by Jan Meyer
"Golly, Gosh, Darn it!!! Every time I try a swoop I screw up. I am either too conservative and never get down to the formation or I overshoot and go low. Once and awhile, I sort of get there, but I always dock with a little bit too much speed and funnel the formation."
These are typical remarks from jumpers learning how to dive and dock or "swoop" towards formations. There is a way to improve your swooping skills, without "screwing up" and without ruining anyone else's dive. More on this later.
A skydiver in a diving position has a much higher terminal velocity because there is less drag as compared to the stable face-to-earth position. So...if someone leaves an aircraft a few seconds before you and falls at a slower rate in the stable face-to-earth position and you fall towards him by maintaining a faster diving position for several seconds, then you should be able to catch him. If you wanted to reach him and then fall at his rate you would need to adjust to a slower fall rate before reaching him. (Similar to the way you would apply brakes in your car, before reaching a stop sign and not as you reached the stop sign.)
Problem areas with swooping are knowing how long to hold the faster fall rate dive position and how far above the formation you need to apply your brakes. If you don't dive long enough you won't get to the formation before break-off. If you dive too long, you could go low. Factors that influence this "dive" time are
your distance from the formation,
your closing speed when you're in your dive
your braking ability.
Each dive will be different and may need a different type of swoop
To be a Better Swooper
A way to practice swooping, all by yourself, is to do the following. Find a small, good group of jumpers. Teams are best, but fun-jumpers with 4 to 6 people work too.
They should have their dive all planned without you. That's right without you.
Ask them if you can follow them out of the aircraft after so many seconds(3, 5, 10 or 15) and then try to swoop towards them. Tell them you won't be actually docking. All you want to do is dive, flare out and maintain a constant horizontal distance, say 3 to 6 feet, with no vertical separation.
Tell them it's a win-win situation. You learn how to swoop and they do a great dive.
If you've demonstrated that you can safely do this kind of dive, they should say yes. Next thing you know, they'll be giving you tips on experimenting with diving positions and diving turns.
Always get permission ahead of time. If you lurk a group who said no, then you'll get a bad reputation as an unsafe jumper.
Make sure you do not "take out" your target group. If, per chance, you over shoot, do a quick 180º turn and dive away from the group. This is a good trick to remember for "real" swoop dives. It's better and safer to go low than to funnel a formation. Never remain underneath a formation.
Track away from your group by 3500 feet and pull between 3000 and 2000 feet.
One last caution: Never learn swooping by following an AFF or tandem group. Lurking these dives is strictly for AFF rated jumpmasters and instructors.
Have fun on these solo jumps. Experiment with arm and leg positions to develop a range of swoops. Always watch where you are going and watch the altitude.
Originally published in Sport Parachutist's Safety Journal V1, #1 May/June 1988.
Dedicated to enhancing sport parachuting safety by disseminating information about equipment, environments and human factors.