Rating Corner | AFF is Formation Skydiving

By Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld

The Rating Corner | November 2019
Friday, November 1, 2019

If you’re instructing AFF students, you are engaging in formation skydiving. Sharp FS skills—from knowing how to fly the exit to staying close to your student at all times to having the skill to dock on a student in a split second—are key to being a good AFF instructor. Although it’s true that in the worst situations you’ll also sometimes need freefly skills, you prevent those situations from happening in the first place while you’re still on your belly.

A lot of new AFF instructors are great flyers but haven’t spent that much time doing FS and launching FS exits. Here are a few tips for those who instruct AFF but may need to brush up on their FS skills:


Every good FS exit requires the jumpers to know exactly where they want to “put the formation” on the hill and then execute that plan. An AFF exit is no different; it’s a 3-way formation. Here is how it goes:

  • Determine where you are going to put the formation on the hill.
  • With a two-instructor AFF jump from a Twin Otter, the best place to put the formation is at roughly a 60-degree angle with the reserve-side instructor down and away from the plane and the main-side instructor just barely out the door.
  • Don’t let the exit have a mind of its own or allow the student to determine where the formation is going. Put it where you want it.
  • Student exit counts are very inconsistent. The reserve-side instructor reads the student’s intent to exit (which is sometimes all you get) and makes the decision on when to exit.
  • The main-side instructor should match the reserve-side instructor’s timing, not the student’s.

Exit Priorities:

  1. Launch from the door directly to your spot on the hill.
  2. Present your belly to the wind. Present, present, present. Picking up the second grip is not as important as presenting properly and getting to the correct spot on the hill. Don’t sacrifice your exit to get the grip.
  3. From the moment you begin to leave the airplane, look across the student at the other instructor. This visual will tell you both whether you put the exit where you wanted it. If it’s not where you wanted, you’ll both know that you need to fix it and where it needs to go.
  4. Once you’re on the hill, presented properly and communicating with the other instructor, then make sure the student is where you want them. You’ll both be in a strong position to muscle the student around and will be in agreement on where you need to put them.


One of the most important skills a good AFF instructor has is knowing when to redock and when to stay off. Be within reach of the student at all times. You can only redock if you’re close enough to redock. Three feet away is two feet too far!

    Redock if:

  • You think the student is at risk of getting away from you. Students can lose it quickly. Anticipate it coming before it does. If you have any suspicion that the student is flying in a way that could lead to them getting away from you, redock before it happens.
  • You need to communicate to the student and can’t. If you’re trying to give the student hand signals but they’re not seeing them, it is often better to redock, get their attention, communicate, see the right response and release again.
  • The student isn’t learning. When a student isn’t getting away from you but you can see that they’re not learning, this is because they’re too stressed, scared stiff or unaware of what they need to do. Redock to help them feel safe and relaxed. Once they are calm and able to communicate with you, they will be prepared to begin learning again and you can release them.

Choosing the Correct Equipment for Fall Rate

Nothing is scarier for an AFF instructor than being low on a student. It’s a helpless position to be in. It’s also very hard to anticipate a student’s fall rate. A tiny person who seems like they’d fall slowly may be very flexible and arch so hard that they fall like a safe. A big, heavy guy with a long torso and a flat body position may float.

When choosing your equipment, err on the floatier side. It’s always easier to get down than to get up. Even if you haven’t planned a release dive, it could become a release dive. Use the equipment best suited for the fall rate of the worst-case scenario. In other words, wear what you’d need if you lose the student and end up low to ensure that you can get back up and redock quickly.

As you gain more experience with AFF, you’ll increasingly be able to launch the exit where you want it, know when and if to redock and make more educated calls on what equipment to wear. While you’re getting that experience, stay on the safe side. You’ll never regret it.

Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld | D-8424;
AFF, Static-Line and Tandem Instructor
Carlsbad, California

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