Rating Corner | Clarifying Goals for Early AFF Jumps
By Jen Sharp
For AFF students, the excitement and challenges of the early stages of the A-license progression can be daunting and confusing. During this part of their training, they receive a lot of information (and in some cases, misinformation), which can derail their enthusiasm and ultimately their progress. As an AFF instructor, it’s important to present clear, measurable, succinct and, of course, correct goals for your students, particularly during this initial phase. Do you know what those goals are? Are you evaluating your students’ skills correctly for their progressions? Do you know objectively whether your students are meeting the freefall requirements on their jumps? Let’s find out.
The freefall goals in the first three categories (A, B and C) of AFF training in the Integrated Student Program are similar but not identical. One of the overarching goals for early AFF students—and the one that tends to be their main focus—is a solo (not being held by instructors), stable pull at the correct altitude. This is also contained in the advancement criteria for Category C.
The pull in Category C has two important pieces: 1) stable deployment without AFF
instructor contact and 2) wave off and pull at the assigned altitude.
The goal for the pull sequence in this category (and the overarching goal for the first three categories) is generally easy to interpret and apply. However, many AFF instructors allow their students 500 feet of leeway from the stated pull altitude, which does not fall within the parameters of the advancement criteria.
It is the advancement criterion for deployment procedures in Category B that allows 500 feet of leeway. But Category B does not require the student to actually pull. The advancement criterion states that the student must simply “initiate deployment procedures within 500 feet of the assigned altitude.” In other words, the guidance states that the goal is only initiating deployment. For example, if a student who is assigned to begin the wave off at 5,500 feet and pull by 4,500 feet initiates a wave off at 5,000 feet and begins to reach back for the pilot chute but does not pull, they still have met their goal (initiate deployment) and should be allowed to continue to Category C.
So, what exactly constitutes “initiating deployment?” The wave off is a signal that a student is about to deploy. A student initiates deployment when independently reaching back for the pilot chute. If a student doesn’t respond to the instructor’s signals and the instructor guides the hand back to the pilot chute and the student independently starts feeling around for it, this qualifies as initiating deployment. However, in the same scenario, if the student does not feel around for the pilot chute but returns to a natural body position, it does not qualify initiating deployment.
What about Category A? The advancement criterion for deployment states that the student must “initiate deployment procedures within 1,000 feet of the assigned altitude.” Along the same lines as Category B, if a Category-A student is assigned to wave off at 5,500 feet and pull by 4,500 feet and they initiate their deployment by 4,500 feet but do not pull, they still have met this criterion and should be allowed to continue to the next category. Further, the guidance does not prohibit the AFF Instructor from prompting the student. So, if the student receives a circle-of-awareness or pull signal and they respond by initiating deployment by 4,500 feet, they have successfully met the criterion for moving to the next category.
That said, the most important thing to consider when conducting AFF jumps is not a simple list of goals, it is your student. There is a great deal of difference between the criteria for Category B and Category C. A student who technically passes Category B but is only meeting bare minimums for stability and awareness is unlikely to pass Category C on the first jump. In order for your student to feel successful and progress safely, your job as an AFF instructor must also rely on your subjective evaluation of the student, as well as the objective criteria.
Jen Sharp | D-17516
Coach Examiner and Tandem Instructor Examiner, AFF and Static-Line Instructor, PRO