According to USPA’s statistics, 52% of the 25 fatalities last year (2011) were canopy related. What does this mean?! How can we avoid being one of these statistics!? WTF!!??
“Canopy Related” is such a broad term. So much happens before we open our parachutes that determine the various outcomes of getting to the ground safely. As we’ve heard time and time again, I’ll say it again – all canopy flight begins on the ground prior to getting on the plane!
Let’s take a look at one specific “canopy related” issue that caused the most fatalities of all the “canopy related” scenarios – CANOPY COLLISIONS. How do we avoid canopy collisions? If you answer, “Duh, look around,” you are correct, but there’s so much more we ought to consider.
Where do canopy collisions happen? How can they happen? What can I do to be a safer skydiver and canopy pilot?
1) USPA has stated (and I agree) that most canopy collisions happen either during deployment or in the landing pattern.
2) This may be obvious, but let’s not assume – collisions happen from lack of awareness and lack of planning that begins on ground prior to the jump.
3) (Here I go again…) You can be a safer skydiver/canopy pilot by proper preparation on the ground.
Ok, so I’ve said it three times, “Prepare before you jump,” but what exactly are we preparing for on the ground that will ensure a safe canopy flight? Believe it or not all the articles posted in this blog are all tools to help us prepare for canopy because in order to avoid collisions, we need adequate spacing between groups and each other in the sky. Therefore, knowing the Line of Flight, Winds Aloft, Exit Order, the sufficient Exit Separation sets us up for a successful jump.
Why is knowing Exit Order important? A) So we can get in the airplane efficiently; B) Exit Order is based on freefall drift rather than freefall speed, then opening height in order to ensure spacing during freefall; and C) we don’t shift the airplane’s center of gravity moving from one end to the other because we boarded incorrectly.
Why is knowing the Line of Flight important? First, knowing this builds our awareness so we can identify where people will be in the sky. We can be conscious if we’re drifting or moving around to respect that line in order to stay out of the way of the groups who exited before and after us. Next, we can track perpendicular to the Line of Flight as another means to give other groups adequate space. Finally, knowing this helps as we deploy and enter the first 10-15 seconds of flight, flying off the Line of Flight to visually identify the other groups before setting up into the pattern.
Why is knowing Winds Aloft important? Winds aloft plays a part in the airplane’s ground speed effecting our Exit Separation as well as freefall drift. Knowing this can help us better plan our spot and recognizing adequate spacing.
Why is knowing Exit Separation important? To ensure adequate freefall spacing between groups, giving everyone enough airspace to fly as a group, then break away and not run into other groups.
In the next articles I’ll talk about tracking and the importance of building good skills for a horizontal track and discuss the difference between a steep and flat track.
Professor John Kallend came up with these graphs to illustrate the importance of necessary airspace for groups to avoid collisions. Thanks John!
The last bit that will help us get to the ground safely is preparing a Canopy Flight Plan. That means, knowing the direction of the wind – before takeoff, planning an appropriate landing pattern (left or right based on your DZ’s house rules), and knowing the area (noting hazards and good alternate landing areas).
We’ll elaborate on Landing Patterns in a future article.
I’m a fan of people taking charge and being empowered by having good knowledge and applying it. I’m also a fan of continuing to learn. If you’re ever unsure, take the time to ask an Instructor, S&TA or Examiner about these topics so you can better understand them and apply them to being a safer skydiver.
Note: This is not a sole tool for skydiving training purposes. A full, in-depth skydive training will be held at appropriate skydiving schools.
Illustration Credit: www.USPA.org (with kudos to Professor John Kallend for the Separation Illustrations)