Help Your Packer Help You
What are the things I should do before handing my rig over to a packer?
First things first: Make sure your packer is operating in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 105. The FAR, reprinted verbatim in USPA’s Skydiver’s Information Manual (SIM), states, “The main parachute must have been packed within 180 days before the date of its use by a certificated parachute rigger, the person making the next jump with that parachute, or a non-certificated person under the direct supervision of a certificated parachute rigger.”
That said, let’s look at the practical side of it: The packer can have any range of training on any variety of systems, including no training on all or part of your system. In this case, you’re relying on someone’s character to admit ignorance, which not everyone is quick to do—the packer might just guess and hope things work out OK for you.
So at a minimum, you need to find out what your potential packer knows about your specific rig—the whole system. That goes even for a packer who packs the same brand rig you use but hasn’t seen your specific rig yet. The little things that change from model to model and option to option even within the same brand make a big difference in the overall operation and packing of a complete system. Don’t be intimidated by the packer’s, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Stand by to check that he really understands the system.
Here are some things you should do yourself before turning your rig over to any packer:
Reset the collapsible pilot chute.
Professional packers typically follow a routine that should include resetting the collapsible pilot chute and checking it a few times during a pack job. But if it ever gets forgotten, the potential for a pilot-chute-in-tow malfunction is too high and the consequences too dire. Rely on yourself to reset your pilot chute, and let your packer be your back-up.
Inspect line-stow bands and replace as prudent.
Inattention to line stows can result in a delayed opening, a hard opening and line twists, sometimes all on the same jump. Skydivers’ differing preferences for which type and size of stow bands to use leave packers in need of your guidance. It’s not uncommon to look at a rig that’s been handled by packers during the course of a weekend or a boogie and find a smorgasbord of stow bands installed randomly on the deployment bag. Find out which stow bands work best for your setup and style of jumping, and keep your packers from having to guess.
Reset the collapsible slider.
It’s probably worse with some canopies than others to jump with the slider collapsed, but you don’t want to find out the hard way how bad it is on yours. Packers do forget this important detail, and unlike forgetting to reset the pilot chute, you can’t detect a collapsed slider during a pre-jump gear check. Do it yourself, and save the worry.
Set the brakes and stow the brake-line loop.
A letter in May’s Parachutist (“The Good and the Bad” by Gary Shaffer) hit the nail on the head with concerns about the many different brake systems on the market. They change from year to year. Some manufacturers don’t even provide a means for stowing the extra loop of brake line at all, and that’s resulted in a number of cutaways. On such a rig, if you use a common, small stow band to solve this problem and it disappears during brake deployment, your packer may never know that you intended one to be there or even what it’s for. Some creative methods of stowing the extra loop of line on standard systems have also led to reserve rides. Brake systems may be too hard to figure out by looking at them, so make sure to stow yours before you hand it off, or make sure your packer knows exactly what you expect.
Check the closing loop.
Inattention to a 50-cent main closing loop can kill people and wreck million-dollar airplanes. The SIM recommends having no more than 10-percent damage on a closing loop. Some foolish skydivers, coming very close to disaster, have broken closing loops during packing. Perfectly measured closing loops also stretch beyond a safe limit before they ever show enough damage to replace, and this can also cause a premature opening.
Run a line check.
Complications arise when twisted risers from a container flipped through the lines capture the brake system, rendering the brakes unreleasable or only partially releasable. Stepping through a line and not detecting it often leads to a cutaway. But it takes only seconds to go from setting the brakes to running a line check from the 3-rings to the canopy. Most experienced jumpers learn to pick up their canopies and set their rigs down carefully to avoid problems here, making it even easier to confirm continuity with a quick and simple line check.
Check the connector links.
On your way up the risers and lines during the line check, pause for an extra few seconds to inspect the connector links. Make sure that any steel links are tight and the link covers are secure and in place so they don’t slide off the links, slide up the lines, choke the line group and stop the slider from coming down all the way. Maneuver soft links so the connection mechanism or knot is hidden safely inside the riser loop and out of the way of the descending slider grommets. A packer may or may not take the time to do this.
Reconnect your RSL.
If you disconnected your reserve static line during flight, reconnect it to make sure it’s routed correctly.
Prep anything else that’s non-standard.
You’re pretty much on your own with specialized or oddball systems, such as options on canopy formation canopies, newer line-stow methods, removable deployment systems, older configurations and systems that everyone’s forgotten, pull-out pilot chutes, split sliders, bungee collapsible bridles and anything that’s not in the mainstream. If you’re using packers for unusual setups, train them on your system, observe their work and follow up as necessary. If you’re fussy about things like how much line to leave unstowed, how the bag is placed in the container or how you want your bridle stowed, stay on top of those details.
Pre-flight your rig.
You can detect some of the big boo-boos during a standard pre-jump equipment check, but some you can’t. That’s just part of the faith you have to have to use packers in the first place. But often you can judge how conscientious a packer is overall by looking at details during the pre-flight.
The FARs lay no responsibility on a packer and only slightly more on the FAA rigger who is required to directly supervise. The FAA holds both the aircraft pilot and the jumper responsible for complying with the FARs. But in the real world of natural law, the person most directly affected by how a packer packs a parachute is the one who opens it in freefall. Take nothing for granted and be 100-percent involved in the packing of your own equipment.
—Kevin Gibson | D-6943