Rigging Knowledge for Instructors

Should USPA require instructional rating holders to also hold a Federal Aviation Administration Rigger Certificate? Jumpers have bounced this question around at lots of bonfires and argued both sides at various skydiving industry meetings through the years. Currently, no USPA rating holder needs to hold a rigger certificate, but under the old version of the USPA Instructor Examiner rating (retired in 2005) it was a requirement.

Regardless of which side of the argument someone is on, virtually everyone agrees that coaches and instructors must possess a thorough knowledge of the equipment that they and their students use. However, year after year, USPA receives reports that rating holders missed something during checks of student gear, both solo and tandem. A life is at stake with every student jump (make that two lives when it comes to tandem skydiving), and it is tragic and frustrating to discover that a simple gear check could have prevented a fatal accident. However, a gear check will not help if the person checking the gear does not fully understand everything about the equipment. So, rigger ticket or no rigger ticket, you as an instructional rating holder need to know the system in detail and have a thorough process established for checking it before each jump.  

USPA has recently started promoting gear checks with its Make-a-Save campaign. As an instructional rating holder, you are probably checking more gear than the average skydiver. Be sure you know what you are looking for and that you know enough to spot when something is wrong, especially the minor details that can lead to major problems. A misrouted chest strap is easy enough to spot, but jumpers often overlook misrouted reserve static lines simply because they don’t understand the correct routing.

Tandem systems are even more complex than solo gear, so tandem instructors must have special knowledge. This is why tandem instructors receive special training on gear checks and learn the details of a manufacturer’s particular tandem system in each system’s certification course. Unfortunately, many new instructors quickly forget much of that information and trust that the packer will do things correctly. Without so much as a second thought, they’ll throw on a rig without taking a look at anything before heading to the airplane. This type of nonchalance about gear has led to fatalities and is just asking for disaster.

Be sure you understand how your equipment works down to every minor detail. When it comes time to put on your rig, spend a few minutes to conduct a thorough gear check. Check your student’s gear with the same level of detail. Then check your handles and straps again before you exit the airplane. Rigger ticket or not, countless lives—including your own—are depending on you.  

One Example: A Tandem Packing Error
A tandem instructor using a Strong Dual Hawk tandem system was unable to release his main canopy during a main canopy malfunction. Fortunately, he realized the handle was stuck (see top photo: the red lanyard is misrouted behind the handle’s webbing) and responded properly by pulling the secondary drogue release handle (the orange PVC handle), which allowed him to pull the cutaway handle and then the reserve ripcord handle. The tandem pair landed uneventfully under the reserve parachute.

Later on the ground, staff discovered that other tandem systems at the drop zone had the same error. The drop zone retrained its staff on the correct routing and how to properly check the tandem system.

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


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Rob Warner
Sat, 03/11/2017 - 20:10

May I suggest a compromise?
Instructors should understand gear well enough to conduct a "25 Jump Inspection" as mandated for Strong Tandems. The Strong manual is a good starting point, but the most important thing is familiarizing instructors with common wear patterns on the gear that is used at their DZ.

Rob Warner D14840, Strong Tandem Examiner, FAA Master Rigger

Duncan McEwan, C-19645
Fri, 06/02/2017 - 15:17

Perhaps when checking tandem gear it's a good idea to use a written checklist, which includes what to look for in addition to what to check. This could be used prior to donning the rig, then an abbreviated one by a second rating holder or rigger doing a "pin check" on the tandem master.

While it may not be necessary for every Tandem Master to hold a rigger's ticket, a certain amount of rigging training may be incorporated into the Tandem Master's rating training.

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