Aircraft Safety

As much as we get in and out of them, airplanes might seem as simple as cars… but they definitely carry additional safety considerations for all of us–pilots, skydivers, observers, and loaders.

Red Light, Green Light, No Light? 

Red Light, Green Light, No Light? 

Always make sure the green light is on before exiting the aircraft. Quick! What do you do if you are on jump run, the green light has been turned on, and then the green light goes out (either the red light comes back on or the green light simply turns off)? Assume the light is broken and proceed with your climbout and skydive. Flip the spotting switch left and right quickly to let the pilot know the light is out, then climb out and exit after waiting the appropriate amount of time after the group ahead of you. Abort your climbout, help any jumpers who have already climbed out to get back in, then look for an explanation/further instructions from the pilot. If jumpers are already floating outside the aircraft, that group should continue their climbout and exit, but later groups should not climb out and they should await further instructions from the pilot. You’re supposed to look at the light before exit?! In an aircraft full of skydivers standing up and moving around as they prepare to exit, the door and exit lights are the quickest, simplest ways for the pilot to communicate with jumpers by the door. At Spaceland we have the red light to tell us to open the door and check for spot and traffic, and green light when the pilot says it’s OK to exit. If that green light goes dark and/or the red light comes on, the following groups should not exit! The pilot is telling you that he or she believes it is no longer safe to exit. The problem could be...

Emergency Exit!

Current weather reports 1000 foot overcast skies… anyone for a hop & pop? In all seriousness, how low are you prepared to get out of the airplane? Have you thought about what you would do in an emergency since you were a student? A couple weeks ago I was flying, had just taken off from Spaceland in the SuperVan with a load of jumpers, and after waiting for a lull in the radio traffic I checked in with Houston Air Traffic Control: Me: “Houston, Jump one foxtrot lima back with you passing through seventeen hundred for fourteen thousand.” ATC: “Roger Jump one foxtrot lima, ident, and hold at or below two thousand five hundred for crossing traffic.” Now being that the airplane wasn’t real full and that the SuperVan climbs so fast, my response to comply with the instruction was a pretty quick reduction in power and a push forward on the yoke to level off. The next thing I heard? Silence. Seriously, even through my noise canceling headset you could almost hear a pin drop from what I’ve come to expect as a noisy group of people chatting about anything and everything, and expressing their energy and excitement for the upcoming jump. After about two minutes the traffic had passed and we resumed the climb, at which point a rather more subdued than normal tandem instructor asked me “Traffic?” and seemed rather relieved for me to nod yes, knowing it wasn’t a real emergency. The point of this is that I’ve been thinking, “How many people consider what they will do in an emergency?” What is your lowest exit altitude? There...
Rigs vs. Doors

Rigs vs. Doors

Recently, one of our licensed jumpers took it upon himself to remind us all about keeping our rigs away from the edges of the aircraft door when rotating out to a floater exit. It’s a great reminder for all of us, because it’s far too easy to get too comfortable and complacent about safety aspects such as this when we’re focusing on a crazy new exit or type of skydive. The trick is to never be complacent! Why is it important to keep your rig off the door? There are a couple of big reasons, and they are both major safety concerns. Contacting the door with your rig on climbout can knock your flaps open and even your pins loose, potentially resulting in a horseshoe malfunction or immediate premature deployment of your main or reserve. This has implications for your safety as well as that of the jumpers in your group, any jumpers still in the aircraft, the aircraft itself, and the pilot. A prematurely deploying canopy can rip you off the aircraft and knock your buddies off the plane as well. Entanglements and injuries are possible. Not only that, but a parachute deploying off the aircraft door could also go over the tail, causing damage to the tail and potentially crashing it. This is more of a risk in the Caravan than with the Otter, but neither is immune (and other aircraft with low tails are also at higher risk). Contacting the door with your rig can damage your rig, especially if there are any sharp sheet metal edges or hinges. Damage could range from a cosmetic scuff...

Aircraft/Loading Area Safety and Policies

Winds Aloft This information is posted daily on the board near the aircraft mockups. Also check out our weather page… Loading Area We use loading area 1 (north of the hangar) on cold starts/after fueling, and loading area 2 (northwest corner of hangar) on hot turns. Please be in the loading area on the 5-minute call. You must be fully geared up, ready to jump, before entering the loading area. No loose leg straps or gearing up in the loading area. No smoking in the loading area. When the airplane pulls up, be lined up ready to board. Don’t make the aircraft wait for you. Please observe our planned boarding/exit order Runway(s) Under canopy, do not fly over the runway or its approaches below 1,000 feet when aircraft are approaching/taking off/taxiing. When under canopy, avoid holding off the ends of the runway where aircraft take off and approach. When crossing the runway on foot, stop and look both ways first. If an aircraft is on landing approach or taxiing, stop well back from the runway and take a knee or squat down to show the pilot you see him/her. NEVER cross in front of an aircraft on the runway. The pavement is not the only runway; we also land on the grass runway next to it. Stay well back from the runway when landing or waiting for an aircraft to pass. Aircraft Safety Please avoid all aircraft operations areas except when boarding the aircraft. NO GUM on the airplanes! 4 on the floor MAX in the Caravan! No more than 4 jumpers aft of the benches during boarding, taxi, takeoff,...

Hop and Pop Skydiving Smarts

If you’re a people watcher, observing skydivers preparing for hop and pop skydives (low-altitude exits) is a lot of fun. You see everything from cool-cat, ho-hum, highly experienced swoopers practicing their craft to jumpy first-timers doing their first exits below full altitude, hoping with all their hearts to be stable enough to deploy within the 5 seconds required to graduate from student status.  With all that observation, you tend to notice a lot of people doing things right as well as some things that are frequently missed or done incorrectly. So here are eight tips on doing a safer hop and pop: Plan your exit order with any other hop and poppers before you board the plane. The person with the highest wing loading should exit first, since they will be descending more quickly. Knowing this before boarding lets you load the plane efficiently in the correct order so you don’t end up climbing over or around each other before exit, reducing the chance that you’ll snag pins, flaps, and handles in the plane (bad juju!). Know what to do at and with the door. It’s hot outside these days, so we’re opening the door at about 1,500 feet so we don’t all get heatstroke. But you shouldn’t just open the door at 1500 feet without doing a couple of things first: Remove your seat belt and ensure those jumpers near the door have their seat belts off as well. If there is an aircraft emergency and the pilot tells us to bail, we all want those jumpers to be able to exit as quickly as possible! Check the jumpers up...

Propeller Safety

There are a lot of things in life we sugarcoat, such as when answering questions like, “How do I look in this dress?” Or “How does this resume sound?” But some things in life just don’t take sugar well–they are what they are. So it is with safety around propellers, be they of the aviation, marine, or any other variety. We get pretty comfortable moving around airplanes in the skydiving world. We board aircraft while they’re running, climb around outside the door in flight, and jump out of them at altitude. With all this familiarity, repeated several times daily, we can sometimes lose perspective on one plain and simple fact: Spinning propellers maim and kill. And if you make the mistake of getting any part of your body near a spinning propeller, chances are very good that it will be the last mistake you will make. Fixed-wing aircraft danger zone (generic for single and twin-engine aircraft) So we’d like to ask for your help in keeping us all safe from spinning propellers, regardless of where you choose to skydive (this isn’t just a Skydive Spaceland risk–it’s a risk at any airport). Here are 12 tips on propeller safety: Know where the propellers are on any aircraft you are approaching. This may seem elementary, but especially when you are visiting new drop zones with unfamiliar aircraft or new aircraft are visiting your home drop zone, props may be in slightly different places than what you’re used to. They are invisible when spinning, especially in low-light situations like boarding for night jumps. Never approach or walk through the propeller area on any...

Helmets: Secured for Takeoff

We don’t have a lot of bad words in skydiving (regardless of what you might hear after the beer light comes on! ;), but there is one we can all agree on: Complacency. com·pla·cen·cy n. — A feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger, trouble, or controversy. In skydiving, we say someone is complacent when they think they are safe but they are acting unsafely or in an unsafe situation. This covers a number of situations, but right now we’ll focus on our behavior in the aircraft. It’s certainly rare, but any moving or flying vehicle can come to a sudden stop for a variety of reasons. We often see people put their helmets on for takeoff, but neglect to secure them with the chin strap (usually full-face helmets that people think may stay on because of the liner’s “chin cup”). This is a clear instance of complacency because that jumper assumes the plane won’t crash. Most of the time, he/she will be right, but if she’s wrong, the consequences can be pretty major. There is a very good reason we require helmets to be on or otherwise secured for takeoff. In the unlikely event of an aircraft issue, what good is a helmet that is not secured to your head? If it flies off it’s no help to you and a danger to everyone else in the aircraft. OK, it’s hot. We get it. But really, how much cooler is that helmet without the strap secured? Especially compared to your safety and that of everyone else on the load? Here are a few more points...

And Liberty and Pin Checks for All…

As skydivers, we like to do everything right so we can skydive again… and again… and… Lately we have been seeing a number of recent graduates, now unsupervised by instructors, neglecting their pin checks before exit. Perhaps it’s due to distraction when thinking about the upcoming jump, or perhaps you noticed an experienced jumper neglecting a pin check (shame shame!) and thought it was OK. Either way, this isn’t a good step to skip! Pins getting pulled at the wrong time can have major consequences for our fellow jumpers and our lovely aircraft. And several things can result in a loose pin–such as a stretched closing loop, the jumper behind you bumping your rig, or leaning on the wall or bulkhead during the ride to altitude. So please, please get a pin check in the plane before every exit, not just on the ground before boarding. If someone in your group doesn’t ask for one, offer! The life you save could be mine, or yours. :p As always, if you have any questions about why or how to do anything regarding skydiving or our operations at Spaceland, feel free to ask any of our instructors or pilots. Blue...

Seat Belts in Jump Aircraft: Not Just for Show

I once had an instructor who refused to wear a seat belt in a car. He had managed to defy all odds in two separate car accidents by not wearing seat belts; both accidents threw him out of a car that would have crushed him had he remained inside. Unlike with cars, however, the last thing you want to occur in the (thankfully extremely unlikely) event that you are in a plane during an emergency landing or crash is to be tossed out of the aircraft or about the cabin. You are much better off (and so are your fellow jumpers) if you are fully restrained by your seat belt and skydiving rig harness. Seat belts are our first line of defense–they keep the cargo (jumpers) in place, maintaining balance in the aircraft. Sometimes we will see a jumper, often a visiting one, refuse to wear a seat belt in one of our jump aircraft. The jumper may not put on the seat belt at all, or may loop the belt loosely around an arm or leg. One comment I’ve heard is, “Yeah, this is just easier.” “Yeah, it’s easier for you to slam into me or the pilot if the plane goes down. Put it on.” The last thing we need in a crash is to have the impact of the crash, and then our friends landing on top of us. Seat belts need to be buckled around your waist (with benches) or through a part of your harness away from your handles (i.e., leg strap) before takeoff. No exceptions. Then remove them at 1500 feet so you...

How to Open/Close a Super Otter/Supervan Skydiving Door

Have you had the chance to open the jump door on one of our Super Otters or SuperVans yet? No? Are you nervous about it? Fear not, we have the scoop! Whether you’ve operated the door yet or not, chances are great that you’ll learn a valuable tip or few from our latest YouTube video on how and when to safely operate the side jump doors on a Super Otter or SuperVan. There are also some great tips on exiting safely without scraping your rig on the door, and what to do if the door gets stuck. HINT: Never slam the door open or closed!!! As always, if you have any questions about anything related to your skydive, please check with one of our instructors. See you...

Loading Area Etiquette

Getting ready to board an aircraft for skydiving is more than a little different than boarding a plane for commercial travel or getting in a car for a drive. There are concerns for personal safety, the safety of others in the plane (and the plane itself), and efficiency. Stay safe and efficient with these loading tips! Personal Safety Complete your gear checks before the plane pulls up. This means 3 rings, handles, and buckles are all in place, tightened where applicable, and with excess straps stowed. You will not be allowed to board the aircraft otherwise. Make sure you have all the accessories you need (helmet, goggles, altimeter). Stay behind the white fence (loading area 1) or between the hangar and the ditch (loading area 2) until the loader walks out to the plane. Safety of Others Know which direction jump run is flying, which direction to track away from other groups and fly your canopy, etc. Talk to others in the loading area to see what groups before and behind you are doing and plan a safe exit order. Efficiency Efficient operations help us keep costs down (including jump ticket prices!) and fly more loads in a day. Be considerate of operating efficiency and other jumpers’ time by: Being geared up and in the loading area at the 5-minute call. Lining up right behind the ladder before the plane arrives, so you’re ready to load right away (i.e., not sitting on the benches until the plane is parked). Get into the plane quickly and sit as far forward as possible. If the load is not completely full, you can shift towards...
Top Ten Things to Know About Tracking Dive Safety

Top Ten Things to Know About Tracking Dive Safety

How often have you heard this at the drop zone? “Hey, let’s go track!” Tracking dives are increasingly popular at any drop zone in the world, and with good reason: They’re a ton of fun! But they are most definitely not just another skydive; they have a high potential to interfere with other groups exiting the aircraft if certain precautions are not followed. Here are some things to keep in mind to make your tracking dive a safe, awesome experience. Should you be doing a tracking dive at all? The size of the tracking dive should be commensurate with your experience. If you wouldn’t do a belly fly or freefly jump with the number of people on the tracking dive, you shouldn’t track with them either. Lower-experienced jumpers have a greater chance of not being able to stay with a big group and tracking away from that group early, potentially into another group. Get approval for your tracking dive. The dive leader needs to get approval from operations staff (pilot, DZ manager, etc.) for every single tracking dive. This is especially critical if we are running multiple aircraft simultaneously (as occurs pretty much every weekend), which may or may not be following the same jump runs all day. Who’s in charge? The person leading the dive should be familiar with the drop zone, the direction of jump run, the day’s winds, and the experience and capabilities of each person on the jump. This person should also have the confidence to let people know if they should not be on that skydive, and perhaps start with a smaller tracking dive...
Exit Order and Aircraft Boarding

Exit Order and Aircraft Boarding

If there is anything consistent among a group of skydivers, it’s the fact that we all want to make more skydives! Often what stops us is money or time, but other times it’s just plain running out of daylight. We can’t hold the sun up in the sky to get more time, but every skydiver can work to make aircraft boarding more efficient and thus allow more loads in a day and more skydives for us! So here’s the scoop: Be at the loading area at least by the 5-minute call. Use the time to look around the loading area and see what other skydivers are on your load, and work together to plan what the exit order should be (and the reverse, what the loading order should be). There may be someone already doing this for your load, or there might not. Don’t be afraid to take charge and ask who’s doing what and work it out yourself. Be in line ready to board as the plane pulls up. Don’t sit back on the benches until the group ahead of you is fully in the plane, working on that last smoke or what have you. Freefall Drift Simulator Here’s an excellent freefall drift simulator from Professor John Kallend of the Illinois Institute of Technology. Loading Order So what should the proper exit order be with different types of skydives? Here’s how we load the plane at Spaceland (exit order is the reverse, of course): First to board: High pullers/Canopy Relative Work Wingsuits Tracking dives 2 Tandems Skydiver Training Program Students Freefly groups, smallest to largest. Belly-fly groups, smallest to largest....

Right Seat Safety

Riding in the copilot’s seat is a treat, but this seat requires a bit more attention to safety than a spot on the benches in the back of the plane. Here are a few tips on right seat safety from air boss Rabbitt Staib: No helmets in your lap–they restrict movement of the yoke. Don’t touch any aircraft controls at any time. Stay low when climbing into and out of the cockpit. Don’t lean on the yoke. If your helmet’s on your head, remember to duck lower when getting in or out of the cockpit to avoid ceiling-mounted controls. When seated in the right seat, be aware of the prop overspeed switch by your left knee and don’t touch that either. Rolling down the window is fine, but put it back up before you exit. Feel free to talk to the pilot, but remember that the radio takes precedence–don’t distract the pilot when he’s talking to air traffic control or manifest. In case of emergency, buckle in unless the pilot instructs you to exit. Whenever possible, put a smaller skydiver in the right seat (less chance of touching things they shouldn’t). Move out of the cockpit into the back before jump run, so you’re not distracting the pilot on jump...