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The Helicopter Maneuver

by Jan Meyer

The helicopter maneuver is one of those student inventions. A properly executed helicopter maneuver will take a student from a stable, faced to earth position, through a contorted and twisting body gyration, where a student maintains heading briefly while still face to earth and then quickly flips over and spins rapidly while back to earth. The maneuver is designed to scare a student into arching really hard to instantly regain stability.

The helicopter maneuver is one to be avoided, but not ignored. Whenever you teach turns, you should explain the helicopter maneuver to your student. This provides your student with knowledge to deal with problems he may encounter, before you help with signals or a redock.

First teach your student an upper body turn, i.e. the salute turn: Look in the direction you want to go. Dip your shoulder in the direction of the turn and raise the opposite shoulder, or more simply, roll your shoulders in the direction of the turn.

Secondly, teach legs turns: Merely extend the leg that is opposite the direction of the turn. Extend your right leg for a left turn or extend your left leg for a right turn.

Thirdly, teach a coordinated turn: To turn right with your upper and lower body, you must look right, roll your shoulders to the right (right shoulder down, left shoulder up) and extend your left leg. To do a left coordinated turn, you must look left, roll your shoulders to the left and extend your right leg.

Fourth, explain the helicopter maneuver: Demonstrate a right upper body turn and a left lower body turn simultaneously on a horizontal trainer. Ask your student to determine which way you'd turn with this body position. Hopefully, you'll get a response of "Well, your arms are trying to turn you right and your legs are trying to turn you left, so you're fighting yourself. Whichever turn is stronger would be the direction of the turn or you wouldn't turn at all if the turns were equal." This answer is great, but needs some more input from you.

Explain that whenever your upper and lower body positions tend to induce turns in opposite directions, you may become unstable and flip upside-down. If you do this in the air, you may not observe any heading changes, even though you've cranked in 45 degrees of roll in your shoulders. If you hold this position long enough, you may find yourself over on your back and turning really fast, in fact, spinning like a helicopter. Recover from this position by arching very hard.

Explain further that if the turns are of equal strength, your heading won't change, even though you've rolled your shoulders. Recover from this by relaxing and reverting to a neutral free fall position. Then start over. Look in the direction of the turn, roll your shoulders in that direction and extend the opposite leg.

The helicopter maneuver is not desired on an AFF dive. Educating your student about it, will provide an additional means for student learning and an additional layer of safety. Students do make mistakes. They can learn faster from their mistakes, if they know, from prior instruction, how to recognize a mistake, correct the mistake and execute a proper solution. Teach your student about the helicopter maneuver, so that, if perchance, he does do it he won't be at a complete loss as to what happened, how he got there and what he should do to correct the situation.


"Freefall is the ultimate dance........and the sky always leads. Flip Colmer"
Originally published in Sport Parachutist's Safety Journal, V2, #1 Sept./Oct. 1989.
©Copyright 1989, 1996 by Jan Meyer. Republished with permission.

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