Aircraft Knowledge

A group of 24 jumpers boards a Twin Otter and the last one to board can’t find a seatbelt. So two jumpers share a belt so everyone is belted in for takeoff. The jumpers think this is OK, and the pilot has no idea what’s happening because he can’t see what is going on in the back of the plane.
The left main tire on a Cessna 182 is bald. In spite of complaints to the drop zone owner from the Safety and Training Advisor, the DZO and pilot continue to fly the airplane load after load. The tire finally pops. Luckily, it blows while the plane is taxiing to the runway.

How much do you know and understand about the airplane you jump from every weekend?

For the majority of the skydivers out there, the answer is, “Not much!” Students learn basic information during the airplane briefing in Category E of the Integrated Student Program. But it is pretty minimal information about weight and balance, seatbelts and bailout emergency procedures. And if the information is presented only one time, it is likely that the student will forget 90 percent of it within the following 30 days. So it is understandable if you don’t really remember that much about the airplane stuff. But it never hurts to learn more about the sport, and that goes for the airplane, too.

All airplanes are limited as to how much weight they can carry and how that weight is distributed. That’s why a specific number of seatbelts are installed in specific locations. It doesn’t matter if it is a Cessna 182, a King Air or a CASA, every airplane has weight-and-balance limits. All jumpers must have their own seatbelts. If you board the plane and no seatbelts are available, that means that someone farther forward skipped a belt or there are too many bodies on the airplane. Get it sorted out before the plane starts to move. Tandem students must also have their own seatbelts. Connecting the student harness to the tandem harness for takeoff does not count.

Since most of us don’t know a ball bearing from a Fetzer valve, we probably won’t know if something is wrong even if that something is obvious to a trained eye. But there are problems anyone can spot. Are the tires bald or showing patches of cord coming through the tread? Is there a large puddle of oil or fuel under the airplane after it sits for a few hours? It never hurts to ask the pilot if you see something that does not look right.

Jump planes are finicky and require more frequent maintenance than the average family car. Trips to the maintenance shop are common, especially for piston-engine airplanes like Cessna 182s and 206s. Turbine-engine airplanes generally run for longer periods of time without needing maintenance. We depend on aircraft owners, drop zone owners and pilots to provide airworthy airplanes, and thankfully the drop zones around the country seem to be doing a good job with that.

We spend more time riding in jump planes than we do in freefall and under canopy. It only makes sense that we learn more about the planes we jump from. Your pilot is a great resource, and most pilots are happy to talk about airplanes and help you learn more about what it takes to make them fly us all safely to altitude.

Jim Crouch | D-16979 | USPA Director of Safety and Training

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