The incident and fatality reports that USPA receives are riddled with descriptions of jumpers making poor low-altitude decisions, especially on final approach. These decisions lead to a range of injuries, from scuffed elbows to broken bones, and in the worst cases, to fatalities. A significant percentage of these incidents involve jumpers fixating on specific landing spots. In order to land accurately, these jumpers typically overcorrect during their final approaches, meaning they either make far too many corrections or a single correction that is too large.
An accurate landing starts long before turning onto final. In fact, an accurate landing starts before your landing pattern begins. Your setup helps you get to the landing pattern entry gate (downwind gate) by placing you at the correct altitude and location over the ground to start the pattern. For the start of each of the legs of your pattern, you must determine two critical points: altitude and ground position. You must decide on these gate altitudes and landmarks before your jump.
During the jump, fly each of your gates using the natural glide slope of your canopy. It is here where many jumpers fail themselves. Struggling to improve their accuracy, jumpers fight against their canopy’s natural glide path. They force their parachutes into deeper descents for long landings or extend their glide paths for short landings. In worst-case scenarios, they start doing S-turns in the middle of their patterns, and in the process, confuse everyone and become a hazard to other pilots. Instead, jumpers should just accept that their landings will be inaccurate and adjust their patterns to be more accurate on their next jumps.
If you choose the correct gates for your pattern, the natural glide path should take you where you want to land. If it doesn’t, you still need to fly your natural glide path, provided that you can land safely. That’s the only way to discover which corrections you’ll need to make next time to enter your gates correctly, and therefore reach your desired landing spot.Once you know how far off you are from your landing target, you can adjust your downwind gate (start of your landing pattern) which in turn offsets your landing on your next jump. Remember, improving accuracy is a long-term goal; the goal should not be to land from this jump accurately but to have consistently accurate landings. It takes time through trial and error, and many adjustments to your pattern, before you find what works for you.
Once you get your gates dialed in and are consistently landing within a 20-foot radius of your target, you can now start making minor corrections to your flight path to hone your landings down to pinpoint accuracy. At this point, you should be making only minor corrections or small inputs, whether with toggles, risers or harness. If you feel like you need to make more than minor corrections, your pattern locations or gate altitudes are still not right. Minor corrections that make your glide path longer or shorter by 20 feet are barely perceptible to other pilots and keep your flight path predictable.
Of course, this works only for the direction and speed of wind that you are working with that day. The good news is that once you establish your gates for a specific wind speed, it will work in any direction of wind if you just adjust your “pattern” accordingly. Don’t forget to log your findings in your logbook for future reference. The only thing left to do is make alterations to your patten for different wind speeds, which we will cover in next month’s Parachutist.
The most important thing to remember when working on your accuracy is to fly your parachute, not fight it. Manufacturers design the parachute to get you safely to the ground. Let the parachute do its job. Learn how to use the natural glide path to your advantage, and your canopy ride will be more predictable, safe and accurate.
Ron Bell | D-26863
USPA Director of Safety and Training