Safety Check | Clearing Your SPACE Before Exit
By Jen Sharp
We’ve all done it. You’re staring out the plane door, ready to exit after the group in front of you, and you know you’re supposed to look for certain things. But you’re excited, and your mind goes blank. So, you count a few more seconds and call it good.
Not good enough.
You can cover all the items you need to check for on exit by using the simple acronym SPACE:
Make sure you have enough space between the skydivers in front of you and your group. What constitutes sufficient exit separation? This can change according to winds at altitude, size of groups and types of disciplines on the jump. There are plenty of old wives’ tales about how to tell if you have enough separation, but the best way to tell is by calculating exact distance according to ground speed and group size. Skydiver’s Information Manual Section 5-7 C contains a short yet complete explanation of how to figure out the correct amount of time to leave between groups. Commonly, skydivers assume 1,000 feet of horizontal separation is adequate, but that recommendation is for individuals; groups need 1,500 feet.
The Federal Aviation Administration prohibits skydiving that creates a hazard to other air traffic. According to 14 Code of Federal Regulations 105.5, the jumper and the pilot are jointly responsible for making sure the airspace is clear before jumping. Besides that, you have a better view than the pilot, so make this a team effort!
Naturally, we all want to land back at the airport, but not all of us double check that we can even see the airport before exiting! Not only should you make sure you see the airport, you should also orient yourself as to the direction of flight. This ensures that you have a good understanding of the other groups and where along the jump run they will be when you open. Equally important is the distance and direction from the airport according to the winds aloft for that day.
The FAA also prohibits skydiving through clouds or in close proximity to clouds. These are known as the cloud-clearance requirements or visual flight rules, as you may remember from all of the USPA license exams. However, simply guessing on a multiple-choice test or knowing the correct numbers does not mean you can accurately judge whether you’re clear of clouds when you look out of the plane! The biggest problem for most is making sure the distance between clouds is sufficient. For example, if there is a scattered cloud layer at 8,000 feet MSL, the “hole” must be 4,000 feet across … and that’s if you happen to fall through it at the exact center. One technique that can help is using your runway as a ruler measured against the shadow of the clouds on the ground.
Finally, a green light! However, it’s important to confirm just before exit that the light is still green. At any time during jump run, the pilot may have to remove their OK due to other traffic, instructions from air-traffic control or a myriad of other unpredictable reasons. If your plane does not have a light, you still need confirmation from your pilot that the plane is configured correctly for exit and you have their continued approval to exit.
SPACE. After a few repetitions of this mnemonic, you will have it memorized. Forever on the tip of your tongue will be a short and simple yet comprehensive way to know that you’ve checked everything you need to at exit time. So, the next time you are at the door, ready to exit, you can quickly run through the items in the SPACE acronym and be confident you are clearing your space for the skydive!
Jen Sharp | D-17516
Coach and Tandem Examiner, AFF and Static-Line Instructor, PRO