Rating Corner | Teaching Slow Flight
The Rating Corner | Oct 01, 2020
Rating Corner | Teaching Slow Flight

Ron Bell

Instructors have been performing a lot of currency training lately and overall have been doing a great job. However, our recent incident reports show that one area of emergency-procedure training could use more emphasis: low-altitude emergencies under canopy. So, next time you go over emergency procedures with an uncurrent jumper, be sure to rehearse situations that call for braked landing approaches and slow, flat turns, in addition to freefall and pull-time scenarios. These low-altitude (below 300 feet) skills are vital when a jumper faces an obstacle on landing. When jumpers don’t visualize these scenarios on the ground and practice their slow-flight skills in the air, they’ll often panic and make their situations worse when an actual emergency occurs.

Integrated Student Program Categories E and F cover slow flight. It is no mistake that as soon as a student can land safely and unassisted that the ISP introduces this. Slow and half-braked flight is crucial during low-altitude emergencies. If you’ve ever wondered why the landing priorities section says to flare at least halfway rather than all the way, think about obstacles. If a jumper is landing in a clear, open area, a full flare is best. However, if a jumper encounters an obstacle, using a half-braked technique is preferable, since the jumper will have some remaining flare left if they miss, bounce off or fly through the obstacle.

It is very important to thoroughly teach the half-braked drills in Category F so that the jumper can carry this knowledge through their entire time in the sport. We need to emphasize this flight mode to these young pilots so that it becomes their instinctive reaction to go into half-brakes in precarious landing scenarios. If they say to themselves, “OMG, I’m going to hit a tree!” or, “OMG, I’m going to hit a building!” or, “OMG, I don’t know where the DZ is!” they should instinctively go to half-brakes, which will set them up for a safe landing by giving them extra time to find the best solution for the remaining canopy flight.

This also holds for “OMG, I turned too low!” Half brakes will recover the turn, slow the canopy and allow the jumper to flare at the appropriate altitude. It’s no problem if they need to flare as soon as they go into half brakes—half-brakes are also half of a flare, so they are halfway there. Don’t instruct new canopy pilots to simply “stop turning” if they are low (sub-300 feet), because they might just let their toggle up and make the situation worse. Any problem below 300 feet, their first response should be to go to half brakes. “OMG, I turned too low!” Go to half brakes. “OMG, I’m going to hit a building!” Go to half brakes, then perform a slow, flat turn if altitude permits.

So, as jumpers come to you to for their emergency reviews, be vigilant about incorporating half-braked-landing techniques. Don’t stop your emergency scenarios at cutaways, run the scenarios through to landing, adding landing complications that they must navigate to a successful outcome. 

I’m not going to be happy with the state of our sport’s emergency reviews until I’m watching a jumper practice their cutaway procedures and see them follow that up by simulating half-braked canopy flight; a glance left and right; a slow, flat turn to flare; and then a parachute landing fall. That will be the day I walk up to and hug a perfect stranger with a tear in my eye, saying, “Thank you, dreams do come true!”

Ron Bell | D-26863
USPA Director of Safety and Training

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