I love this sport. I love the people, the vibe and the job, but that love doesn’t keep certain things from really pissing me off! Before I started flying jumpers, I was a fulltime AFF and tandem instructor. I had close to seven thousand jumps, I’d worked at half a dozen DZs including Cross Keys, which was the busiest DZ in the States at the time. I’d done a lot and seen even more, and I knew everything … right up until I started sitting up front full time.
As soon as I was behind the stick, I started paying attention to things that had rarely, if ever, crossed my mind as a jumper. I looked back at more than a few of my actions over the years wondering what I’d been thinking and realizing how little I really knew.
The thing is, I’m a jumper first. My life as I know it started with a parachute on my back almost 16 years ago. As a jump pilot I always try to keep that in mind. On the flip side, most jumpers aren’t pilots and have little or no idea what goes on at the front of the plane and, at bigger drop zones, may not even know who their pilot is.
We’re gonna try here to cover some of the things that I, and other jump pilots I know, think about and are concerned with while taking you to altitude. Some of them may seem like old news, but you just might be surprised!
The Loading Area
Here’s the spot where my head just about comes off a dozen times a day. My whole reason for existence is fast turns, and as many loads as I can manage. At a medium or large drop zone, there are a whole lot of people who want to jump and only so much daylight; the loading area is where the difference between thirty loads in a day or thirty-five-plus loads is made. It’s also where you the jumper can dictate how many jumps you’re gonna get in.
Have your dirt dive done BEFORE the plane pulls up to the loading area! As a pilot, there’s nothing worse than watching the clock ticking with props spinning on the ground while jumpers are trying to figure out their slot and first point on a 10-way.
It is everyone’s responsibility to keep everyone else away from the propellers! A screaming pilot is really hard to hear with the engine running, and he or she can only see and do so much. Even if the engine has not been started, stay away from the spinny, whirly, choppy thing and yell to anyone that heads that way!
Know your exit order BEFORE you get in the plane—that way when you get to the plane, you can get in and sit the fuck down!
If you’re trying to help out the pilot and DZ by loading, pulling the power cart from the A/C, helping an observer on the plane, etc., make sure that what you’re doing is really helping! If you’re not sure what’s going on, either ask or let someone else do it.
Hardly a new topic, right? I for one never thought about not putting on a seatbelt in an aircraft and yet, as a jumper and pilot, I see it happen all the time.
If you choose not to wear your seatbelt for takeoff or landing in a jump plane, you’re going to appear twice in the FAA report: once as a victim and yet again as the probable cause of death to someone else, more than likely a friend of yours.
Hey jackass, that camera helmet should be boned in or worn for the same reasons you should be. The people around you aren’t trying to be dicks by telling you to secure it, they are trying to keep if from taking their fucking heads off! It’s nothing but a really big projectile if that plane stops quickly. The seatbelts come off you and your equipment at the altitude your DZ and pilot want them to, and it’s your responsibility to know what that is.
Not nearly as important as putting your seatbelt on, but still important: take it off when you’re supposed to. With your belt on, you create a potential log jam in an emergency situation in which people need to leave quickly and safely.
Last but not least, your pilot can receive a violation against his or her license if the FAA observes passengers without seatbelts on, so watch out for him as well! You’re not going to do much jumping without a pilot, and when he’s flying again after getting spanked by the FAA, see how much extra altitude you get.
The Ride to Altitude
Have fun! That’s what we are here for, and there’s nobody on board who doesn’t know it. The thing is, have responsible fun. No screaming at the top of your lungs to show how much you love skydiving. There’s one particular fool that used to think it was great fun to scream like a B horror movie from takeoff through one-thousand feet, right up until he got thrown out of the plane (you know who you are, asshole!). It’s not only stupid behavior that makes you look like a tool, but it’s dangerous as well. Why would you want your pilot to wonder if there’s something horribly wrong during takeoff?
Keep the shifting around in the plane to a minimum, especially in a mid-sized aircraft. Your pilot probably isn’t worried about weight and balance at this point, but he’s getting pretty tired of trimming out the aircraft ‘cause you’re chatting with the whole load. It may not look like the pilot is doing much, but trust me, he’s busy! Anything to help out on a 12-hour day is greatly appreciated!
Keep your eyes open. You have a view of the aircraft that the pilot doesn’t. If you see something that looks funny or wrong with the plane, the jumpers, etc., say something to the pilot. The life you save may be your own.
Try to remember that the pilot is there to do a job, and that job is not only taking you to altitude but also keeping you safe along the way. If you need to speak with him or her, do so, but get to the point! Distracting the pilot too much could result in anything from a bad spot, less altitude, or even him/her not seeing the other plane flying right at you!
Jump Run, Exits and Freefall
Whether or not your jump plane has jump lights, you undoubtedly have signals for when to open the door and when to leave. These signals are given (or not given) for a reason. If the green light hasn’t come on when you think it should, it may be that the pilot knows there is another aircraft below you that causes a major hazard and is holding you until it’s clear, or that winds have changed drastically. The pilot of your plane is more than likely in constant contact with a controller and has information you don’t have, so whatever the reason may be, don’t do anything before the pilot signals you!
Remember how you figured out exit orders BEFORE you got on the plane? Now is the time to put that info to use. Know how much time you should be giving to the group in front of you. Have a good idea how long your climbout is going take and GET ON WITH IT! In the door isn’t the place to chat, and all you’re doing is screwing the spot for those in the back, usually the tandem instructors who already have enough on their plate without having to deal with a bad spot!
Unless you’re at a DZ where the jumpers are responsible for spotting, let the pilot fuck up the spot BEFORE you try to correct him! As a jump pilot, I know how fast we’re going thru the air, how fast we’re going across the ground and EXACTLY how far away from the DZ we are, as well as wind speeds from the ground to exit altitude, so give your pilot a chance to do his job. Then again, if you’ve been on a load with a bad spot, it’s not a bad thing to let the pilot know where you opened up because he may not realize it. Be polite though, or you may be doing a lot of hiking!
If you look down and can’t see the ground because of clouds, tell your pilot! There isn’t a licensed jumper out there that doesn’t know you’re not supposed to punch clouds, regardless of how amazing it may be.
Here’s a question for you. If the FAA is on the ground watching jumpers punch clouds, what happens to the jumpers? The answer is: NOTHING. If the FAA is on the ground watching jumpers punch clouds, what happens to the pilot? The answer is: the pilot is fucked!
Depending on how much of a dick the FAA official wants to be, your happy time in a puffy may have just trashed your pilot’s career. This is especially important for you WINGSUIT FLYERS! It doesn’t matter how far you had to travel to hit that cloud, it’s still your pilot’s responsibility, and he or she is the only one that will pay the price for your fun. If you didn’t realize that, now you do—please please please act accordingly! Oh, and there may be another aircraft in that cloud you might hit as well!
Truth be told, I, like most of the jump pilots I know, absolutely love what I do. For the most part, flying jumpers to altitude and diving down like a mad man to get more jumpers is an incredible ride. The people, the vibe, the scene and the sport is what I’ve lived for, and enjoy more than almost anything else. The tips, suggestions and criticisms offered here are things that not only slow down a DZ’s operation, but also pose potential hazards to jumpers and pilots alike. With very few exceptions, every jump pilot I know takes very personal responsibility for everyone onboard the plane they fly. Not only are the people onboard fellow skydivers, but more than likely friends. Most of the things that really piss me off are things that put the people I care about at risk, and that’s something I’m completely willing to get publicly pissed off about. It’s all about having a fucking blast SAFELY, and like it or not, every skydive starts with an aircraft and every aircraft starts with a Fuckin’ Pilot!
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