Canopy Skills/Landing

Saving your life with a parachute is great fun… here are articles on how to do it better, safer, and smoother.

New Spaceland Landing Area Policies: A Time and Place for Everything

New Spaceland Landing Area Policies: A Time and Place for Everything

We all know that Skydive Spaceland is a world-class dropzone with excellent facilities and aircraft. What you may not know is that when we opened our doors in early 2000, Spaceland was conducting about 5000 skydives per year. Now, 15 years later, our air traffic has increased by about 20 times; we’re up to around 100,000 skydives per year. With this increase, the risk of a canopy collision during flight, landing, and post-landing has also increased quite a bit. A good analogy is that when we opened our doors, we were the size of a small airport. We have now grown into a major international airport in terms of air (aircraft and canopy) traffic volume. We simply have to evolve our air traffic practices along with our business volume to ensure the ongoing safety and care of our sport skydivers, customers and staff. It is an acknowledged fact that canopy flight (collisions) and landing incidents have become leading causes of skydiving fatalities worldwide. To combat this trend, Spaceland is making changes to our landing area and airspace management to increase safety for skydivers, customers, and staff. Also, it is part of our pledge as a USPA Group Member to separate high-performance traffic from conventional pattern traffic. Background What is the issue with the way things are, you may ask? Higher volume–Primarily, our previous airspace and landing plans have become outdated with the increase in volume. For example, we now have many more D-licensed skydivers than when we opened our doors. The old D license landing area just south of the hangar thus experiences the highest volume of traffic due...
Canopy Traffic: Find Your Place in the Sky

Canopy Traffic: Find Your Place in the Sky

Traffic is a bad word, especially for those of us living in the Houston area! And while we think we can get away from it when we’re flying, the reality is that at any dropzone, and particularly at a busy one like Spaceland, the traffic can resemble downtown Houston rush at its worst. The difference is that if we don’t like what’s ahead of us, we can’t just stop and let things sort themselves out. Parachutes can’t stop until they land, so we skydivers have to manage our position in traffic from deployment through landing to avoid collisions. When we’re driving down the highway in a pack of cars going 85 mph, we are very, very close to each other, but it works because we’re all going the same direction and at the same speed. Parachute traffic doesn’t have such rigid guidelines for paths and minimum/maximum speed; add the third dimension of altitude and it’s no wonder the canopy pattern can look like a total mess! SUMMARY Problems: Closing Speeds Converging Paths Faster Canopies Behind Slower Canopies in Front Solutions: Take responsibility for getting in the best place in the pattern order on every skydive, and staying there. Maintain hyper-awareness of where everyone is under canopy throughout your descent. Put safe landings for you AND everyone else in the air at the very top of your priority list on every skydive. There are two major reasons why cars and canopies collide: Closing speeds and converging paths. First let’s look at closing speeds: Just like on the highway, a Ferrari going 40 mph faster than everyone else has a higher risk of...
What’s Your Wind Limit?

What’s Your Wind Limit?

Gusty winds are common at Spaceland and many other dropzones. As an experienced jumper, I have thought a lot about what my personal wind limit is–in other words, when I will sit down even though the dropzone is not on a wind hold. Recently, I made the decision not to jump after watching other fun jumpers and tandems land. Later in the day, the tandems went on a wind hold. I was surprised to see that many newer jumpers flying larger canopies with lighter wing loadings than I have continued to jump that morning and afternoon, even after the drop zone put the tandems on a hold. Once you graduate from the Skydiver Training Program, you are responsible for determining your own wind limit. What is safe for someone with 100-200 jumps flying a canopy loaded around 1.0 is very different from what is safe for someone with thousands of jumps on a crossbraced canopy. To quote Brian Germain,” …until your skills and knowledge are ready to fly smaller, faster parachutes, you should stay out of the sky until the winds come down. I still haven’t been hurt by a jump I didn’t do.” There are many questions you can ask yourself and ways to observe the conditions at the DZ that will help you make a safe, informed choice. I often ask myself the following: Are people with more experience than me sitting it out? 
Particularly, are people with thousands of skydives standing down? How are the landings of other people jumping canopies loaded similarly to yours? Are they coming straight down or landing backwards? Are their canopies...
Splish-Splash: Landing in Wet Conditions

Splish-Splash: Landing in Wet Conditions

Ah spring… Green grass, warming temperatures, and RAIN! One of the most common questions we see in our social media news feeds this time of the year is, “How wet is the landing area?” If you have to ask, the answer is usually “underwater.” 😉 Since we’re not too interested in waiting days for perfectly dry ground to skydive, that means we have at least a fair chance of landing in a puddle from time to time. As you might have already discovered, it’s far from the end of the world! However, there are a few things that can help you land more safely and better manage your gear. Puddles are the last hazard to avoid. Water won’t hurt you unless it’s deep enough to drown in and you can’t swim. Plan your landing pattern to avoid obstacles and people first, puddles last. Don’t dodge puddles if you’re on final. Since no one WANTS to land in the water, it’s very tempting to turn a little left or right to avoid a puddle when you’re about to land. However, remember two things: One, low turns can hurt you a whole lot more than a little water! Two, other skydivers may be flying near you, and your turns may cause them to turn low to avoid you and thereby risk injury. Not cool! Water and mud are super slick–be ready to PLF! Whether you’re touching down in a puddle or slick mud (and you know how slick that gumbo mud can be here in south Texas!), chances are very good that you may slip and fall. As funny as it...

Landing/Canopy Safety

Canopy Safety Wind indicators: Landing direction arrow, flags, wind sock. The landing direction arrow is an air-traffic control device that sets the landing direction on the north side of the runway. Know the landing direction before takeoff, and check the landing direction indicator (LDI) north of the runway after you open and check canopy in case winds have changed. Follow the landing direction indicator when landing north of the runway. No exceptions even if the wind is light/variable and not in perfect agreement with the LDI at that moment. If you would prefer a different direction, land south of the runway. This keeps all skydivers moving in the same direction, which is better for seeing and avoiding other traffic than mixed landing directions. Think of landing here as landing on a runway at a controlled airport rather than landing in an open field. Pattern altitude begins at 1,000 feet. Fly left-hand patterns north of the runway unless safety requires otherwise. Below pattern altitude, do not fly over primary landing areas (i.e., 1 or 2) where you don’t plan to land. Think of these areas as vertical columns for different jumpers up to 1,000 feet, not just lines on the ground. The point is to keep higher-performance traffic in area 1 completely and safely separated from slower canopies in area 2, so keep your pattern over the area where you intend to land without overlapping other areas. No S turns, spiraling, or sashaying to lose altitude in the pattern (below 1,000 feet). Tandem instructors always have right of way. After landing, remain vigilant for other canopies you may need to dodge...

Avoiding Turbulence

It is bumpy up there! Turbulence is the Rodney Dangerfield of skydiving…. It doesn’t get respect. Turbulence is a challenge for jumpers for at least two reasons: It is invisible and unpredictable. Because turbulence is invisible, we must actively anticipate where it may be. Most new jumpers (and a lot of more experienced ones) vastly underestimate the danger zone for mechanical turbulence around obstacles. We can expect turbulence in front of, over, beside, and 10-20 times the height of the obstacle downwind. At Spaceland, turbulence in the primary landing areas most often occurs south of the berm and hangar in a north wind and east/southeast of the hangar in a west wind. Because turbulence is unpredictable, it is easy to be lulled into an unwarranted sense of safety. If ten jumpers on one load fly through the same cube of potentially turbulent air in a 90-second period, four may experience nothing at all, five may get “bumped around”, and one may have a partial canopy collapse. It is therefore critical that we be wary of areas where turbulence is likely even if turbulence has not yet caused trouble there today. Many jumpers have experienced turbulence only as “bumpiness” under canopy. That is certainly the most common manifestation of turbulence. However, bumpiness is not the only consequence of flying through turbulence. Turbulence can create unstable landing conditions. These unstable conditions can result in the canopy moving suddenly in unexpected ways or even collapsing very close to the ground. This has injured or killed jumpers. Canopies are fabric wings that are vulnerable to collapse. When turbulence collapses a canopy it typically does...
Does Your Canopy Turn When You Land?

Does Your Canopy Turn When You Land?

Does your canopy turn when you land? The most common cause of this is when the pilot looks to one side instead of straight ahead, creating a chain effect. We tend to go where we look. As you enter your flare, if you look down and in either direction, your body will want to go that direction. Try standing in front of a mirror and hold your hands at chest level a few inches in front of your body, then look down at your right foot. Look back in the mirror; you will more than likely notice that your right hand is slightly lower than your left hand. When you do this under canopy, this starts a slight turn to the right. At the same time, you will tend to reach towards the ground with your right leg, unevenly loading the harness and thereby adding to the turn. As the turn progresses, your instinct to reach out to break your fall starts to overpower your training to fly and of course, the further you reach the more aggressive the turn becomes. How can you fix this? Simply by looking ahead where you want to go. On final, you should be looking ahead of you with your focal center point approximately 45 degrees below the horizon. Once you have entered the flare and begun to swing forward towards the leading edge of your canopy, you should shift your focus directly ahead, a couple hundred feet in front of you. You should be aware of what’s in front of you. This will also help you keep your flare even as you finish. It may help you to lean forward over your hands after you...
Landing Areas: Divide and Conquer

Landing Areas: Divide and Conquer

Please note: This article was updated on October 1, 2015.  You know how the first time you came to a busy drop zone, it seemed like all the parachutes were flying randomly around the sky? But now that we are skydivers and understand flight plans, we see some degree, at least, of order in the chaos. We’d like to further increase the amount of order in our canopy flight traffic by reminding everyone that we have three separate landing areas at Skydive Spaceland: One for jumpers with D license experience to address the tighter area, obstacles, and increased traffic; another for students and slower traffic east of the hangar; and the swoop pond/alternate landing area across the runway. One of the often-missed aspects of separate landing areas is that they’re not just about where you plant your feet–separate landing areas are designed to manage canopy traffic all the way down. Imagine there’s a 1000-foot tall wall separating each of these landing areas, and whenever possible fly your patterns under 1000 feet so you don’t fly over the landing areas you’re not targeting. This keeps students and lower-performance parachutes flying together, and the same for swoopers, so we don’t have large discrepancies in canopy speed and approach type that can lead to someone getting “run over.” Also, remember to fly a predictable pattern regardless of where you’re landing, so other skydivers can have a reasonable expectation of where you’re going. It’s fairly common for newer canopy pilots to arrive in the pattern too high and sashay back and forth to kill altitude, but this forces all the skydivers above you...

You’re the Pilot: Take Control!

Ask any group of non-skydivers what they think would be the scariest part of skydiving, and at least a few will answer, “The landing.” Ask a group of skydiving students, or even experienced jumpers, and you’ll get the same answer from a few of them. We have the guts to throw ourselves out of airplanes in flight, yet we’re sometimes scared of piloting the assembly of nylon and string that saves our lives. But if a skydiver is scared of the parachute, he/she is often more likely to become injured on landing than a skydiver who flies confidently and safely. So the fear can become a self-fulfilling prophecy–but no one wants that! Let’s look at why some skydivers fear their parachutes and how to fix that. First of all, fear is often caused by the unknown. No one grew up flying parachutes from childhood, so as adults learning to skydive this is a skill that we don’t know yet. It is related to the skills required to pilot an aircraft or even a car, but not quite the same, hence the potential fear. Another potential source of fear is loss of control–and we often feel out of control on our first few skydives even if we’re not, just because everything is so new. After all, you can’t get off this ride until you reach the ground! Put together fear and perceived loss of control, and you sometimes see skydivers that seem scared to fly their parachutes. They may perform very gradual turns and often hear radio guidance along the lines of, “Pull that toggle down further… keep pulling the toggle down...

Parachute Dirt Diving

We dirt dive the freefall portion of nearly all of our skydives, but do you dirt dive your landings? Do you check the wind speed and direction at all altitudes, which way the wind will shift as you descend, etc.? If the wind direction changes, how will that change your landing pattern? As we develop more experience this becomes almost automatic, but initially we have to think about all of these aspects of winds and how the affect our canopy flight to develop this skill. Once students graduate from our Skydiver Training Program, we occasionally see them fly a pattern that doesn’t suit the current winds, and thus they land somewhere other than where they planned. It’s usually pretty clear that the skydiver simply flew the same pattern that worked yesterday or for the majority of their training, and never looked at today’s winds or thought about how they’d affect their landing pattern and accuracy. Ask yourself several questions before every skydive so you know everything you need to know to land safely on or at least near your target. What are the obstacles you need to avoid (such as the berm, hangar, trees, etc.)? Which side of them is downwind? (You know you don’t want to land there because of turbulence!) What are today’s winds aloft? Where is your holding area? What are your planned turn altitudes? Where over the ground do you plan to make those turns? Have you considered the speed of the winds when planning your landing pattern? Will your planned pattern ensure that you don’t cross the runway under 1,000 feet? Next, make sure...

Landing Patterns and Winds

One of the best things about skydiving today compared to some decades past is that we jump steerable parachutes. We have the ability to change our flight paths and land on target, which makes it a lot easier for us to land near the hangar and make lots of jumps in a day without quite the cardio workout of walking in from far-flung fields. These steerable parachutes also make it possible for us to land on target in variable wind conditions, but we have to understand how the wind affects our canopy flight to fully take advantage of the situation. Wind Speed vs. Airspeed vs. Groundspeed The typical parachute in full flight has a forward airspeed of about 25 mph. Its groundspeed (speed across the ground), however, varies according to whether you are flying into the wind (holding) or running with the wind at your back. Let’s say we have a wind of 10 mph. If we’re holding into the wind, it’s slowing our groundspeed, so we get less forward movement as we descend. Subtract the 10 mph wind speed from your 25 mph airspeed, and your groundspeed is 15 mph. If you’re running with the wind at your back, it is pushing you across the ground faster. So add that 10 mph to your 25 mph natural airspeed, and your groundspeed is now 35 mph. You might feel a little like Superman, flying across fields in a single… bound?… well, anyway. Landing Pattern Adjustment This variable groundspeed with winds clearly affects our flight patterns, because we can’t just turn in to the downwind, base, and final legs of...

The New Beer Line

Ah, the beer line–that line close to the hangar that causes all skydivers in sight distance to yell “BEER!!!!” with glee if you land on the hangar side of it. Did you know we now have one of these in the student/A-B license landing area at our Houston location in addition to our regular beer line? Let me explain. The reference line is the new beer line. You might have noticed that we have a reference line mowed/burned in the grass, running east to west and extending out from the fence in front of the hangar. This line was created to build a buffer of safety from the north property line berm, because there is no good landing direction that favors landing next to it, just past it, or facing it. We call it an obstacle for a reason! The turbulence in that area can be ugly, potentially collapsing your canopy, and misreading the winds can leave you on the berm or in the ditch. Avoid this area at all costs! Especially when the winds are strong out of the south, our plan with that line is to have everyone plan to land south of it, pretending that the line is the berm. This way, if the winds are stronger than you realize and you end up landing further downwind (closer to the berm) than you intended, you have a buffer before you get to the real obstacle. So now that the reference line is the new student beer line, if you are an STP student and you land between the beer line and the berm a few things could...

Skydiver Training Tip: To Land Off or Not?

Scenario: You’re under a good canopy at 2000 feet. You are downwind of the drop zone and aren’t sure you can make it to the landing area. Between you and the drop zone are trees, brush, power lines, and likely all manner of unpleasant critters. Behind you is a wide open field. What do you do? a) Get on your rear risers or toggles, trim out your canopy for a flat glide, pull up your knees to reduce drag, and try to clear the obstacles. b) Start looking for an alternate landing area. c) Aim for the center of the biggest tree so you can grab onto it when you land there and not fall out of it. d) Transfer your landing pattern to the open field behind you and aim for the center of it. Remember back to your student training… at what altitude were you taught to select a suitable landing area? That’s right–2000 feet. Above 2500 feet you should have done a controllability check and begun evaluating potential landing areas (free of hazards) nearby. So let’s look at the answers. (a) Get on your rear risers or toggles, trim out your canopy for a flat glide, pull up your knees to reduce drag, and try to clear the obstacles. Good answer–if you were well above 2000 feet, not AT 2000 feet. By 2000 feet, you should have already selected an easily reachable, safe landing area. (b) Start looking for an alternate landing area.  By 2000 feet, you should have already done this so you can make a choice with sufficient altitude to achieve a good pattern...

Landing Area: New Reference Line

Have you ever landed your parachute just a little closer to an obstacle than you would have liked? Of course you have. All of us do as we begin to learn how to skydive and fly parachutes. So how do we NOT land too close to or on top of obstacles? We need to understand a number of things… what kind of performance our chosen parachutes provide, how that performance is affected by altitude and current wind conditions, and how to fly our parachutes to maximize that performance and land on target. One thing all novice canopy pilots should do to avoid obstacles is to plan a substantial “buffer zone” around any obstacle–such as planning to land no closer than 50 yards to our property lines, buildings, or the runway. You don’t want to cut it too fine while you are still learning to judge winds and learn how to fly a parachute, because a small error in the wrong direction will put you on or even behind that obstacle, which can be a significant problem especially in windy or turbulent conditions. With a substantial buffer zone, a small under- or over-shoot won’t put you in harm’s way. One obstacle we find that jumpers often land too close to is the raised double berm (with a ditch in between) on our north property line along the landing area (see image below). Both in very high and very low north or south winds (landing direction perpendicular to the berm), we often see skydivers over- or under-shoot and land on, very close to, or behind this berm. Not only is this...

Parachute Landing Patterns

Wind conditions anywhere can be extremely inconsistent… from 30mph to dead calm conditions, it’s important that we have a consistent canopy landing pattern plan that keeps everyone safe. Following are several guidelines we follow here at Skydive Spaceland to keep traffic moving consistently and predictably, thereby reducing the chances for a collision. Take heed of the notes below… All canopy pilots are gliders; we have no engines to go-around and no chance to try again.  We must have a plan that matches everyone else’s plan. Landing in the same direction as all of the canopy pilots on the load is a higher priority than landing into the ground wind. Wind is rarely consistent, while landing in the same direction is paramount. South side of runway (landing area #3) is ALWAYS available for uncontrolled traffic (canopy pilots that want to set their own landing direction) in the event they don’t like the direction that the DZ operations staff have picked for landing direction. See our landing area information… Canopy pilots NEED a defined landing direction that can be determined while high up under their canopies, so all pilots under canopy can plan a landing that is consistent with all on the load–this is what the tetrahedron does for us here at Spaceland. Low-man has the right of way… always and forever without exception. This is globally accepted in the skydiving and aviation communities- even when that low person is a slowpoke and you are a 450-degree turning highly loaded Velocity...