Up is the New Down
Remember the days when it seemed like all everyone wanted to do was learn to fly head down so they could join the cool kids on jumps? Well, the cool kids have flipped it right side up and stepped it up a notch. Head-up angle jumps and sit-flying formations seem to be spreading like dust devils in the Arizona summer. And big-way head-up jumps are becoming more popular than ever.
In 2014, a group of 44 skydivers set the first Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Largest Head-Up Formation Skydive, surpassing it a day later with a 52-way. In April 2016, a larger group beat that record by building a formation of 72. For those who can safely sit-fly in smaller groups and would like to try their hands at larger formations (or maybe even a record), Sara Curtis, one of the organizers of the world record events, offers these tips:
Approaching the Formation
Even when building a sit-fly formation, most jumpers must fly head down during the approach because it’s a very maneuverable body position and allows the flyers to get to the formation quickly. However, the floaters and divers closest to the base (first stingers and those breaking into the base) may sometimes exit head up, which is fine as long as the second stingers will not beat them to the formation.
If you are approaching the formation head down, get on level within 10 to 15 feet of the formation and stop all movement for a quick second. Once you stop, transition in place from flying on your head to flying on your feet. Perform the transition using a cartwheel so you stay facing the same direction. Make sure you are on level with the formation after the transition and then continue your approach. If you arrive at your holding area before it’s time to dock, transition to your feet right away and get comfy… don't hang out in the head-down position. You should be ready to move forward and dock as soon as the formation is ready.
If you’ve got your approach completely dialed in, you can try transitioning without stopping. If you do so, make sure you fly the same line of approach and can reliably hold a heading and stay on level as you transition. If you pop up or drop down during the transition, you can wind up in someone else's airspace. This increases the chance of a collision on approach, so make sure you are able to perform the move smoothly and stay on level before trying it during a big-way.
Docking On, Building and Flying the Formation
Curtis explains that it’s easier to identify visual reference points in a formation when flying head up rather than head down. If you are on level, you should be able to see all the way across the formation and through the base to your cross partner or cross area. You should take your dock with your arm positioned straight out from your shoulder or slightly down to help the formation maintain its fall rate.
Once docked, don’t relax too much and start backsliding, which will cause you to pull on the formation. On some of the 80- and 90-way attempts that Curtis organized, many of the first stingers could barely hold on because of the pressure created by people pulling on the formation. To avoid a similar situation, keep your hips forward so that you are driving in slightly. Keep your dock neutral so that you don’t push or pull on the formation. If you are a second stinger or are closing a pod and the person you are docking on is off level, fly so that your fall rate and level matches the base and not the off-level person. When you dock, grab the off-level flyer’s hand and get on level, which will help that person get on level, as well. Remember the basics: Fly quietly and make your adjustments smooth and small. When someone is docking on you, don't look toward the docking jumper. Keep looking through the base to your cross partner and simply present your hand in the correct spot, keep it as still as possible and wait for the person to dock.
Remember that a big-way will likely fly at a different speed—it could be faster or slower—than that at which you are used to flying. Depending on your standard fall rate and where you are in the formation, you may need to wear weights or a baggier or tighter suit. As the big-way belly-flyers often say, “Dress for success.”
Upright breakoffs take up a bit more time and altitude than head-down breakoffs, so breakoff altitude should be about 500 feet higher than it would be if you were in a similarly sized head-down formation. (If you are breaking off in waves, each wave will break off 500 feet higher.)
When your breakoff altitude arrives, release your grip and perform a backflip transition to fly head down while staying on level with the rest of the formation. Once you are head down, look where you are headed and go, just as you would during a head-down big-way breakoff. To make sure you are breaking off at the correct heading (180 degrees from the base), adjust your heading prior to the transition in the opposite direction of where you need to go by facing your torso toward the center of the base and at your cross partner. This will put you on the right trajectory after the backflip. Do not speed up and go below the base as you break off. You should first be on level, then go up gradually in relation to the base as you transition smoothly over your back. Be prompt and accurate. If you take too long for your transition, you can get into the next wave's airspace. If you move around too much in your transition, you can collide with someone who is transitioning beside you.
That’s pretty much the gist of it. Think you are ready? Organizers are planning the next world record attempts for 2019, so start warming up now.
About the Author
Sharon Har-Noy, D-33082, is a freefly coach and load organizer. As part of team Joyriders XP FreeFly, she travels the world teaching and sharing her passion for the sport.