A large proportion of injuries in Skydiving happen under perfectly good canopies. For one reason or another people perform a turn ( and hence a dive ) too close to the ground. Many people are trying to perform swoop landings without the needed " survival " skills. David Cowman talks of his experience on his first advanced canopy piloting course. With over 2000 jumps going into his course , he felt he had mastered his art ..how wrong he was. This article was published in the British Parachute Associations Journal which is distributed to all British Skydivers in July 2004.

Swooping with Efficency.. the five second Rule !

A kamikaze dive at the ground followed by digging yourself out on brakes ?When first approached by Team XSwoop of Ireland to host a Canopy piloting course in conjunction with UK Canopy Pilot Brian Vacher I was somewhat dubious. What coaching would one need to complete a near kamikaze dive at the ground with increasingly larger turns and ultimately more frantic stabs on the brakes to ‘ dig ones self out ‘ ? How wrong I was…

Core Drills!
On first meeting Brian Vacher the first thing we were impressed by was his professional approach to teaching canopy skills. The manual for the course was like a telephone book, packed with information and what we came to know as “core drills “. I was amazed to realise that after 2,500 jumps I knew little about my canopy. How much altitude did I lose in a 180 degree riser turn? Exactly how long and shallow could my flare be? In fact I knew little about my Stiletto 107 and had been considering purchasing a Velocity 96!

“Turn higher …go further! “

Brian gave us a host of exercises to complete to help us better understand our canopies and then critiqued each landing with video. “Let the canopy fly for a minimum of five seconds after completing your turn”. “If you have to give any ‘input ‘ before this time you are simply turning too low”. Brian explained how a recovered canopy will fly more efficiently and hence further. To somebody used to finishing my dive on brakes this was a new concept. However over the first two days of the course and having attended a number of seminars we realized that all we had being doing was building up speed in a dive and then killing all the speed while we ‘ hopefully ‘ saved our butts in deep brakes to level the canopy out! Wow! If I do my turn high enough the canopy levels out on its own, this is the start of swooping with efficiency! We have all seen posters with “low turns kill etc. “...but If I were to design a poster now I would say “turn higher and go further “.More advanced techniques were then covered, such as the use of rear risers to increase the distance travelled. We also learned about getting more speed in the turn but only after we had mastered the five second rule! I would not recommend using the rears until you have had some coaching, as it's easy to stall the canopy on them.)

The Mother of all swoops

Brian did a few jumps to demonstrate the techniques he was talking about. Towards the end of the fourth day the winds were favourable (.8 m/s / 2mph ) tailwind across the 430ft pond) for a go at some real distance. Knowing that the official world record stands at 390ft ( and a recorded swoop of 418ft by Shannon Pilcher of the PD factory team ) nobody was quite prepared for what was to come… Brian finished his 270 degree turn at more or less the height I used to start mine with an entry to the pond that was both graceful and controlled. Entering the pond with his Canopy recovering to full flight we knew it was going to be a long one. In a matter of seconds Brian traversed the pond and finished his swoop with a flare that allowed him to run out the landing. He touched down exactly 30 feet from the end of the pond. It dawned on us that if this had been an official event, the world record would have been busted. But alas it was ‘only' a course designed to show people how to go further safely! Next up was Conor King with a 300 ft swoop. And all this after 30 jumps doing the core drills and having his previous landings critiqued on video by a professional. Click here to see a video of the swoop

The Lessons?

As canopy design puts us more on the edge I suggest that everybody should attend some sort of advanced canopy skills course before moving to a performance canopy and especially performance landings.Many of us know little about our canopies beyond flying a pattern and finishing with the flare we were taught on our first jump course .In my case there is so much I didn't and still don't know. When I'm not working with the Freefall University I spend my time jumping from 5000ft playing with the canopy. How does it react to a turn, how does it recover, how to turn with the minimum of height loss etc. I have taken a step back to learn the fundamentals of performance landings and for me am happy that the distance will come in the future. I have also examined our student programme and begun to integrate some of the basic drills into our consolidation jump programme.

Further Reading: ( Outside the Freefall U Site )

Safe Flight School : Canopy Piloting Courses

British Parachute Association: Parachute Handling Articles

Performance landings are not for the inexperienced ( less than 500 jumps ) or untrained. Anybody who is considering undertaking such landings should have their canopy piloting skills assesed and recieve tuition where appropriate. 70% of fatalities in the sport are from people trying these landings and not knowing what they are doing! Performance landings add signifigantly to the calculated risk!