by Jan Meyer
A floater slot is one that jumpers can do rather poorly and still look good because the divers usually take longer to reach their slots. Exceptionally good floaters will never leave a video frame fixed on the base. There are several tricks you can use to shine as a floater.
Jumpers are taught on student status to exit the plane and arch hard. Arms and legs are spread out to RW stable or extreme spread eagle positions. These are fantastically stable exits. Exits for relative work involve more than stability for an individual. Linked exits require stability for a group of jumpers. Free flown exits require individual stability and maintenance of close proximity to base jumpers exiting several seconds later. These additional requirements on RW exits make presenting a hard arch body position on exit a very poor technique for floaters doing relative work.
Jumpers linked during an exit must consider the stability of the piece pulled out of the plane. The piece must take on a stable position. The center must be presented aggressively and squarely to the relative wind. The base jumpers will have a body position for maximum stability.
The hard arch position with arms and legs out in a RW stable position has lots of drag. The drag force slows a jumper and minimizes the forward throw a jumper gets from the speed of the aircraft. Floaters need to maximize their forward throw from the aircraft. Floaters must track on exit.
Spatial proximity is desirable between you and your slot. If you leave the aircraft from a floater position, you must immediately track back up into the relative wind. You must not jump off, catch air, look for your slot and then track. You must track as soon as you let go of the aircraft.
Special attention must also be given to the timing of the floaters' exit with respect to each other. Each floater should be able to get "clean" air on exit. The idea is to be nearly shoulder to shoulder on exit. The floaters need to leave in a way that looks like a banana being peeled. There is only a very slight difference in when the floaters leave. The front floater leaves a tad earlier than the next floater. Each floater only needs enough room to avoid clumping. Even if you get stuck on a back, it's easy to push the floater in front of you to the left.
Sometimes jumpers overdo the early floater exits and create huge gaps between adjacent floaters. This equates differences in level planes as well as lack of proximity. Floater clumping is an easier mistake to correct than the too early floater exits. The distance between the early, early floaters and their slot is much greater than the clump distance. The time to the first point is smaller when you clump than when the floaters leave too early.
The optimal exit is not clumped and is not too early. The closest the floaters get is shoulder to shoulder. The furthest apart they get is a body width or a slot width. They will be flying the relative wind on the same "level" plane. It's not really a level plane with respect to the earth, but a level plane with respect to the relative wind. Everyone is in the same plane perpendicular to the relative wind. It's the formation's plane.
The picture on video that you want to see is one where the floaters have appeared to rotate away from the door about the rear floater position. The floaters also drop. The furthest forward floaters drop more than the aft floaters. Everyone flies the relative wind, although they may be looking in some other direction, and are flying the same formation plane. The base defines the formation plane as the same plane perpendicular to the relative wind that the floaters have been flying in since their exit. The formation plane smoothly rotates to a horizontal plane as the forward throw of the plane diminishes.
Your exit depends on your timing and launch velocities and rotations. The correct timing depends on your location in the floater line up and how the exit is proceeding. Don't use the "I couldn't hear the exit count excuse." The timing of floaters' exits depends on motion, not sounds. Forget about listening for exit counts. Think about SEEING exit counts. Think about flying exits.
It is possible to launch yourself with forward-backward, up-down or sideways speed with respect to the aircraft. Floaters launch out sideways from the aircraft. This direction of launch makes room for the floaters aft of your position. Your launch must be further out sideways the more forward you are. Your sideways speed needs to increase as your floater position moves forward. The further forward you are the more aggressive you must be in your launch.
It is also possible to rotate your body about any axis as you leave. You must rotate about your head-to-toe axis and present your chest to the relative wind. Your head can turn so you may still keep an eye on the other jumpers.
A super floater is used on large formation, multi-plane skydives. The super floater leaves the lead plane on "Ready". Jumpers in the trail plane leave when they see the super floater. Exits from trail planes are earlier allowing the trail plane jumpers to be closer to the base and their slots.
A super floater can also be used on smaller formations and single plane loads. A super floater slot allows jumpers to practice floating and perfect the track back up technique. Practice your floating skills by being a super floater.
Originally published in Sport Parachutist's Safety Journal V2, #5 Jan./Mar. 1991.
Dedicated to enhancing sport parachuting safety by disseminating information about equipment, environments and human factors.