Creative New Gear. The Human Factor. Build a better mousetrap. . . design something into a piece of parachuting equipment that is a new, different, faster or lighter way to "do the job," and you enhance its marketability. Unfortunately, sales appeal does not always bear a direct relationship to improvement, especially when improvement is cast in terms of safety, efficiency and susceptibility to human error - the human factor.
Throw-out and hand-deployed pilot chutes, plastic hardware, new-concept canopy releases, ram-air canopies - all highly innovative ideas from industrious and conscientious equipment manufacturers and jumpers - have caused major shifts in thinking and capability in the jumping community with respect to the gear we use. The process of evolution that took place between the B-4 and the Top Secret or Wonder Hog has resulted in something akin to Toffler's "Future Shock." Specifically, a lot of jumpers at widely diverse levels of experience and talent are using equipment without an adequate knowledge of
In many cases the ignorance is so profound that they don't even know enough to ask questions or imagine problems.
I do not in any way want to imply here that the equipment manufacturers and innovators have designed or are designing gear that is deficient in accomplishing the function for which it was intended. (Some of it may be deficient, but that is another topic.) However, some equipment is designed with apparent inattention to, disregard of, or ignorance of the way it is actually employed.
Let's look for a minute at the process through which most equipment innovations pass before getting "out on the street."
This process, which differs in detail in every case, has some positive, constructive results. With some exceptions, we have equipment which is
But there is a negative side. Things do go wrong with new equipment for various reasons. People do get hurt and killed, or more frequently, just scare themselves. Worst of all, people with little to no knowledge of equipment manufacturing and testing or of the nature and intent of a new design or especially of human factors, do attempt to copy new equipment design features in order to save themselves time or money.
I saw seven hand-deploy or throw-out pilot chutes "in tow" that necessitated reserve deployments at the last Turkey Meet. They occurred with a variety of rigs, some just crude imitations of good gear. Most of them were due to "people errors."
At least two people are dead because they confused a Capewell cover with a blast handle after a cut-away (same shape and feel, four inches apart).
People have deployed reserves because they could not find the plastic golf ball or the "little red tab" on the end of an external pilot chute.
People do thread chest straps through ripcord handles. It's easy!
I have seen and used equipment with critical functional features that were easy to see but hard to locate and use by feel alone.
When an equipment manufacturer sees a malfunction on gear he made and investigates the cause, then chuckles and writes it off with a statement like, "You just assembled it incorrectly. There is nothing I can do about that," he is missing the point. He is admitting that he is making laboratory equipment - a system that works well in the absence of all the "extraneous variables" like wind and cold and funnels and fast pack jobs to make the next load. If the gear can be mis-used, mis-rigged or mishandled, it will be. It is the nature of the human, even if he is sharp enough to be a good skydiver.
We have to consider the physiological sense or combination of senses that are depended upon to operate a piece of equipment and the actual situation in which it will be used. As in many other situations where habit patterns of complex movements are involved, we become more dependent on feel than on visual control of those movements, especially when there are other high demands on our visual system, like ground rush.
Equipment testing cannot be considered adequate when it is restricted to the manufacturer himself or other experienced people who completely understand the system. There must be some determination of the susceptibility to human error when used by much less experienced and less aware jumpers who may not understand the system at all.
There is no more excuse for placing the total blame on a jumper who makes an error in the use of his equipment than there was to place the total blame on pilots of WWII vintage aircraft who landed with the wheels up when the landing gear and flap levers were exactly alike and side-by-side. Both worked the way they were supposed to, but the susceptibility for error was high.
The human factor in system design must be considered from the beginning and all the way through in the development of new equipment, from connector links to complete assemblies.
Some of this consideration becomes rather involved. For instance, pulling a ripcord requires conscious effort (as opposed to breathing, which is sub-conscious) but it may not require your attention, given enough experience. How often have you initially reached for a ripcord where it used to be before you changed systems? It is the reason we tell students to look at the ripcord before pulling. It forces attention to the task at hand and reduced the chances of pulling the reserve ripcord, Stevens' lanyard, or main lift web in error. With increased experience, attention is usually not required to perform a routine task, but if an error is made, then attention is required to correct it. Equipment must be built for consistent, non-attentive, proper use with a low probability of error, by design.
So there is a problem ... what do we do about it? There is gear on the market that comes with no written operating instructions or owners manual, with the usual exception of packing instructions, and these are often only for the reserve. There are no restrictions imposed by anyone on the sale or purchase of equipment and few restrictions (in this country) on the use of advanced or high-performance equipment or sub-systems. I don't think we need or want restrictions, primarily because they are virtually unenforceable except in tightly controlled situations. But there is a way.
A jumper who makes enough mistakes on RW loads doesn't get asked on very many more until he improves his performance self-regulation by the community.
People don't loan money to a known deadbeat - strength of reputation.
The turkey who buries a disc and leaves it there catches a ration of grief from the next guy in who "had it wired" - peer pressure.
Ripcord stops finally fell by the way side - organizational pressure, not regulation.
The novice jumper who wants the latest gear is more likely to hold off buying it if he is told he can't get it by some "authority" - appeal to basic motivation, group acceptance.
The high puller, the railroader, the dude with the foul pits - they all lose face eventually.
People who design and manufacture new equipment have to make a profit and they deserve it. Potential loss of profit is an effective motivator. If a new gear is shown, publicly, to be highly susceptible to human error of serious consequence, it will be improved or it will be ostracized by the community at large.
Manufacturers can improve the situation by asking themselves throughout the development process, "How likely is it that an overly ambitious, half-lit jumper with little experience and a lot of pressure will use this equipment incorrectly, and how much trouble will he be in if he does?" and "How can I design it to minimize that risk?"
The user of the equipment can keep himself healthier by asking "What sort of mistakes might I make with this gear?" "How can I check myself before time is critical?" "What will happen if I do mis-use it?" "Am I comfortable enough with my equipment that concern about it won't distract from the other things I want to do in the air?"
Time dedicated to thinking through potential equipment problems is time well spent. If you can conceive of some unusual situations and think through the corrective actions thoroughly, mentally rehearsing them step-by-step, chances are when the situations do occur, you will follow the procedures "instinctively" with little demand on your attention. Retrieval of the steps from memory will not require your attention, only their execution will and you will have bought yourself more time. It's a good investment.
Communication is the process by which reputations and group opinions are formed. If you make a mistake with your gear, if it "breaks" or you see a potential problem with it, admit it; make it public; help somebody else avoid it, remembering that it may not be simply a dumb mistake or a freak occurrence. You might have been partially victimized. At least with someone else to blame it is easier to talk about it.
So let's continue to innovate, redesign and improve the equipment we use. Those who do so are making substantial contributions to the sport and its overall progress. But that progress is multi-faceted and it must not be made at the expense of safety.
Roqer Hull, Sport Parachutist. April 1977
Great music is like RW...
"O death, all conquering one,
Now you are conquered!
With wings I have won for myself,
Striving in fervent love
I shall soar
To the light no eye
Gustav Mahler's tumultous "Resurrection " Symphony #2 in G
The Evolution of the RW Jumpsuit ... Or, You are What You Fly
Today's relative work is reflected in the jumpsuits we wear. Precision RW has evolved through the development of the jumpsuit as a functional piece of flying equipment.
Today a belled, puff-sleeve jumpsuit with swoop cords and 12-inch underarm extensions is a MUST-HAVE piece of RW equipment.
In the early 60's jumpsuits were nearly universally Sears & Roebuck white painter's coveralls. These coveralls were first cleaned up by cutting off the hammer loop and belt. Then, to improve their looks, the unsightly baggy material around the body and legs was tapered for a chic, tailored look. The purpose of these jumpsuits was to stop the wind of freefall from messing up your shirt, to keep your jeans clean, and to look cool, man.
In the mid 60's the tight-fitting Pioneer jumpsuits were popular. They looked nice and had nifty double zippers that allowed you to put on your jumpsuit AFTER you had already put your boots on! Revolutionary!
In the late 60's, the picture changed in Southern California when Ward-Venegas entered the scene with the weird philosophy that "A jumpsuit can never be too big for you ... and the bigger the better." These were definitely a relative worker's jumpsuit. However, few people were really into the esoterics of hot RW.
About 1970, at the very beginning of his jumping career, Joe Garcia, a master tailor and material-molder since childhood, started making his own jumpsuits to help correct his stability problems. As a pilot, Joe knew he needed more control surfaces. So he started in an obvious place and put flares, or bells, on the arms and legs.
At the first USPA 10-man National Championships in 1972, less than half of the competitors wore bells, as I recall. Bird's team won, all wearing bells.
In 1976, just about all relative workers were wearing bells. In 1974, the United States Freefall Exhibition Team popularized the concept of the fully functional "flying" RW jumpsuit - with extensions, swoop cords, and lots of bagginess. This idea was apparently developed by Seattle area jumpers.
It is now generally accepted that the jumpsuit is the single most important piece of equipment for relative work.
RW created a demand for a good jumpsuit. Good jumpsuits enable good relative workers to fly closer to their respective limits of perfection.
HERE'S THE STORY OF THE JUMPSUIT THAT REVOLUTIONIZED JUMPSUIT THINKING:
Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a kid who was really poor. I mean, he didn't even have decent clothes to wear to school. But his folks did have a sewing machine. So this kid made his own shirt to wear to school.
He made Christmas presents for his relatives, too. And for his girlfriends, he made nice coats of fur and leather. Pretty soon, people were paying him to make the stuff.
At age 15, Joe Garcia made a basic business decision. He looked at what he was making,, compared it to the salary of graduates, and quit school to start his own business. His specialty was making anything of fabric.
He started out making leather accessories for motorcyclists. Later he became a pilot and bought an airplane. One of his shops was located near an airfield that also housed jumpers. A place called Elsinore, California. Lots of gliders and parachutists.
Joe got interested in jumping. He says. "I had a stability problem in my early jumps. As a private pilot, I knew I needed more control surface, so I made my own jumpsuit and put bells on the sleeves and legs. I had about 40 jumps. People laughed at my first jumpsuits. Then Jim Heydorn and Pete Gruber had me build jumpsuits for them. I did. And they worked."
Pat Works, RWu, June 1976
Ultra-Lightweight RW Gear... An Objectively Subjective Evaluation... AN UPDATE
Sir Isaac Newton should get all the blame for the lightweight RW gear revolution. It was he who discovered gravity and MOMENTUM. (I think it was Wildman who discovered light RW gear. Hank Asciutto, John Sherman and others have made it a reality.)
Momentum is easier to understand if you know that it is somewhat like speed. Speed is measured in miles per hour. At terminal velocity, your speed is about 120 mph. Momentum is a quantity that is equal to the product of your weight multiplied by your speed. Momentum changes whenever your weight or speed changes. The less you weigh the less momentum you have and so the easier it is to reach maximum speed in an approach, and the easier it is to stop quickly, too.
For example, say you jump lightweight gear:
your weight 165 lbs gear weight 27 lbs. TOTAL 192 lbs times your speed (120 mph) equals your momentum 23,040
Or if you jump regular weight
your weight 165 lbs gear weight 42 lbs. TOTAL 207 lbs times your speed (120 mph) equals your momentum 24,840
There's a quantity of 1800 - a 7 percent difference. Aw, screw the numbers, it all boils down to the fact that one pound of weight is worth a 51 percent bonus in momentum. And, the lighter you are, the more your gear weight affects your momentum. So to conclude, IT'S GOOD TO HAVE LIGHTWEIGHT GEAR.
Here are RWu's impressions of some current lightweight systems and canopies:
ParaCommander - Introduced in 1964. With its high performance characteristics, was then what the square is today. However, the good ol' PC is too bulky and too heavy for present-day RW.
RW-PC -A light-weight Para-Commander. Packs up slightly bulkier and is a tad heavier than the Sierra. The RW-PC is the canopy of choice for heavier jumpers who insist on a round. Handles very smoothly; is forgiving on landing. Good accuracy canopy.
Sierra - Lighter than and packs up smaller than an RW-PC. Costs less. Flies smooth although not as stable as the RW-PC. A pleasure to jump. Recommended for RW jumpers who prefer a round canopy.
Piglet II - The original lightweight RW canopy and system. Still the best hard-core system for the serious competitor who wants a simple, ultra-reliable round. Lands briskly. Very easy to pack. RWu recommended for serious competitors who do not weigh a lot and prefer a round canopy.
Piglet 23'- "Big Man's Piglet," a larger canopy for the heavier jumper and for those who want softer landings than the smaller Piglet II delivers. Easy to pack, reliable; not an accuracy canopy but a fine general use RW canopy. Recommended.
Paradactyl -The lightest RW canopy available. Presently one of the least expensive because of its unpredictable opening and flight characteristics. Treat with respect! Older models are chancy on opening. All delta-shape wings can fold up in flight. Not recommended.
Strato-Flyer - The Strato-Star's little brother. Flies faster and lands a bit harder than the Star. Very light; packs up very small. Cannot be free-packed. Considered to be the square canopy of choice for the hard-core RW competitor. Is relatively touchy at flare point compared to larger squares.
Strato-Star - The square that revolutionized RW by putting canopy control back into the jump. Easy to free-pack fast. Packs up smallish; all-white versions are only a pound or so heavier that the Flyer. Good accuracy canopy. Very reliable openings. Said to be slightly easier to fly than the Flyer. A good all-around canopy.
Strato-Cloud -the "Cadillac" of squares. The best accuracy canopy. Although heavier than either the Flyer or Star, total canopy (all-white) weight is only 4 or 5 pounds more than a Flyer. Very reliable openings. The easiest square to fly. The best no-wind canopy. The softest landing canopy. Easy to free-pack fast. Good for canopy RW. The best all-around canopy.
* Key to Score: 1 = Unacceptable 5 = Fair/Good 10 = Excellent
Recommended ultra-light weight reserves
Security/Sierra Light (Security also makes the same reserve for National and
Cheap Alternatives - If you haven't much money, then here are some low-cost options:
Updated from RWu., October 1975
RW Gear Of The Future. Tomorrow is now in RW. Toads used to jump sloppy fitting gear and skintight jumpsuits and do "ok"... me for one. But now gear does make a difference. Here are some tried and true ideas for RW gear:
Jumpsuit ... Custom-made for you, fits well; bells & big as the situation requires.
Harness ... Snug-fitting harness system that doesn't weigh over 35 lbs. total (including backpack & canopies).
Main canopy ... A type that lets you down easy and is maneuverable packs up small.
Reserve ... Reliable and light.
Main and Reserve Container ... Tandem or "piggyback" type, shape determined by canopy, light.
Boots/Shoes ... Adidas or similar athletic shoes, Puma pole vaulting boots, Indian moccasins (wrap-type) or other lightweight, feel-your-feet coverings.
Gloves... Thin (aviator's, water skier's or handballer's) or none.
Helmet... One that doesn't get in the way - wear a soft one, a semi-rigid one or a hockey helmet. You gotta be able to SEE!
Goggles ... Some that allow good vision. Jockey goggles and boogie goggles are good.
RWu June '73
Lighter Gear + Faster Stars = Longer Freefall Time. Relative work 10-man teams and judges around the country are finding that freefall times are considerably higher than the old 10,500 equals 45 seconds formula usually applied.
The Beechnuts team from Michigan reports, for example, that they average 47-49 seconds of freefall time from 8,000 ft. exit to 2,500 ft. opening altitude. And the judges at the recent Rumbleseat Meet in California recorded freefall times averaging 52 seconds from 9,500 ft. down to 2,500 ft.
These increases are probably attributable to larger jumpsuits; smaller, more lightweight gear; and faster stars. It appears that the faster you build your star, the more freefall time you get.
RWu, December 1974
Song of the Godfrogs
Oh come with me and we'll go up there
Where the wind blows cold and there ain't much air,
Where the clouds are ice and your blood runs thin ...
But don't worry, toad, we're comin' down again.
Like a frog, a screamin' Godfrog!
When the airplane gets so high she won't go no more
With a laugh and a holler it's out the door;
Down amongst them clouds to play
Like that ol' eagle who does nothin' else all day.
Then back on the ground, when the Whuffo's ask "how come?"
And you really don't know,
And you are feelin' sorta dumb ...
Well, you may wonder, but I know why -
You're a screamin' Godfrog and you love the sky.
C. G. Godfrog
Helmet Regulations: To Bell or Not to Bell. Some people like to wear helmets for jumping - some do not. Currently there's a lot of fuss and bother because the helmet wearers are afraid their soft-headed friends will hurt themselves. They want to legislate personal safety. RWu believes that crash helmets should be worn for safety reasons by everyone who chooses to, and those of us who choose not to wear helmets shouldn't have to.
Mike Schultz, manager of Pelicanland, top ranked competitor in style and accuracy, has some thoughts on helmets. We're excerpting from his letter to USPA's Board of Directors of October 25, 1973.
"The history of USPA has been reactionary, which is good! It was born and has been guided in reaction to arbitrary and injurious bureaucratic activities. Its evolution and course have been influenced by the vanguard activities of the jumpers/members who have pioneered in equipment and techniques for bettering and furthering the interest of sport adventures.
In my opinion, one of the greater advances recently has been the advent of the smaller, non-rigid head coverings. They have considerable advantage over the rigid, crash-oriented helmets which have dominated in the past, but which restrict head motion and vision in freefall, as well as creating neck problems for some, due to jerk on opening.
I would like to create the issue of the hurt head at Pepperell on the light of narrow thinking, as follows:
There is no assurance that the same gentleman who went to the hospital in Pepperell would have fared any better with a Bell helmet on. I feel that the design structure of the Bell is focused on impacts strong enough to crack the protective covering. Otherwise, the protection is only that provided by the internal padding.
The conditions that day at Pepperell (I was there!) were gusty and the gentleman who hurt himself made a low turn after running to pass some low wires. No body equipment recommended by the BSR's guarantees immunity to injury under any conditions, much less questionable judgement or unusual circumstances.
So much for a technical argument! My opposition transcends this lonely issue and encompasses a broader concern for the specious thinking that highlights it. If we are to maintain a viable profile in the reactionary community, we can't rush to the legislative desk over every isolated incident that arises and attempt to create obstacles to the enjoyment of our sport for our own members.
The impact of this issue reached me as I was thinking about equipment for 10-man RW and style. I felt offended that the occurrence to a man with 200 jumps should be extrapolated to include me with 2,700 and many others with more than that. I like the non-rigid helmet. There is no question it is safer for me and helps to improve my performance, and moreover, I want to jump it.
Gentlemen, please consider all aspects of the issue and influence your S&T committee to adjust their thinking to include all members of the parachuting community. Don't allow arbitrary outside bureaucratic actions to affect the entire Board of Directors. Perhaps rigid helmets are beneficial to non-licensed jumpers or other inexperienced levels! I certainly wouldn't allow the student jumpers at our DZ to wear non-rigid helmets, but I don't see the immediate relationship to my style jump or to my 125th RW jump with the same people on a 10-man team, or with persons of equal ability.
Michael E Schltz, RWu, December 1973
Tips on Gear
A Swoop Cord Tip ... With an elasticized swoop cord, or most any other type of swoop cord, you can adjust your wing area by how tight you wear the cuff. For example, if you want to put some slack in the wing area so you'll fall faster, fasten the cuff velcro more loosley.
Shortline Your Reserve ... Security 26-ft. reserves may be safely shortlined three feet without affecting descent rate or opening reliability. Result; a lighter, smaller reserve. (Check with your master rigger.)
1.1 Canopies Can Land Softer... Simply sew shut the apex of a regular 1. I main canopy. Seems to slow the descent more than 10%.
Swooping Shoes ... Adidas tennis shoes are neat for serious RW. Makes you feel like you got hands on your feet. The best are those made out of nylon, and are consequently washable in - guess what - a way to eliminate the devastating foot stink - Woolite and cold water. This is especially important since most of us don't wear socks. In fact, sometimes we don't shower, no siree, just step outside and stomp a skunk first thing in the mornin'."
Gutting your Cheapo - You can reduce bulk in your cheapo by "gutting" the 550 cord that runs through your canopy. Running inside the braided tube that makes up 550 are seven 35 lb. test lines (testing out to 245). This means that the outer braid is 305 lbs. test.
Using a seam ripper, open up the canopy just enough to get the 550 out. Make the incision 1 inch below the zig zag stitching near the skirt. Pull the line out (4 inches or so) for easier access. Using a hard lead pencil, separate the weave of the braid. (This braid is similar to Chinese finger cuffs.) Increase the size of the pencil hole by using a football inflater or dull penny nail. Pull out, count, and cut the 7 inner lines. Tie a surgeon's knot so the cut lines won't slip back in.
Repeat the above (except tying the knot) 1 inch above the highest zig zag stitch near the apex. Put tension on the canopy. The knot near the skirt will put the lines back in the canopy while it's under tension. Make sure the lines go back into the canopy so you can pullthe "guts" straight out, or the "finger cuffs" principle will work against you. Have someone pull the guts out slowly while you stroke the canopy as needed.
Total bulk reduced is about the size of a football. The remaining braided tube will be sufficient to carry the load required. It'll take you about 2-3 hours to do.
Also, you can shortline your cheapo two feet. Then, open (or loosen) your chest strap after opening and it will fly the same. This will save you one line stow. If you shortline more than 2 feet, you'll ruin the flight characteristics of your canopy.
The 28-ft. is too large to get any real benefit from inverting the apex. You'll come down slower, but you won't get much drive,
Carl Nelson, Freak Brothers Flyer #3
Washing your Jumpsuit
Power to the Putrid! Yeah, there's nothing like those hot summer days, packed three across in a humid Lodestar. Smells about as good as a pair of old sneakers after a summer's jumping. The truth is, everyone wants to fly good, not smell good, and it seems that everyone's afraid to wash their jumpsuit.
If you own a polyester suit (Dynasoar, Brand X, etc.) you can wash it in cold water. First, stick all the velcro together so it doesn't get full of lint and thread. Soak overnight in cold water with 1/2 cup Biz or Axion. Wash the next day in the same water, rinse in cold and hang it up to dry. It won't fade or shrink a bit. Starch helps your "float-power."
If you own a cotton suit (Classon, Strong, etc.) it must be dry-cleaned. Even if you try cold water, it will shrink for sure unless you like knickers. If you try hot water or a dryer, the only thing your suit will fit is a Barbie doll. Use laundry starch to revive the material's original stiffness and body.
If you're in the market for a new suit, white shows up the best against the sky, then yellow and orange. The other colors are more difficult for judges and spectators to see, with black being the worst.
Now is the time to get ready for the spring thaw and may everyone smell good this summer.
Freak Brothers Flyer #6
Air Brakes. There are a number of jumpsuits designed with the RW person in mind. The fact is that they don't usually work really efficiently.
Photos prove that any excess material crafted into the suit will only blow back in freefall. Swoopcords will eliminate this problem and will permit the suit to function in the manner it was designed. You can make a set starting with a pair of elastic motorcycle tie downs and removing the metal hooks. Then feed 1,000 lb. tubular nylon through both ends (this step is very aggravating). The nylon on one end should be sewn together as big around as your hand. The other nylon should be sewn (or tied) so it's about 18" long and can be tied to your belt. Adjust the tension so that the cords are loose in the frog position and become taut when the elbows are extended into the flare position.
Wear them under your jumpsuit and notice how nice they work. Once you get used to them, you really get a heavy rush on your approach.
C. Nelson, Freak Brothers Flyer #3
Ride on the Wind
Out into the blinding sky
Floating, soaring figures fly
As a silent airplane falls up.
Vertical dive on your back
Like a hunting eagle,
As earth-pushed air roars.
Arch back, and the roar dive becomes swoop
While the formation and you freight train on railroad tracks of air.
You flare to coast as the joy wells and flows into the sinewy dance
Of flyers on magical columns of air.
To dock with single-pointed mind that ecstasies into an electric smile
As you shake and break to enter.
And the power flows through the formation 'til it explodes
Into fragments which blossom all the colors of spring
And the World starts, again.
The Gear Scaries.
Sometimes my gear scares me
It's a long way up
To be hanging from strings and rags
So I think really hard
And figure it all out again
And everything goes fine
For a while
And then I go do something
Like watch someone open
Do I really believe that?
Because it's my turn now
I just keep going through the process
Because I started when I was too
Young to know any better
And now I can't stop.
Skratch Garrison ,