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Making it back to the drop zone

For many reasons, sometimes you will open after your skydive at a not-so-ideal location. Perhaps there were a lot of groups ahead of you in the plane that took a while, or the winds have shifted, or you did a tracking dive and you ended up off of the wind line.

The first thing you should always do before you leave the ground is know what the spot should be and where the uppers are. In this modern age, this is easily found via apps on your smart phone, or on websites like aviationweather.gov. You can always ask too if you are not sure - I (Wendy) will always be able to tell you what the spot is for the day. In Central Texas, around the Austin area, typically winds are high in the winter and spring and light at other times of the year. In the winter it is not uncommon to have 30-40 knot upper winds, and sometimes upper winds will come from opposing directions than the ground winds. This can make both spotting tricky, and also getting back to the drop zone can be more challenging.

You should always look out of the plane and spot before you jump. Even if you are not the first group out, you can be looking out the windows so you have a good idea what direction you are heading and where over the ground you are. If the spot is bad, it is ok to ask the pilot for a go-around or a 180 to make a better spot.

Upwind

Alright. So let'say now that you open up and you are a long way upwind from the drop zone. What can you do? As soon as you know that you have a good canopy, spin around and point at the drop zone. Pick you legs up to your chest and get them out of the wind. Minimizing your drag makes a HUGE difference in getting back. Collapse your slider - but make sure you do that while pointed the correct direction. Depending on your canopy and the winds - either rear risers or some amount of brakes might be the best method to get back.

There is a concept called the stationary point - if you are pointing a certain direction under canopy, ground you will be able to fly over will look like it is moving towards you in your field of vision, ground that you won’t get to will appear to be moving away, and there is a point that is stationary in your vision. That point is where you will touch down if you do nothing else.

Finding that destination point is key. Because once you do that, you can experiment and figure out what technique makes that stationary point the furthest enabling you to get back. Even jumping the same canopy, I have had wind conditions where deep brakes work better than rear risers. Other days rear risers work better. It is important to remember that the best technique of rear risers is half an inch to an inch of rear risers. More than that and you are stalling the canopy and you are actually making your situation worse.

In CRW we call that the ferris wheel. When a user is coming up to dock on a formation, they often are flying in a bit of rear risers. But often they will then add a bit too much rear risers which will actually cause them to drop. And they fly in a ferris wheel behind the formation. So if you use your rear risers, it is important not to do too much.

If you are always watching that stationary point, you can experiment with quarter brakes/half brakes/deep brakes/risers and figure out what is working best.

Downwind

If you open up downwind of the drop zone and are trying to get back, most likely pulling your knees to your chest and going full flight will work best. It might help slightly pulling down on front risers slightly. When we are doing CRW, pulling down a tiny bit of front risers gives you extra forward speed, but pulling deeper front risers makes you dive very steeply. If you pull steep front risers you are going far more down than forward.

A mistake that is often made is spiraling down in high winds - you need to be aware that 50% of the time you are spiraling you are pointing downwind. The best way to hold your position is just pointing straight into the wind..

Crosswind

What about if you are crosswind? This gets a bit trickier. You need to differentiate between the direction your canopy is pointing and the direction you are actually moving. If you have any kind of crosswind, they won’t be the same. So if you just point at the drop zone, you may be actually flying downwind of it. If you believe you have altitude to get there, you should be pointing your canopy so that the direction of flight is actually the playground - not the target. If you are having a time getting back, you might be aiming for the location where you can turn crosswind or final.

It is important to always keep somewhere safe to land when you are flying back. You never want to put yourself in a position where you have to make it all the way back or you will be landing in obstacles. You don’t want to get so focused on making it back that you have to land downwind or forget to flare because you are so focused on clearing a fence. There have been fatalities where people were barely making it back and then doing a low turn to get back into the wind. Always have somewhere safe to land - at Skydive Temple if you are long to the south you can work your way back but always keeping an open field that you can land in if you don’t get all the way back. Sometimes it is better to land off than to take a chance and crossing obstacles.

If landing off, always fly a landing pattern and look for poles/fences and other obstacles. If possible, take a cell phone with you when you jump so you can contact the drop zone if landing off.

Skydive Temple is located near Austin, TX, and we have thousands of open fields around us to land in. If you move to other parts of the country, you may not be that lucky. Learn to be safe here, and it will help you wherever you travel to.


Written by Wendy Faulkner, 10,000+ jumps, AFF-I, CRWdog