by Jan Meyer
Are you a new jumper? Do you remember the one to one instruction you received while on "student status"? Suddenly, once you achieve "off student status" status you are cast adrift. Your jumpmasters are too busy with other students to jump with you. Other jumpers seem indifferent to you and your existence at the drop zone. At best, the manifestor knows and uses your name. Somehow the manifestor is the only person aware of your plight. One day you are an excellent example of your drop zone's educational system. The next day you're lost in a crowd of "experienced" jumpers.
How do you adapt? How do you get on the manifest? How do you decide what to do on your next jump? Your jumpmaster used to take care of all that. How do find other people to jump with? Who are these other people? Can you or should you jump with anyone and everyone? All of these "experienced" jumpers seem to have their own version on how to fly, how to float, how to pack and everything else. They use words such as "funnel", "bipole", "dead spider", "back-in", "daffy", "side-dock", "it's a wrap", "phalanx", "leg-down" and "downplane". These things were never taught to you by your jumpmasters. What do they mean?
Everyone who has more than 100 jumps, has experienced Newbie Blues from the time they graduated to about their hundredth jump. It seems that those first hundred jumps off of student status are the hardest to make. If you're serious about jumping, then some how, some way you will make those first hundred jumps. You'll have to make some solo jumps. Freestyle is becoming very popular, so it's not so bad saying you're doing a freestyle jump. The problem for you, a new jumper, is that you don't know what freestyle is or how to do it properly.
Some of your RW jumps will be logged as "attempted RW", "tried to dock, but went low" or "held each other on exit, let go, never got together again".
Why do Newbie Blues exist? Why is it that you go from being your jumpmaster's best student to someone no one wants to jump with? The reason lies in the difference between what student status is all about and what relative work is all about.
Student Status Jumps
While you are on student status, you are learning survival skills. You learn many things that teach you how to live through each jump you make as a student and as an "experienced" jumper. Equipment is issued to you, but you learn how to perform an equipment check before donning your gear, before boarding and before exiting an aircraft. Practice ripcord pulls teach you how to pull. They teach you how to remain stable while you pull and how to perform coordinated body movements without losing stability. Ground and altimeter checks build in a system for learning what the ground looks like at each altitude and time and altitude awareness. Turns teach you how to control spins or heading changes. Diving exits, barrel rolls, back loops and forward loops teach you how to become stable after losing stability or becoming disoriented. Tracking and waveoffs teach you that you must always separate from other jumpers and indicate to other jumpers, who you may not see, that you are about to deploy your parachute. Spotting teaches you how to maneuver the plane over the desired exit point. Canopy control teaches you how to see and avoid obstacles and how to fly patterns to the ground for soft, tippy-toe landings. Your packing course, if there is one at your DZ, teaches the fundamentally important things about packing. Keep the lines straight and free of parachute material, fold everything in reverse order of deployment you'll have an adequate pack job. Many variations exist in how the leading edge is folded. The bottom line is that when you graduate from student status you are a jumper who knows how and can survive premeditated parachute jumps.
Just off student status means you can get your equipment, rental or your own, inspect it for airworthiness, and put it on properly. Then you can board an aircraft and take a proper seating position. You can determine when jumprun starts, correct the flight path of the aircraft, if need be, and exit safely. You can maintain altitude awareness and stablity during freefall and pull at the appropriate altitude. You can determine whether or not you have a good canopy, and execute proper emergency procedures, if required. You can steer your parachute towards the landing area and land safely. You can pick up your equipment, repack it and sign up for another jump.
Relative Work Jumps
Relative work is an entirely different type of skydive than your student jumps. RW has goals of completing formations and then performing clean and slick transitions to new formations. Precise and controlled flying is required for all RW jumps. Your altitude and time awareness must be second nature. Your tracking, waveoff and pull sequences must be automatic, precise and controlled. You must have confidence in your ability to deal with a malfunction, if need be, else your fear and self doubts will show through to your RW performance. You must be able to steer your canopy accurately to the DZ, even when weather conditions become worse than the weather you usually jumped in on student status.
Relative work skills take time and energy to acquire. Most jumpers need about one hundred jumps to go from basic student survival skill proficiency to beginner level RW skills have to make those hundred or so jumps to make your survival skills automatic. You must make jumps to practice your turns, barrel rolls, tracking, wave- offs and pull sequence. Canopy checks and control must be reliable and accurate. You'll probably be jumping in conditions that you never experienced on student status.
Make It Happen Jumps
How do you acquire more survival and relative work skills after student status? How do you know you're learning essential skills versus "go base and keep your heading" for a hundred jumps? You know you're learning because YOU MAKE IT HAPPEN that way. YOU must plan. You must rehearse your jump in two separate and distinct phases.
The first phase of RW is getting a group of jumpers together. They have to be packed, ready to go and give someone a ticket. New jumpers don't generally organize jumps, but they can help assemble jumpers. You can help your organizer by collecting tickets from the group of people she decides on while she is packing. Once your group has finished packing, you can call for a dirt dive with jumpsuits. When everyone is present, turn the organizing of the dive itself to a load organizer. Use an organizer who can build successful dives with the available talent. Ask an organizer to organize your group even when she's not on the dive. You'll be amazed at how much information a good organizer can give you in a dirt dive. Set some goals for you and your group. You can help by suggesting some skills you want to learn or practice. You can volunteer to go in the slot no one wants (front floater, base, etc.).
The skills practiced in freefall must be identified, explained and demonstrated by your organizer. You then practice these skills during the dirt dive and later on the jump. A post dive debrief is essential to your skill acquisition. You should recall, as best you can, what happen on the dive. Explain why some maneuvers worked and other moves didn't work. Listen carefully to feedback from other jumpers and your load organizer. They fulfill the role of jumpmaster on all of your RW jumps. Every jump is different and people will disagree why things went awry. You should use everyone's input to the best of your ability. Never take criticism personally. It's your RW skill that is new and needs improvement, not your character. Keep your character. All the different personalities at the DZ make skydiving interesting.
The second phase of RW jumps you do by yourself. You must mentally rehearse your RW and survival skills. Envision your dive from climbout, exit, RW maneuvers, tracking, waveoff, pull and canopy check and descent to the DZ. Imagery helps you see yourself performing precise and controlled maneuvers. Mentally practice emergency procedures for total and partial malfunctions. You are responsible for getting a gear check. You must check your equipment BEFORE putting it on, BEFORE boarding and BEFORE exiting. Ask for a pincheck, if you can't do it yourself. This simple reassurance will focus your mind on the task at hand as it happens. You shouldn't think about malfunctions when you climbout, wait until pull time. Relax, learn and have fun.
Those hundred jumps will fly by faster than you think. Get out to the DZ as often as possible. Jump on the Early Bird loads to stretch your money further. Use RW coaches, organizers and video to increase learning per dive. Talk to people. Solicit information on all sorts of topics from everyone. Use good judgment to toss bad or wrong information out. You can always ask your jumpmasters for their opinion on someone else's viewpoint. There is more than one way to do most things in skydiving. Some things, such as emergency procedures, have a "best" way and shouldn't be changed from what you learned on student status. Obtain information by reading magazines, newsletters, newsmagazines and visiting other DZs..
Originally published in Sport Parachutist's Safety Journal,
V2, #1 Sept./Oct. 1989.
Dedicated to enhancing sport parachuting safety by disseminating information about equipment, environments and human factors.