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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Word On Canopy Flying and Winds

The advantage of having over 700 acres of landing area is that there are few obstacles to negotiate when putting it down for a landing. The disadvantage of having a large landing area is that canopy pilots are unchallenged when it comes to accuracy. Each weekend, I am amazed by how many jumpers just barely make it over the runway because they did not factor the conditions. This scenario always presents itself when the direction on the final approach is 'hangar on the right' OR when having to fly over the hangar heading to the peas. Inevitably, many jumpers (typically those with less than 500 jumps with large canopies) run the downwind leg too far and then struggle to make it back. This mistake is common, but completely unnecessary. If given 700 acres, why not use it?

Here are several observations I have made over the years by those that make this mistake:

A. No pre-flight plan. Many jumpers are getting on the aircraft without a plan in place. This plan can be simple, takes no more than 1 minute to orchestrate and could simply save your life. View the points below on setting up a simple pre-flight plan.
B. Consider Your Wing. It's not apples to apples. When observing others making it back to the DZ without much problem, (especially from a downwind run that takes them outside of the triangle), don't assume that your return to the landing area will be as easy as theirs. Wing-loading plays a huge part in how hard or easy it is to get back. Typically those flying smaller canopies with more aggressive wing- loading ratios will gain more ground than those with lighter wing-loading. So it's not apples to's apples to oranges.
C. Know Your Limitations. This past weekend saw some 'squirly' (aka gusty) winds and I was surprised by the boldness of some relatively inexperienced jumpers boarding the aircraft. Do not let a hard landing be the reason you set limits for yourself. Is your limitation to jumping only occur when the DZ grounds everyone due to the winds? This past Saturday, ground winds were less than 15 mph, but there was some strong gusts....identify your limitations and stick to your guns.....there's always another day to jump.
Educate Yourself. AFF sets up students to fly their bodies, but there is little emphasis on developing good canopy skills (half of the skydive is spent under canopy). More emphasis should be given to canopy flying. Recently Tim Petalino hosted a canopy skills camp and the attendance was poor at best. Tim is one of the most knowledgeable canopy pilots in the sport and has an amazing curriculum that will enlighten canopy pilots. You will learn things that you didn't know that you were supposed to know...guaranteed! Here are a couple of simple questions to ask yourself: A). Do you use or practice brake turns? B). Do you know how to fly your canopy most efficiently and effectively from a long spot? C). Do you use or other inputs beyond toggle turns for steering? D). Do you know how to use the accuracy trick? E). Do you continually undershoot or overshoot your target?.....If you are answering 'no' to more than one of these questions, it may be a good idea to take a canopy camp and educate yourself.....Tim Petalino will be hosting one in the near future and Luigi Cani will be hosting one also.

Creating a 2-Minute Pre-Flight Plan

1. Pre-determine the direction of your final approach before boarding the aircraft.

Pre-determine your holding area. Where do you want to be over the field to burn altitude and set up a good downwind, base and final approach? 3. Identify the winds....not just ground winds, but winds at your deployment altitude. This will help you know before getting on the airplane if you should be holding into the wind more than you normally would before beginning your downwind leg. 4. Watch - If you're not on the first load of the day, observe the characteristics of how canopies are responding to winds on the loads prior to your own. This will give you feedback if there's turbulence coming off the runways or rotors swirling off of trees. These simple four steps that take less than a minute to figure out with some practice will help you fly smarter and keep you and those around you safer.

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