Round and Round
by Jan Meyer
Many jumpers find building round or star formations to be difficult. Typically, the formation can experience problems of "potato chipping" or grip breaks. There are several ways to build rounds. Jumpers can "break-into" their slot or dock on their slot that is formed by others flying no-contact. Jumpers can form lines and then dock these pieces together to form a round. Jumpers can fly no-contact at a predetermined distance from a small base round, and then pick up grips when all jumpers are in position. The famous "build it as a U and have the last jumper close it" is another standard method. Learning the standard methods are a good way of building new formations, no different to reading other people's work before writing your own Iphone 4 review or watching a skateboarding video before buying your own deck. The star is such a unique formation that it is possible to build the formation so that no one is in their correct slot until the last jumper docks. No other formation can be built like that.
Each method can be made to work. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's not. Some of the problems that may exist no matter which technique is used to build the round are potato chipping and grip breaks.
Potato chipping is a result of jumpers flying in different level planes. That is, one jumper may be slightly higher than another jumper. The high jumper suddenly changes his body position to a faster fall rate. This immediately drops him below the optimal level plane. He adjusts body position too quickly and suddenly to determine the correct fall rate body position for the dive. He tends to overshoot the level plane, both on the high side and on the low side. If another jumper does similar rapid body adjustments, the star can resemble THE WAVE at football games. Violent and severe potato chipping induces large pulling forces between adjacent jumpers. Grips may be lost.
This levelidity problem can arise from an dock from above or below the proper level plane. This dock demonstrates very poor technique and discipline of the jumper making it. Avoid this problem by docking from the proper level plane. A jumper should adjust his fall rate so that it matches the existing formation. If the formation has a changing fall rate, WAIT. Wait until the formation maintains a constant fall rate. A jumper should be prepared to adjust his fall rate to match it. Both a wide field of view to notice the whole star and a narrow field of view to notice a slot is used by each jumper. A jumper should see his slot or grips even with the horizon. When the horizon is above grips or a slot then a jumper is too high. When the horizon is below grips or a slot then a jumper is too low.
Another common mistake after docking is when a jumper draws his arms into the "chicken wing" position. For some reason, some jumpers dock, take death grips and then pull their arms in so that their white, knuckled clenched fists are right at their shoulders. Most jumpers don't even realize they do this until you point it out to them. This may be a manifestation of fear or anxiety.
A broken grip in an already completed star can wreak havoc to jumpers. Some jumpers do wrong by chasing the open grip or reaching for it. Jumpers should drive forward and fly their slot with respect to the set up jumpers or clone. The grips will come together when everyone in the formation does this. Sometimes a jumper drives too far forward and blocks off the slot for a neighboring jumper, as shown in Fig. 1.
To Build a Round
A long time favorite is to start with a 2-way, let someone dock and make it a 3-way, let the next jumper dock to make it a 4-way, etc, as shown in Fig. 2.
The advantage of this is that a closed formation exists at all times, provided no grips are lost. The disadvantage is that jumpers tend to forget about flying the formation once they dock. Jumpers tend to forget to keep their legs extended. They start to look around and backslide. This in turn loads the formation and makes it more difficult for the next jumper to dock. By far, the biggest disadvantage of this method is that no jumper is in his slot until the last jumper docks. As each jumper docks, he picks up his grips, but he is not at the proper distance and orientation from the centerpoint until the star is complete. This phenomena is unique to the star formation. Donuts are never built as a 2-way donut, 3-way donut, 4-way donut, etc. Only the star can be built is such a way. This is probably why the technique is plagued with potato chipping and grip break problems.
One, more progressive, method is to have several jumpers perform a set up. They leave space between them for another jumper to dock. All of the set up jumpers have passive grips. All of the jumpers docking in the open slots take active grips on the set up jumpers. This technique is shown in Fig. 3.
The advantage of this method is that everyone is in their final star position from the start. The disadvantage of the method becomes apparent as the final star size increases over, say, about 20 jumpers. The set up becomes harder and harder to do because it gets larger and larger. The docks do not occur simultaneously. Poor docks that impart momentum to part of the formation can ruin a set up slot elsewhere. This method requires discipline from each jumper and awareness of the entire formation as well as his own slot.
A slight variation of the previous method is to build lines and then dock the lines. This method works well for larger stars. The set up stays small. Two or four jumpers are used at most. They set up as though they were in the final formation. The space between the set up jumpers is docked on by a line of jumpers. The lines in each quadrant form and then dock in the spaces between the set up jumpers, as shown in Fig. 4.
A hybrid method consists of a 2 jumper set up. Each jumper docks and takes one grip and then presents a grip to the next jumper to dock, as shown in Fig. 5. The formation resembles a table more than a star. An early version of this is the build it as a U method. Only one set up jumper is used. Generally, the U tended to be built uphill, as this is where jumpers came from, if the star was the first point. Jumpers also tend to look toward the open end instead of the fall rate setter or clone jumper. The second set up jumper eliminates these problems.
Another advanced, but not quite perfected, technique is to fly at a predetermined distance from a base formation. A small star is built to be a setup for the large star set up jumpers. The same number of large star, set up, jumpers line up directly behind each of the base jumpers at a specific distance, as shown in Fig. 6. All other jumpers then plug into their slots. Passive or active grips may be predetermined or based on who gets there first. The problem with this method is that everyone has a different idea of the proper predetermined distance. One jumper can be slightly closer to the center and not see jumpers on either side. The problem lies in each jumper's narrow and wide focus of attention. This method requires higher skill and awareness levels from jumpers.
Every method can be used to build a star. Failures and funnels can occur with every method too. There is no best way to build a round. For a given situation, one method may work better than another. Previous formations and how large of a star is attempted will influence the selection of the method. Once a star is completed it is very pretty, especially the large stars.
Originally published in Sport Parachutist's Safety Journal V2, #4 Jul. 1990.
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