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Swoop on Valkyrie 96 results in AAD fire

Written by Kolla

Canopy Pilot Matt Shull experienced first hand what it feels like to exceed AAD activation parameters on a swoop  on a recent jump in Colorado. Matt does not use an AAD on his personal gear precisely due to the risk of it activating during a swoop.
When Matt borrowed gear from a friend for a jump, he performed a gear check on pins and cables etc, but did not remember to disarm the AAD. The jump took place in Colorado.

Matt put the video below together and graciously allowed us to share it, so that other pilots may review the incident and learn from it. It provides footage from his camera and an outside one as well, capturing the turn and landing.  He also included gSwoop plots from the jump for those of you that want to dig into plots and numbers (the graph is a bit blurry, being a screen grab).  (gSwoop is a GPS tool designed to help swoopers analyze and evaluate their performance)

PD New Beginning

Matt is a highly skilled and experienced canopy pilot and a member of the U.S. Canopy Piloting Team.  On this particular jump he was jumping a Performance Designs Valkyrie 96, with standard slider (not using a removable deployment system). The AAD in the rig was a Vigil, but this has happened on units made by other manufacturers as well.

We have seen fatalities from this in the past, and AAD manufacturers responded by releasing “speed versions” of their particular units for canopy piloting use. However, as canopies keep getting smaller and faster, that may not be enough to prevent an AAD from firing. Bottom line: know your equipment, and operate within its limits. Make sure to review the parameters of your particular device and then do what you need to operate within those.  If you need to brush up on the details, visit the links below for more information and/or manuals for the most common ones.



    • Well, I think I did what I could… i don’t think it would have come down any slower in half brakes. The SIM says: Biplane–do not cut away, steer the front canopy gently using toggles; leave brakes stowed on the back canopy; PLF… I prepared for a hard PLF based on descending a little quick, you can tell by my grunt I though it was going to be hard, so I flared the rest of the way. I didn’t realize it at the time but I rolled my ankle, which I’m feeling now. The fact that I always wear braces might have saved me from anything worse.
      The SIM recommendations are based on normal canopies at near the same size… The 96 is smaller and much steeper than the 126, and would need more brakes to fly more closely with the 126. Looking at the video the flare didn’t do much, but ensured the canopies stayed back in the window.
      I fly a 67 and 72 and my normal reserve is an optimum 143… I can only wonder how that could effect a double out situation… Although I sold my AAD 7 years ago when I started exceeding the activation speeds.

      • Thanks for the reply Matt. I think it’s a tough one and there isn’t a right answer; both could work and both could hurt you. Whilst flaring could be considered as slowing the smaller canopy down to the speed of the reserve; what if the reserve has deployed asymmetrically, what if the reserve is slowing down the flight so much that the smaller canopy flies really differently; would that have changed the outcome? I believe the recommendation from the SIM is so as not to mess with the situation at a critical point when a downplane can result. I’ve seen a two out with two 100ish sized canopies, that developed into a downplane when the main was flared, fortunately without major injury.

        The smaller the canopy (compared with the reserve), the more unpredictable it will be. How letting it do it’s own thing or flaring affects that unpredictability is the question. Any volunteers for some testing?!

        It worked for you in this case, does it mean that’s the best course? Glad it worked out for you!

        • I had about 3 seconds to think about it in my case and no idea of the configuration of the canopy, being I didn’t have time to look up and see it. I honestly just thought the slider stow broke at first bc I didn’t hear the cutter. I don’t think I could break the flaring habit if it happened ten more times. I was just looking at the ground and thinking don’t break myself. Maybe if I had some altitude to play around with the configuration and the way they were flying and realize that. I think letting up on the brakes would have made it worse though…

  • Why the fuck would the guy who owns the rig have that canopy if he’s not swooping and if he is, why the aad? Seems like some dumb ass jumpers there

    • The Valkyrie is marketed as an everyday, working canopy. From PD’s website:

      The Valkyrie builds on the dominating performance of the Peregrine and is designed as a step up from the Comp Velocity. Unlike the Peregrine, the Valkyrie was intended for freefall use, so the opening performance was a major consideration in the development of the canopy. And the openings on the Valkyrie are superb! Not to mention, it is simply a blast to fly. Whether you’re filming tandems all day or dedicated to canopy piloting, the Valkyrie will reinvigorate the everyday jump and excite even the most passionate canopy pilots. We loved making it. You’re going to love flying it.

    • I didn’t consider the AAD was there, as I haven’t used one in a long time. The owner of the gear did consider and consult the recommendations of vigil. He used the AAD for AFF jumps and also turned off the vigil for hop-n-pops where he could do 270+ degree turns He of course knows his gear and never had an incident. He will also be updating his gear to a speed type AAD version.
      Most jumpers would have no idea what speeds they are reaching anyway unless using GPS data. digital altimeters with speed functions might give an idea of speed near certain altitudes, but vary in accuracy and not used by all jumpers. I’m interested what vigil says about what speed I was going and when they say it activated. The Flysight interpolated data said up to 94.6mph close to that of vigil extreme speed.

  • I am confused. Was the AAD in this incident configured for swooping, such as a Cypres Speed? If so, this is a very serious incident which suggests that the configuation may be flawed (or obsolete for this new canopy). If however, this AAD was set for typical jumps, such as Cypres Expert, it is simply a user problem.

    • Standard Vigil…I was definitely over the activation speed of standard vigil, so it was going to fire, maybe should have a little higher though. I’m at fault because I didn’t check it, The owner jumped the vigil regularly without incident doing 90 turns as work canopy in a pattern not reaching activation speed, but doing AFF preferred to have the security in free fall. Interestingly if I did hit 94.6 as flysight data showed… than I was less than 3 mph from vigil extreme activation. Put an RDS on the VK 96 and it might happen. I am skeptical of the speed though as it seems hard to be that fast on a 96, but the data doesn’t show any issues, and the MSL was 6,000′.

  • Lucky! As for your ankle, I’d recommend a practice session on your PLF’s; as that was not a good example of a PLF and likely the reason for the injury. Descent under a MC1 or other round is faster than that and those who execute a good PLF have no problem. Glad it ended well for you.

  • Quick questions:

    – Was the jumper’s AAD the “Speed” version of the manufacturers?

    – If he was jumping in CO, he was probably lading at a particularly high elevation, maybe up to 5000ft. ASL. Is that correct? What was the altitude of the landing area. This on its own, could already be the problem, but even more if combined with a “non-speed” version of the AAD in use.

    • Luis, he was indeed jumping in Colorado, around that altitude. That is his home DZ so he’s accustomed to flying there. The Vigil was standard one.

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