar-b-que) is legendary AF. Reason #2: (You guessed it.) Animals. Want to wake up on the right side of the bed for a long day of jumping? Try taking a private open-air shower while listening to lions make big-kitty noises on the ridges nearby. That’s totally possible at Skydive Mossel Bay, which is just down the road from five-star safari digs at Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. If you feel like taking a coastal drive to explore around Mossel, do it with a purpose: You’re just a couple of hours from canoodling with pachyderms at the Knysna Elephant Park. African Penguins along the Western Cape coast. If you end up heading inland to do some jumping at Skydive Robertson, take a day to explore the “kloofing” (hiking) around McGregor village, where several beautiful conservation areas provide many miles of baboon-dodging along your route between the various waterfalls and bushman’s caves. And if you’re kicking around Mother City, take a long afternoon to swim with the penguins, go dassie-spotting on Table Mountain or stroll around Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. (Insider tip: Don’t miss the summer concert series.) Reason #3: Chain restaurants and sorry Mexican food? Nopey nopey nope. The exchange rate is currently favorable enough to turn your dropzone food strategy into a downright white-tablecloth affair, so don’t miss the opportunity. Skydive Mossel Bay sits right next to some of the best beachside braai spots in the country, as well as a couple of standout oyster bars and several coffee shops that are well worth a visit. Skydive Robertson’s choice spot in the Robertson Wine Valley puts a posh spin on the green light, offering up dozens of tasting rooms for your boozy perusal. Then, of course, there’s Mother City Skydiving--which is less than an hour from what is (in this author’s opinion as well as the Telegraph’s) the world’s best city, replete with gastronomic stunners, artisanal cocktails served in suitably slinky venues and pop-up supper clubs. Reason #4: You’ve always wanted to. You’ve wanted to see Africa for yourself since you first saw ‘The Lion King.’ (C’mon. You know damn well that’s true.) And now, as a mostly-grown-up skydiver, you have the perfect excuse to finally go: Staying current. There’s a nice bonus, too, for the moment: With the exchange rate being what it is, your USD--or GBP, if that’s your thing--are going to go surprisingly far towards those bucket-list African adventures. (Y’know: shark diving; cheetah snuggling; dancing around with the kids in an actual-factual village.) ...So it’s settled then. I’ll see you in December up in the big, blue African sky. Right? Right.
  25. “This particular aircraft doesn’t have seatbelts, but we only have it for this one boogie--and we’ve never had a forced landing, anyway.” “There’s no AAD in this rig, but I’m only going to jump it this once while my regular rig is being repacked. It’s just so I don’t miss the record attempt. I’ll be back on my regular rig on the next load.” “We always jump in cloud here. Otherwise we’d never get to jump! The pilot has GPS, anyway, obviously, and he’s never been wrong.” The final sentence--which always follows, right?--is the kicker: “I’m sure it will be fine.” Are you? Really? USPA Director of Safety and Training Jim Crouch introduced a really important concept in April’s Parachutist (‘Safety Check’; April 2017). In it, he brings up The Challenger Launch Decision, written by sociologist Diane Vaughan. Vaughn very usefully summarized the kernel of this human tendency. She even coined a term for it: the “normalization of deviance.” Normalization of deviance comes up pretty much everywhere in life (foregoing your helmet just to bike down to the neighborhood park; speeding; not bothering with the condom). High-variable, high-pressure, high-safety-requisite circumstances breed the normalization of deviance like bunnies at a bunny swinger’s convention. For some insight into how the normalization of deviance affects you in your airsports career, let NASA Astronaut Mike Mullane bend your ear. Mullane was a fighter pilot in 1978, when he was selected as a Mission Specialist in the first group of Space Shuttle Astronauts. He chalked up three space missions (aboard the Shuttles Discovery and Atlantis), spending more than 350 hours in the void. And, solely in the years after he celebrated his 60th birthday, Mullane summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Rainier and 35 of Colorado’s 14,000+ers. You can safely assume that Col. Ret. Mullane is an expert in managing his own risk envelope and that of those around him--and, yet, even he is still influenced by the normalization of deviance. How ‘bout that. Why is it so tough to fight immunity to unacceptable risk? Cause damn, it’s hard. It’s cultural; it’s about preserving a certain quality of relationship. It’s personal; it’s about preserving a certain self-image. Finally, it’s transactive; it’s about trading off a potentially good experience now for the chance to have more good experiences later, in the absence of much data at ****all. “The natural human tendency,” Mullane notes, “Particularly in pressured circumstances, to want to take a safety shortcut. [You say,] ‘I’ve done a [jump] like this a thousand times in the past, and nothing bad has ever happened. I can certainly do it this one time [...] and nothing bad is going to happen. [...] The absence of something bad happening when I took this safety shortcut means that it’s safe to do so again.’” There will always be a next time. And you’re going to be mightily tempted to do it again. When you do it--whatever ‘it is--enough times, the shortcut becomes the norm. The loop is reinforced. In Mullane’s words, “The deviance is now invisible to you.” And when invisible deviance leaves a very visible mess? Well, Diane Vaughn coined another term in her book for that eventuality: a “predictable surprise.” Those involved in the Challenger debacle readily admit that the explosion (and the resulting deaths) constituted a predictable surprise. So does a catastrophic wingsuit collision in the absence of one jumper’s AAD. So does a plane full of broken jumpers after a forced seatbeltless landing (of which--make no mistake--there are very many). So does a double tandem fatality at a dropzone with an it’ll-be-fine attitude towards instructor training. Image by Brett Kistler The itchy issue we face as airsports athletes is that we’re not under pressure from the government, as Mullane and NASA were. We’re not under pressure from the market. The pressure you’re under on the dropzone is your own. If you think it’s a good idea to scratch, you can damn well go ahead and scratch. You can roll your eyes at anyone who gets after you for it--the manifest; your buddy; your team at the Nationals. Most of the time, though, you don’t. You stay on the load, and--probably significantly more than nine times out of ten--you build another nanolayer on your normalization-of-deviance callus. The old triusm that familiarity breeds complacency makes a little more sense, no? That newbies are generally more risk-averse than intermediate-to-mid-career jumpers (a trend which tends to reverse as the jumper amasses significant empirical data)? That you’re more willing to do--well--gloriously stupid shit at a dropzone you know really well, as opposed to one you’re just visiting? Take it from Richard Feynman, compared the practice of predictive reasoning to Russian Roulette: “The fact that the first shot got off safely is little comfort for the next. [...] Nature cannot be fooled.” In real life, of course, it’s more uncertain than that. He was talking about binary predictive reasoning (with an either-A-or-B result). We’re not playing a binary game when we’re jumping and flying; we’re not playing Russian roulette. Honestly, we don’t even know how many bullets are in that gun. But we’d better remember that it is a gun, and it is loaded, somewhere in there--and the safety culture we’ve inherited is a desperate attempt to introduce proven failsafes in the face of our old nemesis, randomness. Walking out to the pointy end is fun. Randomness is fun. Deviance is fun. That’s a big part of why we do this, right? That said: understanding why we make the decisions we make--and, perhaps, even learning to make better ones--can do much to extend a career. For more, do yourself a solid and check out Vaughn’s The Challenger Launch Decision, which originally coined the phrase. It’s a riveting read--and I bet you’ll readily recognize the culture which worked to create the conditions for the tragedy.