by Jim Crouch
Most jumpers tend to stick with one drop zone, especially during their student training days. Everything about the drop zone becomes second nature. The local jumpers, manifest procedures, airplanes, and the layout of the landing area, airport and surrounding land become “oh, so familiar.” But eventually, almost all jumpers end up going to new and unfamiliar locations. Whether it is a visit to a nearby drop zone during a weekend of normal jump operations or a long trip to a boogie or other special event, it is fun and exciting to head out for new adventures. But it can also be intimidating, especially if you are new to the sport and leaving the nest for the first time. A little planning and preparation will go a long way toward making your experience fun and painless.
Photo by Ori Kuper.
A thorough briefing should be a part of any drop zone’s new-visitor check-in process. Although most will do so as a matter of course, there is no guarantee. So, be sure to ask for the S&TA or a staff member to give you a briefing. You should also be able to learn a lot through the drop zone’s website, but then again, there is no guarantee the website will have all of the information you will need. You’ll want to think about the equipment you’ll be using, the DZ’s limits or restrictions, its manifest operations, the aircraft and its exit procedures, the airport and the DZ’s landing area, as well as the surrounding geography.
If you already have your own gear, make sure the reserve will stay in date during your entire trip. You also need to know whether your gear meets the drop zone’s requirements. For example, some drop zones require jumpers to use automatic activation devices or have wing-loading restrictions for main canopies. There may even be a ban on a specific item; maybe the drop zone owner hates the color green, so he doesn’t allow green gear on the DZ. (OK, that is probably stretching it a bit, but you get the idea.) If you are renting gear, check to make sure that gear rental is even an option where you are going and that the gear is appropriate for your experience level. The drop zone’s website should help with this type of information.
Some locations may also have restrictions on the type of jumping you want to participate in, separate landing areas based on the license you hold, limits for swooping, etc. You will want to make sure you are aware of the local rules so you can help to keep things running smoothly and avoid an uncomfortable visit from the Safety and Training Advisor.
It’s hard to skydive if you don’t know how to manifest! Most drop zones handle this in a similar fashion, but all are slightly different. You might need to purchase lift tickets ahead of time or leave a credit card on file that the manifester charges at the end of the day. Is it up to you to keep track of the loads, or does the drop zone make announcements? Is manifest posted on a board or a computer monitor? It would suck to lose $25 because you missed your plane, so make sure you are clear about the manifesting procedures.
We all use an airplane to get to altitude, but you need to know how to board the particular one you’ll be flying in, where to sit, how to operate the door and how to exit. Even seat belts can be different, with some going around your waist while others clip through your harness. Recently, the tailgate of a Shorts Skyvan detached entirely from the aircraft in flight simply because the jumpers who were at the back of the plane did not know how to operate the door and pushed it the wrong way trying to get it open during jump run. A short lesson on how to use the door will help prevent improper operation. If you are used to only the Cessna 182 you learned to jump from, you will need to learn the dos-and-don’ts of larger aircraft that carry multiple groups of jumpers. Even 182s can have very different jump doors, so make sure you know how to operate the handle if you are in a different version of the airplane you normally fly in.
The landing area may be small or large, or it might not even be on the airport that you take off from, so be sure your briefing provides you with detailed information about the landing area and surrounding properties. Are there hidden obstacles in the landing area? Are there different landing areas for students, swoopers and licensed jumpers? What are the rules for landing direction and landing patterns, and what does the drop zone use for wind indicators? Where are the safest landing spots outside of the regular landing area? Are there any hostile property owners who absolutely hate having skydivers land on their properties? Where are the nearby power lines? You can look over the area on Google Earth before visiting to get an idea of how the airport and landing areas are laid out. Also, most drop zones will have an aerial image to help visiting jumpers get oriented and plan their descent strategies. If no one offers to show this to you, ask for it. Knowing about your surroundings and learning the DZ rules before you board the airplane will help you make the right decisions under canopy.
Visiting a new drop zone is a fun and exciting experience. The opportunity to make new friends and try new things entices all of us to venture out and visit new places. A little preparation ahead of time combined with a solid drop zone briefing can help ensure your weekend is safe, as well as fun.
For more information on what equipment to take when you travel, see “Ask a Rigger—Preparing for Travel” by Kevin Gibson in the November 2011 Parachutist.
—Jim Crouch | D-16979
USPA Director of Safety & Training