Rating Corner | AFF Tips
The Rating Corner | Mar 25, 2022
Rating Corner | AFF Tips

Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld

Photo by Laszlo Andacs.

AFF is formation skydiving. From knowing how to fly the exit, to staying close to your student at all times, to having the skill to dock in a split second, sharp FS skills are key to being a good AFF instructor. It’s also true that freefly skills are necessary in the worst situations, but you prevent those worst situations from happening when you’re still on your belly.

A lot of new AFF instructors are great flyers but haven’t spent that much time formation skydiving and launching FS exits. Here are a few tips that can be helpful.


On every good formation exit, the jumpers decide exactly where they want to put the formation on the hill.  When they leave the plane, they go directly to their spots on the hill and put the formation where they want it. A two-instructor AFF exit is no different; it's a 3-way formation. Here is how to do it:

  • Determine where you are going to put the formation on the hill.
  • With a double-instructor AFF jump from a Twin Otter, the best place to put the formation is at roughly a 60-degree angle with the reserve-side down and away from the plane and the main side just barely out the door.
  • Don't let the exit have a mind of its own or allow the student to determine where the formation is going to go. Put it where you want it.
  • Student exit counts are very inconsistent. The reserve-side instructor reads the student's intent to exit, and sometimes that's all you’ll get. Then the reserve-side instructor decides when to exit.
  • The main-side instructor matches the reserve-side instructor's timing, not the student’s.

Exit Priorities:

1|  Launch from the door directly to your spot on the hill.

2|  Present your belly to the wind: present, present, present. Picking up the second grip is not as important as getting presented and being in the right spot on the hill. Don’t sacrifice your exit to get the grip.

3|  From the moment you begin to leave the airplane, look across the student at the other Instructor. This visual will tell you both if you put the exit where you wanted to on the hill. If it’s not where you wanted, you will both will see what needs to be done and can fix it together. 

4|  Once on the hill, presented and communicating with the other instructor, then make sure the student is where you want them. You'll both be in a strong position to muscle the student around and will be in agreement on where you need to put them.

When to Re-Dock

One of the most important skills that a good AFF instructor possesses is knowing when to re-dock and when to stay off. You want to let your students fly on their own, but you never want to risk them getting away from you. Your experience as an AFF instructor will help you make the decision. If you have concerns or are in doubt, it’s always better to be on the safe side and re-dock. In order to do so, you must be within reach of the student at all times. You can only re-dock if you're close enough to re-dock. Three feet away is two feet too far.

Re-dock if:

  • You think the student is at risk of getting away from you. Students can lose it quickly, and you need to anticipate it coming before it does. If you have any doubt that the student is flying in a way that could lead to them getting away from you, re-dock before it happens.
  • You need to communicate to the student and can't. If you’re giving the student hand signals but they’re not seeing them, it is often better to re-dock, get their attention, communicate, see the right response and release again.
  • The student isn't learning. It's possible that the student isn't getting away from you, but you can see they're not learning. They're too stressed, scared, stiff or not aware of what they need to do. Here also it's better to re-dock. If you let them feel safe, relax a bit and communicate with you, they will be more prepared to be released and more able learn.
  • The student is having any difficulty finding or pulling their main-pilot-chute handle. If your student is having trouble pulling, re-dock immediately.
  • At pull-time, have a hand on your student. Even the best students will sometimes lose it right at pull time. Consider resting a hand on their gripper (but not actually grasping it) at pull-time, so that if they have any problems, you’ll be right there. Five thousand feet is a really bad time for a student to get away from you.

Choosing the Correct Equipment for Fall-Rate

Nothing is scarier than being low on an AFF student. It's a helpless position to be in. It's also hard to anticipate your student's fall rate. Tiny people who you’d think would fall slowly may be so flexible and arch so much that they fall like a rock. Conversely, big, heavy guys with long torsos and flat body positions can float.

Err with being on the light side. It's always easier to get down then to get up. Even a jump that’s not a planned release dive can become a release dive. Use the fall-rate equipment best suited for the worst-case scenario. Wear what makes the most sense if you lose the student and end up low, so that you can get back up and re-dock quickly.

As you gain experience, you will be able to make more educated calls on what equipment to wear and whether you should re-dock or not. While you’re getting that experience, stay on the safe side. You’ll never regret it.

Make no mistake, AFF is serious flying. Having skill isn’t enough; it also takes planning, discipline, practice, experience and sticking to your processes. But it’s so worth it. The pure joy of being able to share your dream of flight with new jumpers is one of the great rewards you’ll get to experience in your life.

Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld | D-8424
AFF Instructor, Safety and Training Advisor and PRO. Author of 'Above All Else'

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