Get Current: Wingsuit Performance Flying

Travis Mickle and Spike Harry
Jake 'Feather' Morse, photo by Matt Veno

Jake ‘Feather’ Morse, photo by Matt Veno

Jake “Feather” Morse is a Phoenix Fly wingsuit operating out of Minnesota.  He has been skydiving for 5 years and has 800 jumps, 350 of those wearing a prom dress.  Despite being relatively new, he’s already making an impact on the scene by having “the perfect build for wingsuiting” by being as skinny as he is tall and showing up at US Performance Cup competitions to throw down some competitive scores.

 

Wingsuit Performance Flying

With our new discipline now recognized by the FAI and USPA, an official intro to Wingsuit Performance Flying is in order. Have you been looking for something to do when no other wingsuiters show up? Did you recently finish your first flight and still get psyched about your extended freefall time, the added horizontal speed, and the amazing distance you just covered? Wingsuit performance flying just might be a discipline for you.

 

The Rules:
There are three categories of performance flying, all measured from a vertical gates at 3000 and 2000 meters (9840 to 6560 feet, for those of us living in the imperial system). The clock starts when you first touch the top gate and continues to tick until you reach the bottom. Time, horizontal distance covered, and average horizontal velocity are all measured on separate jumps as separate categories. Events traditionally consist of two jumps in each category, and the top score on each round sets the bar for each competitor who will earn percentage of that bar based on how their score compares. Scores are measured by competition flysights, which all have the same software installed and are not allowed to provide audio feedback. Jump run is usually adjusted so we’re all able to fly straight lines in isolated lanes. All official competition scores are published and recorded here.

 

  • Achieving Maximum Horizontal Speed:
    This category favors heavier competitors. With added mass, they can best utilize and convert their increased fall rate to increased horizontal speed. You’ll want to start by diving as steep as you can at the window and making a smooth transition from that steep dive into an angle best suited for horizontal speed. Lighter pilots have been known to pull their arms in close to their sides, collapsing their arm wing and removing as much drag as possible. To practice, I recommend chasing fast pilots, keeping them below you, and finding the tipping point where you begin slowing down horizontally and speeding up vertically. Ideally you can make it back to that tipping point without a visual cue of other wingsuiters in the air.
  • Achieving Maximum Time:
    This category favors lighter competitors, and is the only category not influenced by winds aloft. Although it seems counter intuitive, you’ll want to begin again by diving at the window and gathering as much airspeed as you can. As you approach, the goal is a smooth flare at the top of the window to transfer all that speed into lift, almost to the point of a stall. When that settles, you’ll want to maintain a position getting enough horizontal airspeed to still be generating lots of lift, but not accelerating vertically.
  • Achieving Maximum Distance:
    This category is a fine balance between the two others, and requires the most tuning. Although the round starts roughly similar to a time round, after the flare into the window each pilot needs to determine how much time they want to trade-off in favor of horizontal speed in order to achieve their maximum distance. Since winds aloft influence this, technique may also change based on wind direction and speed. A pilot with a strong tailwind may decide that they want to trade only a very little amount of time for speed and let the winds aloft push them the rest of the way. With a headwind or crosswind however, they may need to tip themselves further down to drive into the wind to achieve a greater distance.

Finally, practice practice practice. Only with practice will you get consistent scores and know how to really fly each category. A flysight really helps if you want to accurately measure yourself in distance or speed, but because these measurements are subject to winds aloft, the best methods are discovered flying next to others. These skills really help if you find yourself low on a formation, getting out on a really long spot from the dropzone, or even diving last out of an Otter after a large flock. As always, don’t forget to smile and have fun.

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Get Current: Landing Priorities

Maxine

MaxineMaxine Tate is a Flight-1 instructor, PD Sponsored Athlete and a member of the British Canopy Piloting Team. She has 5,000+ jumps under her weight-belt and calls Skydive DeLand home. Join Maxine or any of her colleagues at Flight-1 to improve your landings skills at a Flight-1 canopy course (check website for list of dates and locations). 

How do I land safely?
Landing Priorities in Order.

It’s been a long and cold winter for most, possibly with a good several months having passed since your last skydive. What should you be reminding yourself of before you come face to face with your canopy again?
You’re uncurrent – be honest – are you nervous about your first landing of the year? Many people are after a certain amount of time on the ground. So it seems like the perfect time to revisit The Landing Priorities (LPs) that you were introduced to during AFF but may not have revisited since. Why are the LPs so important? If we follow these priorities in order, we have the greatest chance of a successful and safe landing.

  1. Land with the Wing Level– if the wing is level then it is flying in a straight line horizontal to the ground, and you are no longer descending. That is a good thing! We have both a vertical and horizontal component to our canopy flight, and we want to eliminate the vertical component on landing at the very least. It is far easier to slide/run/walk off a landing comprising of horizontal speed only, than it is to stick a landing still involving some aspect of vertical descent.
  2. Land in a Clear Area – we want to avoid obstacles and hazards of course. The key to achieving this is planning and anticipation. If you do turn onto your final leg and encounter a potential hazard, make any needed adjustment as early as possible. If you make the adjustment sooner, the degree of turn required to steer away from the hazard will be smaller, and your canopy will have more time to recover and return to a level wing before landing. Busting LP1 with a low turn to achieve LP2 can still lead to injury.
  3. Flare symmetrically to at least half brakes –
    • the act of flaring pitches the canopy up, so that we slow and hopefully stop our vertical descent, helping us achieve LP1 ;
    • symmetry in the flare is the key to maintaining a level wing – any asymmetry in our input will allow the canopy to roll to one side or the other, busting LP1;
    • at least to half brakes is a guide to enable us to plane out and slow down – each combination of canopy and pilot will have a different point to flare to in order to achieve LP1 (our sweet spot) but whatever situation you find yourself in, you should at the least execute a symmetrical flare of substance. If you land a canopy with a minimal flare or without flaring at all, you will likely injure yourself.
  4. Land Into the Wind – yes indeed this is a priority but it is not the top priority. LP4 can make a stand up landing easier, as flying into a headwind reduces our ground speed. BUT landing into wind is not a requirement to land safely: you should never put this priority ahead of LP1, 2 and 3. Don’t make a low turn just to attempt to land into wind. You are far less likely to injure yourself if you execute a downwind or crosswind landing well with a good strong symmetrical flare, than if you land into wind while the canopy is still rolling, and therefore not level above your head. Remember it is the vertical descent that we are trying to stop. Only turn into wind if you have enough altitude for the canopy to fully recover to a level wing before it is time to execute a flare for landing.

If the last point I make, about accepting a downwind or crosswind landing rather than turning low into wind, makes your heart start racing a little, or gives you a slightly sick feeling in your stomach, then you need to address your landing skills and boost your confidence to a level where you can make decisions that respect the Landing Priorities – these four points in this order are the key to keeping safe and remaining injury free from the most critical part of your canopy flight – your landing.
Blue skies and safe landings
– Maxine Tate

flight-1

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Get Current: Canopy Choices – Understanding the Choices We Make

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75815_10200236638615860_637452750_nTom Noonan is a professional instructor and director of the Tandem Program at UPT. Tom wears many hats on the side, including being the Dropzone Operations Coordinator at Everest Skydive, serving on the USPA Board of Directors, being a rigger and more!  On occasion he even jumps for fun. 

“Can you land your canopy in a backyard?”  

This is the age-old “go to” question.  Are you capable landing your canopy in a tight congested space?  The question, while good intended, is not actually the best question to ask though, when considering canopy choices.  A more well-rounded question would be: “Can you land your canopy in a backyard when everything around you is going wrong?
In a controlled environment, say a dedicated hop ‘n pop, many skydivers are capable of landing their canopies in a small areas, free of obstructions.  Want proof?  Observe a sunset load “land and chug” when skydivers of all experience levels and canopy sizes, land near the free beer.  All day long they landed anywhere and everywhere else on the DZ, but once you put out a free beer for accuracy, then all of a sudden, everyone becomes Magellan under canopy and navigates right to the free beers.

The real question about appropriate canopy choices and whether or not a skydiver is capable of landing in a tight area is whether or not it can be done in an uncontrolled environment.  Can a skydiver safely land off in a tight space when they are forced to make quick decisions and perform under pressure in less than idea situations?  This question can then be split again, as we jump with two parachutes, a main and a reserve, and are just as likely to have to land either one in a tight area in less than ideal conditions.  That being said, when considering canopy choices and attempting to determine if the canopies on your back are the right canopies for you (main and reserve), ask yourself two separate questions:

When things are going wrong, when I’m landing off in a tight area, maybe downwind, maybe in a parking lot, am I capable of landing my main AND my reserve in any of my potential worst case scenarios?

If you answered yes to both questions, you are in good shape in terms of canopy choices.  If you answered no to either question, it is critical to understand why the answer is no and to assess your canopy choices based on that knowledge.  You may find that as an AFF instructor working at a busy DZ in an overpopulated area, that you are more prone to land off and that 84sq ft cross brace canopy may not be the best canopy to have overhead when landing in a school parking lot on a long spot.  Or, you may find that as a Canopy Piloting competitor that while your sub-70sq ft canopy is not ideal for off landings, you have made an educated decision to jump that wing in environments that give you the best chances for keeping that canopy out of such tight spots.  In either scenario, or anywhere in between, if you are making educated decisions on the canopies you use based on the conditions you use them in, you are on your way to making good canopies choices.  The most common mistake however, is that skydivers as a general rule, tend to choose canopies based on what they need for a successful canopy flight and landing when everything goes right, not for when everything goes wrong.  This is an important concept to understand as canopy choices and skydiving gear in general have evolved greatly over the last few decades and today’s skydivers are faced with varying (almost dizzying) equipment and canopy choices.

Years ago, there was a time when skydiving was so dangerous and so exciting that after the parachute opened, a skydiver’s primary goal was simply to get to the ground safely to go skydiving again.  Not so today however, with the advent of modern parachute wings in varying shapes and sizes, numerous canopy related endeavors and disciplines have arisen over time.   From CrEW, to CP and everything in between, there are numerous areas of parachute flight interest for skydivers now amongst a varying  selection of canopy sizes and shapes.

There are also multiple canopy designs today, including “fully-elliptical”, “semi-elliptical”, “tapered”, “cross braced”, and my favorite, the “fully-unelliptical” old-school (square) parachute.  There are now different fabrics and lines out there too.  It used be just low permeability fabric, (every remembers the brand “F-111” fabric).  Then came that “ZP’ stuff that made the fabric last longer and kept the canopies more rigid.  Now there is  fabric called “sail”, “low bulk”, and so on.  The same things happened to the lines of the canopy too.  We used to have Dacron and Microline (Spectre) to choose from, now we have those choices along with Vectran, HMA, and so on.  They even come in cool colors now too.  With all of these choices, what is a skydiver to do when buying their next canopy?  How will they know which design, size, material and line to choose from?  While there is not a “single fit” answer for everyone, the important thing to remember is that skydiving has evolved both in freefall and under canopy into a large number of diverse disciplines, each of which puts the human body at different speeds and conditions.  Put simply, skydiving and canopy flight have become so specialized today, that there are “good fit” parachutes sizes and shapes for just about everything we do in freefall and under canopy.  The days of just buying a canopy to get to the ground are long gone.  There are too many sizes and designs out there to choose from.  And while there are certainly a number of general canopy design ranges, it is critical to ask, for both your main and your reserve?

Are the canopy designs and sizes appropriate for my disciplines, my skill level and my currency level?  If you cannot answer “yes” to all three questions, then you might want to consider either changing your canopy, or improving your skill level and currency level until you can answer yes to all three questions.  Or you, may simply answer: “I don’t know”.  And that is okay too, as long as the answer is followed up with the resolution to find out.

Here’s a question to start the search for canopy knowledge.  What is the difference between a seven cell and nine cell parachute?  And no, the answer is not just “two more cells”.  There is a (general) difference in aspect ratio (cross-braced canopies aside), that can make a difference in opening characteristics, lift, flare and so on.  And a second question, based on that idea, why are modern sport reserve parachutes  seven cell wings?.

There is not a single absolute answer for any of this, as parachutes are diverse in design and function, but there is a tremendous amount of foundational information available out there, now is the time to go find it.

In conclusion, today’s modern parachutes are essentially purpose-built.  To paraphrase an old PD ad, if we all had the same tastes, we’d all fly the same wing.  The reality however in modern sport parachuting is that we have greatly varied disciplines and purposes for our parachutes.  They need to function is these highly diverse environments that we place them in, and it is true that while many parachutes are multifunctional, there is not a single parachute out there that is good for everything we are capable of doing in the sky.  That is why it is so critical to determine if we are flying with the most appropriate wings over our heads, both main and reserve canopy.   If we find through thoughtful assessment that we have the appropriate size and shape parachutes in our containers for the disciplines we pursue and the worst case aerial scenarios that we may encounter, then we will have the piece of mind in knowing on each jump that we have given ourselves the best chances for a safe, successful skydive.  If however, we find that we are not under the most ideal canopies for our disciplines, experience and worst case scenario landings, we can then set forth to correct that situation, through transitioning to more appropriate gear, or by seeking additional training to improve our skill set on our current gear.  The critical area here is that if it is determined there is a level of incompatibility in our gear and how we use it, we owe it to ourselves and those around us, to correct the situation.  In today’s modern skydiving universe, the gear we use is quite advanced, and while it is not malfunction free, there are not a lot of gear related incidents these days based on the large number of skydives we make day after day.  The truth is, that the vast majority of skydiving incidents occur today under perfectly functioning parachutes.  Many of these incidents and injuries can be traced back to end-user incompatibility and performance issues, specifically that either the canopy wasn’t the right size or shape for the landing area or more likely, the performance of the operator pilot was not on the same level with the performance of the parachute to land safely.   If every skydiver/parachutist made an honest assessment of the wings over their heads, versus, the experience level and discipline being used in, many of us would find that we have areas we can reduce the likelihood of incident or injury by ensuring we have the right wing over our head and right skill level at our fingertips as we fly our canopies to the ground.

“In the end, it’s not how appropriate your canopy is when everything is going right, it’s how appropriate your canopy is when everything is going wrong, that can be the difference between walking away from a bad landing and being driven away in an ambulance.”

To borrow from PD again, when it comes to your gear:  “Knowledge is Power”.  The information is out there, via company websites, dealers, tour reps and instructors.  Seek out the information.  Learn from it.  If you don’t agree with it all, ask questions.  The only dumb questions are the ones you don’t ask.

To wrap this canopy perspective up, simply ask yourself:  Are you under the right size and model main and reserve canopy for your disciplines, experience level and drop zone location?  If you can’t answer yes to both questions, find out the answers now during your downtime.  You don’t want to be asking yourself this question at 1000ft as your passing through a tree line into a backyard and finding out only then, that the answer is “no”……..

Get Current: Proper Harness Fit – It’s More Important Than You Think!

Photo courtesy of Lydie Rabasa-Lhoret

SandySandy Reid, the author of this article, made his first jump in 1970 and became an FAA Senior rigger in 1971, under the auspices of Ted Strong and Dan Poynter. Becoming a Master Rigger in 1974, Sandy has worked virtually full-time in the parachute industry since then. Along with his wife Brenda, Sandy founded Rigging Innovations in 1985 and they now have been in business for 30 years. Rigging Innovations manufacture harness and container systems, including the Talon, Talon 2, Talon 3.0, Telesis, Telesis 2, Telesis 3.0, Flexon, Genera, Aviator, Voodoo, and now the Curv. Sandy is the inventor and patent holder of the articulated harness design. 

Proper Harness Fit – It’s More Important Than You Think!

Proper, or “good” harness fit of the rig to your body is one of the most important issues that affects your freefall efforts. There are three main issues that need to be addressed for a good harness fit. The harness includes the container assembly as well as the webbing straps.

1. SAFETY.
An incorrect or poorly fitting harness can be dangerous to the user since it must hold the jumper securely and keep them from falling out of the harness. The jumper must also be able to reach and activate the main and reserve handles as well as the main and reserve toggles at any point throughout the jump.

The most common fit problem is that of the harness being too large for the jumper. This may allow the containers to shift during freefall and moving the location of the main deployment handle out of reach. At the same time the reserve ripcord and 3-ring release handle may change location and ride up after opening. This may result in difficulty in locating the handles during an emergency and make them more difficult to activate.

Photo courtesy of Lydie Rabasa-Lhoret

Photo courtesy of Lydie Rabasa-Lhoret

In today’s VRW environment, another fit issue becomes very pronounced. If the harness is too long or large, particularly in the horizontal or lateral region, it is common for the containers to “float” off the back of the jumper in a sit or standing position. Under extreme fit situations, in the event of an inadvertent main or reserve opening, the jumper could fall rearward out of the harness. It is important that the harness holds the containers tightly to the body in all positions and attitudes.

2. COMFORT.
A properly fitted harness is important if the jumper wants to make more than a couple jumps a day. Whether the harness is too large or particularly if too small, the forces from the opening shock of the canopy will result in bruises and pain. In extreme situations, it may prevent the jumper from implementing emergency procedures. At the very least the jumper may be discouraged from enjoying the skydiving experience if they think “this is the way it must be”.

3. PERFORMANCE.
A poorly fitting harness has more influence on the jumper’s performance than they may be aware. An oversize harness will allow the containers to shift during freefall and may then fly the jumper during their maneuvers. This is particularly noticeable with small or shorter frame individuals. A typical example is when the individual dives head first from the aircraft and the containers shift upwards towards the head. This prevents the jumper from raising their head to see where they are going. Once they are horizontal, if they are performing belly to earth maneuvers, when they start turning, the containers may momentarily hesitate to follow the jumper. When the turn is completed, the containers will continue to move beyond the jumper causing them to “overturn” or go past the stopping point. This effect becomes more pronounced the faster the jumper moves in the air such as in 4-way sequential.

Photo courtesy of Lydie Rabasa-Lhoret

Photo courtesy of Lydie Rabasa-Lhoret

The same situation occurs in VFS except the jumper axis is primarily vertical as opposed to horizontal. In both cases the jumper may not be aware of the subtlety of the effect of an oversize harness.

A harness that is too small will limit the jumper’s freedom of movement in the air to an equal degree.

Once an individual resolves the above issues either by having their harness properly sized for them or purchasing a custom-made new rig to their measurements, the change becomes immediately evident. All of the above issues should immediately go away.

Whether the individual purchases a used rig or a completely new system, it is imperative that it fits correctly in order for the jumper to fully enjoy the skydiving experience in a safe and comfortable manner. If there are fit or sizing problems with your rig, do not hesitate to contact the manufacturer and discuss your issues. After all, they are the experts on your particular make and model of harness and container system.

As a manufacturer of harness and container systems for over 30 years, I can confidently state that proper harness sizing and fit is the #1 customer issue that the industry deals with. In many instances, a good fitting harness can be as much a matter of “Voodoo art” as it is a well-disciplined science. If there is a problem and we don’t know about it, we can’t correct it.

Rigging-Innovations

 

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