Skydiving Basics for Beginners
by Deborah Blackmon
Graduating from Student Status is an achievement. Making those first few jumps off student status will take a little planning and study. It takes a little patience on your part because some of the skydivers on your drop zone may not have jumped with a novice relative worker before. You will have to help them realize that you are a safe and competent jumper, who wants to learn. So let's establish some guidelines to work by.
A novice relative worker needs to check the following items and decide that he does, in fact, possess the self-confidence and skill to continue relative work training.
Gear: The gear you are planning to wear has been jumped by you enough times from altitude so that you feel comfortable with its operation. You should have made at least one sub-terminal opening. Emergency procedures should be automatic. If you've graduated from an AFF or similar program you should also do a low altitude, 3000 to 4000feet, clear and pull. This is training dive that becomes a survival skill in the event of an aircraft emergency.
Aircraft and Exit: You should try and make a couple of solo jumps from each aircraft at your DZ. The wind blast, door, steps, handles, climbouts, spotting procedures and seating arrangements vary from plane to plane. Routine items, like seating, should be well known before you try your skills at relative work. The amount of time required to climb to altitude varies too. Find out at what altitude you should be putting your goggles and helmet on and when you may standup for your pass. You should be able to do floating and diving exits from the intended aircraft.
Freefall: You should be able to start and stop turns on heading, drive forward with speed and directional control, wave-off and track. If you cannot track, you cannot do relative work. You should have altitude awareness and be able to consistently turn 180o track, wave-off and pull, all in 5 to 7sec and do it stable.
Every high-risk sport has its rules to live by. With the appropriate experience, you now need to know and understand the following survival codes. Nothing will substitute for a good understanding of these survival tips.
Never track into anyone or anything. Track to formations conservatively. You may want to slow and check distances and traffic periodically. Your entire path to the formation will look like a giant staircase from your exit point to your docking point.
Never get under anyone or anything. If you track under someone or the formation, continue tracking to clear as quickly as possible. Stay in the proximity of the formation until breakoff altitude, then track away. This allows the other jumpers to know where you are at pull time.
Always track after breakoff. Turning and dumping is not the way to further your relative work career. You must be proficient at getting and maintaining horizontal separation from others on the dive. If you stop tracking several seconds before pulling, don't backslide. A better plan is to keep tracking until you waveoff and pull. Look for others in front of you as well as behind and above you.
Always waveoff. A waveoff tells others, who you may not see, that you will pull immediately. Use this signal. Never waveoff with your pilot chute. Do not hold your pilot chute out from breakoff to pull altitude.
Always get a good parachute to land with. Start your main deployment by 2500ft and if required, execute emergency procedures before 1800ft. If you know immediately that you have a malfunction, then cut-a-way immediately. You don't have to wait until 1800ft. Develop a habit of checking your opening altitude immediately. Later on, you can tell that your parachute is wearing out by the longer and longer distances required for inflation. If you plan to pull above 3000ft, notify manifest, the pilot and the aircraft's load master. They may wish to put you out on the last pass or disallow high openings directly over the DZ.
Low person has the right of way. During all phases of a jump, freefall, canopy ride and landing, the lower jumper has the right of way. Turn right if you inadvertently are approaching head-on. Be especially cautious under canopy on no-wind days. Jumpers may approach the target and each other head on at low altitudes.
THE NEXT STEP
Let people know that you are doing solo jumps to develop your awareness and tracking abilities. Get someone to oversee your spotting, even if you know what you're doing. They'll get to know you and let others know that you're safe and want to learn relative work skills. Be assertive and ask to jump with others. It'll be a while before they come asking you on jumps. They went through the same types of problems. Keep a good attitude and you'll get most of the dives you want.
Originally published in Sport Parachutist's Safety Journal V1, #2 Jul/Aug 1988.
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