Foundations of flight | Fall-Rate Management for FS Part 2—Fast Fall
By Steve Lefkowitz of SDC Rhythm XP
In formation skydiving—as in all other group-flying disciplines—managing fall rate is one of the most important skills. Whether you’re debriefing a 2-way, a 200-way or a 4-way dive at a national championships, fall rate is always a concern. No matter how advanced you get, the ability to control your rate of descent is necessary if you want to fly with others.
For a discussion of slow fall rate, see “Foundations of Flight—Fall Rate Management for Formation Skydiving Part 1” (January Parachutist).
As with the slow fall technique from last month, when practicing this exercise, start from your neutral body position. Then begin to fast fall, stop your fast fall by putting in the opposite inputs and then return to neutral. You can break the technique into three sections of the body: head and arms, core, and legs.
Head and arms:
Bring your hands and elbows in closer to your body while rotating your elbows down into the wind. Pointing the elbows down pierces through the wind, reducing the drag from your arms. Bring your arms closer toward your body but keep your elbows and hands in front of your shoulders. If you let your elbows or hands move back behind your shoulders, it will reduce your ability to fly those surfaces effectively and it will also make it very difficult to take grips.
Lift your chin up with your head high and shoulder blades back and down. This will reduce the drag caused by your head and shoulders. Because you still want to see the rest of the group, maintain eye contact with the group even as you keep your chin lifted. It’s especially important to keep chin high if there is someone below you trying to slow fall to get back to the group.
Arch harder by pushing your hips toward the ground. A good arch comes from pressing the hips and glutes toward the ground, not focusing on bending the back.
Relax your feet and legs with your knees bent to about 90 degrees so that your lower legs point straight up, which minimizes wind resistance. Bring your feet and knees closer together so that the insides of your feet and legs are no longer exposed to the wind, further reducing your cross-section against the wind.
For fast fall, most people know they are supposed to arch more but often forget how effective it can be to bring the elbows together and point them downward. Many newer skydivers try to fall faster by raising their elbows up and back behind their shoulders, like a lazy W. This is less effective than bringing them down. Also, keeping your arms in front of you with elbows down will allow you to take grips more easily while maintaining a fast fall rate, rather than fighting fall rate every time you reach out.
Remember to keep your chin up when it counts. Practically speaking, people often have to fast fall when they are above a group or when they are part of a group trying fall faster to help someone who has gone low. In these times, it’s tempting to tilt your head down to see the low people. Instead, keep your chin up even as you try to see the people below you. One trick is to think about it as looking “snootily” at the people below you.
Be mindful of your grips when you are linked and trying to fall faster. Keeping the grips close will allow you to point your elbows into the wind and go faster, even as you hold on to others. In contrast, allowing the grips to stretch out puts your arms in a slow-fall position, making it more difficult for those trying to get back to you. You might even consider breaking grips to help the low person, because a group of individuals flying unlinked will generally fly faster than that same group linked.