In 1997, Patty Chernis, newly elected to the USPA Board as a regional director, suggested that USPA create a special day to get jumpers current and prepared for the upcoming skydiving season. Now in its 25th year, Safety Day has grown increasingly popular, morphing from year to year to address current trends. The date is always the second Saturday in March (this year that’s March 13, although drop zones can choose alternate dates), a time when many southern drop zones are charging full steam ahead into the new season while their northern counterparts are just opening their doors. Either way, it’s a great time for jumpers to converge, whether in person or virtually, to brush up on their skills for the upcoming season.
For many drop zones, Safety Day 2020 was a victim of COVID-19, but with last year behind us and a new and brighter season before us, it’s more important than ever to get current and rehearse the procedures that keep us all safe. Since that first Safety Day 25 years ago, we as a community have lowered our fatality rate to the record-low numbers of the last few years. To continue this encouraging trend, we need more personalities to pick up the torch of safety and shine it into the deep, dark crevices of our ego and pride, where our mistakes seem to start.
Nine of our fatalities last year came in a 60-day window right after the COVID-19 shutdowns throughout the country. This shows us that currency is vital to survival. The lack of currency affected jumpers across all experience levels, from students on massive canopies to experts with thousands of jumps and the skill to pilot canopies not much larger than pilot chutes. Incident reports also showed that currency affected simple skills such as flying a landing pattern, and even instructors’ teaching abilities.
We anticipate that more than 180 drop zones worldwide will participate in Safety Day this year. This one day in our community is the most important one of the season, as it has a huge influence on our sport’s safety. In addition to the traditional seminars and hanging harness practice, many drop zones offer currency jump specials (when weather permits), organize safety-oriented games and contests or host potluck dinners to encourage the community spirit. We also encourage drop zones to expand their Safety Day events to include activities that sharpen rating-holder and staff skills, since they are the key to a healthy safety culture.
"Congratulations! You got a Judy!"
This accolade has been heard at drop zones participating in USPA Safety Day activities since March 12, 2005. The 25th anniversary of USPA Safety Day also marks the 17th anniversary of the Ches Judy Award.
The USPA Chesley H. Judy Safety Award, USPA’s recognition for service to the skydiving community, came together as the result of an important act of generosity, along with imagination, at the right time. The fund memorializes Ches Judy, who on September 10, 1995, died aboard a Queen Air that crashed on takeoff for the sunset load near West Point, Virginia. With Judy went nine other jumpers and the pilot, along with the resident of the house the plane struck after losing control.
Judy, an active skydiver for more than 30 years, made most of his jumps in his last decade. He spent most weekends training skydiving students, first with drop zone owners George and Betty Kabeller (Hill) in Downsville, Maryland, and then moving with them to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. He continued at Chambersburg when former USPA National Director Al Gramando purchased the drop zone and renamed it AFF East. In his last year, Judy taught at Skydive West Point for school owners Dave Ropp and Ruth Sondheimer, who also perished in the crash. ln his last two months, after retiring from a long and successful career with the State Department, Judy served on the USPA staff as director of safety and training.
The lively Judy is warmly remembered for his friendly and lighthearted approach to student training, which eased tensions and made skydiving fun for everyone lucky enough to jump with him. He also dedicated himself to improving the quality of instructors, working in instructor certification courses as an AFF evaluator and tandem examiner.
In 1995, USPA established a fund to promote safety through education and training with a grant from Judy’s family. But it took an idea from USPA member David Kiedaisch to put the money to good use. Kiedaisch asked USPA to develop an award that would recognize excellent and innovative skydiving instructors.
The original donation from the Judy family and friends, along with subsequent contributions, ensured the longevity of the Safety Day award in Chesley H. Judy’s name. The USPA Board at the time expanded on Kiedaisch’s original idea of an award just for instructors. A “Judy” may be presented during Safety Day activities to one jumper from each drop zone who in the past year, through example, deed, training or innovation, has promoted safety in the sport.
Awardees may include anyone on the drop zone who has made a noteworthy difference to the safety of local jumpers. The choice, to be coordinated through the USPA Safety & Training Advisor organizing Safety Day and the drop zone owner, could be the alert jumper who noticed someone’s misrouted chest strap just before exit, the diligent staff member who worked tirelessly to revamp the school’s student training program or the committed individual who implemented the one idea that finally got everyone landing in the same direction. The actions that justify the award can be every bit as varied as the individuals who might receive one.
Choose Your 2021 Ches Judy Award Recipient!
Choosing a Ches Judy Award recipient contributes to an important safety culture around the drop zone. February 19 is the deadline for submissions. Select a recipient for the award, and USPA will mail you a certificate suitable for presentation. Send the name of the recipient, the name of the drop zone and the preferred mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Presentations and Training Tools
Last year, USPA reworked many of the presentations, training aids and handouts offered to Safety Day organizers at uspa.org/safetyday. We’re adding new tools that will help DZs make this the most successful Safety Day on record. As always, we will provide Safety and Training Advisors with information about last year’s fatal and non-fatal incidents and provide analysis and training aids to help the community overcome the problems identified to make 2021 the safest year yet.
You can also find a virtual-reality malfunction video series created by Merit at uspa.org/malfunctions (which presenters can use as a standard video or on a virtual-reality headset). These resources make it easy for event organizers to put together an effective Safety Day.
Include Instructors and Pilots
A safe drop zone relies on well-trained instructors. They are the key to a healthy safety culture. Safety Day is the perfect time to have tandem instructors complete their bi-annual emergency reviews and have AFF instructors sit down with coaches and review the canopy drills they must complete during their coached jumps. Review what these drills are and how to teach and debrief them, emphasizing the two-stage flare. Use video of actual student landings, if possible.
Include a seminar for instructors on issues that may arise for students below 2,000 feet. Recent statistics show that rating holders are doing a great job teaching high-speed-malfunction and cutaway scenarios but need to spend more effort teaching students about problems that occur under canopy. The seminar should cover topics that rating holders can discuss with students, such as the difference between the decision altitude and the hard deck, obstacle avoidance, PLFs, braked turns and emergency exits.
Jump pilots are an integral part of any drop zone, but we often forget them on Safety Day. Encourage your pilot to host a seminar on jump-plane operations, including information on emergency exits and choices at different altitudes and how jumpers can help the pilot in an emergency.
A brief seminar on incident reporting should be a part of every Safety Day. Let your jumpers know that anyone can file an incident report. We can all learn from someone else’s experience. An incident reporting form is now available in Skydiver’s Information Manual Section 5-8, and a mobile-friendly reporting form can be found at uspa.org/ir. Remind jumpers at your DZ to take advantage of this tool.
Register and Report on Your Event
Let everyone know about your event—register it at uspa.org/safetyday. This list of participating drop zones helps jumpers find an event near them and informs them of the DZ’s alternate Safety Day date if it doesn’t fall on March 13. A list of all registered drop zones, photos of the Ches Judy Award recipients, a report on any new or innovative ideas and a selection of the day’s best snapshots will appear in the May issue of Parachutist. Drop zones must submit reports and photos by March 23 to be considered for print publication. Submissions should be made via the form found at uspa.org/safetyday.
Get Your T-Shirts!
Drop zones can order newly redesigned T-shirts—this year in blue with white graphics—from Jumper Sportswear for just $6 each (add $2 for XXL) plus shipping. You can order as few or as many shirts as you would like. For orders of 12 or more shirts, drop zones can add their logos to the sleeves at $1.50 more per shirt. Many drop zones order the shirts in bulk as gifts for their local jumpers. Jumper Sportswear must receive your order no later than February 19 for events held on March 13 or at least three weeks in advance of your alternate event date. Contact Lynn Smith at email@example.com or call (316) 264-1321 to place your order.