Demonstrating Good Sense

Skydivers have to demonstrate a variety of skills and knowledge to earn the USPA PRO rating, which many of the public demonstration jumps conducted around the country each year require. Jumpers must train to jump with smoke and flags, learn to file a request for authorization with the local Federal Aviation Administration Flight Standards District Office, complete 10 accuracy jumps and demonstrate proficiency in many other ways. But one of the most important attributes that every PRO jumper must have is not on the test: knowing when to say no and call off a demo jump.

The pressure to pull off a demo jump can be immense. Schedules are set, scripts are ready and the ground crew is in place. Jumpers have traveled to an airport and are awaiting the takeoff time. The jump plane has ferried to the airport to pick up the jumpers. In most cases, the almighty dollar is also at stake: Funds are spent and if the jump is called off, you will lose a bunch of money. The show must go on! And that’s when the problems start.

In the past year, jumpers have botched several demos, mostly because of bad weather and poor judgment. Thanks to social media, an overabundance of cell-phone-camera-equipped spectators and even self-incriminating GoPro-equipped demo jumpers, every bad demo jump is pretty much guaranteed to be plastered all over the internet. Violating rules draws the attention of the FAA and USPA, which is bad enough. But someone who smacks into the ground and gets busted up in front of hundreds or thousands of spectators is a problem for everyone. The jumper faces painful injuries and all of the headaches that come with recovering, and none of the spectators ever wants to try skydiving. Who would after watching a demo jumper get carted off in an ambulance after smacking into the ground under a turbulence-induced canopy collapse? 

After this kind of accident, the story is usually the same: “Oh, it was gusty all morning, but the winds calmed down right at jump time, so we decided to go.” This is usually a case of selective weather monitoring and foolishly deciding to go because the winds died down for five or 10 minutes. Some demo jumpers need to learn more about weather, but it’s clear that many also need to know how to exercise good judgment. This would go a long way toward reducing the number of demo jumps that end with crash landings that do nothing more than scare everyone who is watching. Realistically assessing the weather and calling off a jump can be hard. But one of the most important skills that any demo jumper must have is knowing when to say no.   

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

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