Expanding Your Horizons—Angle Flying

What is angle flying? Ask 10 people at your drop zone this question, and you will likely get 10 different answers. Some will call it tracking, atmonauti or flocking. Others may call it tracing, zooming or even “the stuff Europeans do.” Each of those can be considered a type of angle flying. In the broadest, simplest and—hopefully—least controversial sense, angle flying encompasses any type of flying that is neither completely flat (parallel to the ground) nor completely vertical (90 degrees to the ground). It is an area of skydiving that people around the world have been exploring for years at varying levels of complexity, but it seems to be misunderstood and underutilized at many drop zones and by a large portion of skydivers.

FEATURE201111-23Photo by Tim Sapar

While much of that is attributable to the lack of a single standard and the variety of body positions, speeds and formations, it is that same open-endedness that makes angle flying a great way to expand the range of possibilities of what we do in the sky. Experimenting and becoming proficient at it only adds to the toolbox of skills and creativity we bring with us on every skydive. Even if you have not been on a dedicated angle dive or consciously incorporated it into your skydives, chances are you have flown angles: diving to reach a formation, tracking, moving forward and backward head-down or carving. So whether you have just started skydiving or have been skydiving for years, learning how to angle fly is quite accessible once you begin to embrace the space between belly flying and vertical flying.

Generally speaking, one of the underlying goals of most belly, sit or head-down jumps is to fly down the proverbial “vertical tube” while executing the dive flow. In contrast, one of the underlying goals of angle flying is to expand the playground outside of that tube by incorporating forward-moving horizontal components into vertical flight. From that perspective, it has origins and is fundamentally rooted in flat-tracking, since both share the concept of traveling horizontal distances, albeit at different angles.

Flight Path and Exit Order
As with any tracking dive, and in addition to all the other safety measures jumpers should normally take, you must pay special attention to flight paths when angle flying because of the horizontal distance covered. Whether it is an experimental solo with no set plan, a zoomy 2-way or a more coordinated group skydive with a specific number of turns, it’s critical to have and adhere to a flight path that keeps the individual or group away from the line of flight and other groups.

FEATURE201111-21There are multiple approaches to setting up a proper flight path. A simple method is to divide the path into two general components. The first component is deciding which direction off the aircraft’s line of flight the individual or group will move immediately after leaving the plane. This can be either 90 or 45 degrees, depending on exit order and winds. The second component of the flight path is what can be defined as the safe area or simply the “playground.” This is an area that is far enough off the line of flight that you can perform any number or type of turns or maneuvers as long as you stay within its boundaries. While there are several ways to set up a flight path, it is critical to have good separation from the line of flight from the start. You should always take wind speed and direction into account when deciding which direction to move off the line of flight and subsequently where the playground should be.

Even if a skydive is not predominantly an angle dive but rather a vertical one with angle components, ensuring that any horizontal movement is off the line of flight is very important. For example, if the group makes a head-down exit and builds head-down points before it transitions to angle flying, a leader must still ensure that the group moves in the correct direction.

In theory, an angle dive, similar to a tracking dive, should be able to exit at any point within the exit order as long as there is sufficient movement away from the line of flight. This is beneficial to the other groups from a spacing and canopy-traffic standpoint, since the angle group has added another dimension of separation between itself and the others. Of course, the theory assumes a proficient leader and mid- to small-sized groups. For beginners, exiting last in the order is a more practical approach until they develop navigation skills and consistency in setting their flight paths. In any case, as with any skydive, being aware of and communicating with the other groups on the load is critical for safety.

At the end of every freefall, especially as you get used to the flight paths and the distances covered, keep an eye on where you opened versus other groups. Did you open at a safe distance from them? Always pay attention to this, as it helps gauge how well you moved off of and stayed away from the line of flight. There are always factors that are outside of your control, but the better you adhere to your flight path, especially the initial component, the safer it is and the more comfortable people at your DZ will be with this type of flying.

Basic Body Technique
While you can use many different body techniques depending on the situation, the two key guidelines, just as in flat-tracking, are:

FEATURE201111-24Photo by Miguel Torres
  1. a de-arched upper body with rolled shoulders and extended arms/hands beside or slightly behind you; and
  2. strong, rigid legs, straight or bent, with toes pointed back. Simplistically, you can think of the upper body as being responsible for forward drive and angle, while your lower body helps provide stability and anchoring to maintain that angle. Both work together to contribute to overall speed and direction.

The choice of keeping your legs straight or bent depends upon the objective. When attempting steeper angles, straight legs generate the most speed but leave little room for error as sensitivity to small movements increases. Bent legs provide for better anchoring and more room for error as speed increases. You should bend your legs at the hips and then at the knees. The extent to which you bend them depends on the situation, but always maintain rigidity and point your toes back. Your arms and hands should generally be by your sides or slightly behind you regardless of how you keep your legs.

Getting Started: Solos
Like most kinds of skydiving, you learn by trying and exploring. In the case of angle flying, most of the early learning comes from taking yourself out of the comfort zone of strictly belly or vertical positions. Practicing on solos gives you a great opportunity to feel the impact of various body positions on speed, stability and airflow at different angles. Becoming a solid angle flyer means being stable and firm at each angle and moving from one to another seamlessly. A key focus of your solos should be to maintain constant pressure against the air with your upper and lower body in order to eliminate fluctuations (“potato chipping”) in speed and direction.

To start, once you have established a flight path, exit on your belly, pick the appropriate direction, and start to move in a track. As you track, increase your pitch forward toward the earth by leaning your upper body forward while maintaining the de-arched torso and rolled shoulders. As you do this, pay attention to the change in speed and airflow across your body. You might notice your body losing some stability, so do it subtly at first while maintaining constant pressure against the air, especially with your legs and tops of your ankles. Applying constant pressure against the air as you change angles and gain speed is critical as it helps maintain your trajectory, speed and stability. If you lose stability and flip over or lose direction, simply reset to a flatter track, check your flight path, and try again. Avoid pumping your legs as it will only cause you to potato chip and not have a smooth flight, so be sure to reset when needed.

As you get comfortable and more stable, start introducing banking turns. Initiate a turn by digging in with your shoulder in the desired direction while maintaining the rolled shoulders, de-arched torso and strong legs with pointed toes. Start out small to get used to the airflow and its impact on your body. Think of a rollercoaster with its peaks, valleys and turns to help visualize the fluid motion and inertia associated with the turns and changes in angles.

Remember, there is not just one angle to play with—you have everything between 0 and 90 degrees. Find and play with as many angles as possible, and get your body used to each of them. Also, as with learning head-down flying, the view can be disorienting and navigation difficult as you get steeper. So take your time on solos to get comfortable with the change in perspective.

Getting Started: 2-Ways
You do not need to achieve mastery before experimenting with 2-ways. As long as you have learned to fly in a stable manner in at least one position and have gained an understanding of flight paths and navigation, you can safely and fruitfully begin to experiment with 2-ways. They are a great way to not only gauge each other’s speed, form and heading, but to play with all kinds of angles as you follow the leader around. They will also lead to larger group formations. Remember that since you are spending a lot of time traveling horizontally, it is easy to get carried away with following the leader and to forget about the flight path. It is important to ensure that the leader keeps an eye on the flight path, but ultimately, especially if you are both beginners, you should both assist in navigating.

FEATURE201111-22Photo by Max Haim

You can organize 2-ways either with both skydivers on their bellies flying side by side or with one on his back and the other on his belly. Simplistically, no matter what the orientation is, maintaining “head level” is an underlying goal of flying with someone else. Just as you want to have your head level with someone else’s when flying vertically or on your belly, you want to be head level here. As your angle flying becomes more advanced and turns become more dramatic, there will be instances where it might be difficult to keep head level, but take your time to re-group and adjust the level to avoid further separation. The majority of organized group angle flying is built around maintaining head level with your partner or leader regardless of whether you are on your back or your belly, so take the time to learn how to do it on the smaller dives.

In addition to always working on maintaining a smooth flight through solid body position, the focus of your first 2-ways should be maintaining close proximity to and the same speed as the leader. The concept of being “locked in” to each other is key and will eventually lead to more complex dives that involve carving at an angle and quick direction and leader changes. But start with easier dives involving simple turns and leader switches.

Time to Fly
With these basic concepts in mind, an eye on safety and a flight plan, go out and experiment. Start dedicating some jumps to angle flying or incorporate it into the flying you have already been doing. Remember that one of the goals in skydiving is to maximize the level of creativity of each jump. So, next time you are on the way to the DZ and imagining a day full of head-down, sit-flying or belly flying with your friends, think about how you can add to it with angle flying, and enjoy.

About the Author
FEATURE201111-20Francesco Cipollone, A-48426, jumps regularly at the Blue Sky Ranch in Gardiner, New York. He has more than 1,900 jumps and has traveled to 17 drop zones in nine countries across four continents. He loves all kinds of flying, especially angle flying, for which he offers load organizing and coaching. He can be reached at fcipollone@gmail.com.

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