The Rating Corner | Oct 01, 2019
Rating Corner | PRO-Rating Changes

Ron Bell

At its summer board meeting in Arlington, Virginia, the USPA Board approved significant changes to Skydiver’s Information Manual Section 7-2—Professional Exhibition Rating. The process began in February 2016, when the board’s Safety and Training Committee created a task force to develop improvements to the PRO-rating requirements, which at that time had not significantly changed in 18 years. At first, the task force simply began developing new landing-requirement guidelines, focusing on highly loaded canopies.

Over time, the committee added to the task force’s mission, ultimately asking it to perform a major overhaul of SIM Section 7-2 to incorporate high-performance canopy requirements for the PRO rating (including a possible high-performance canopy endorsement), address the proficiency of PRO-rated jumpers on various sizes and designs of canopies (taking into account the way newer canopy designs perform), update the landing-area requirements for achieving and renewing a PRO rating and generally increase the integrity of the rating process itself. Safety and Training Committee Chair Michael Wadkins oversaw this task force, comprised of Northwest Regional Director Luke Aikins, Southwest Regional Director Jack Pyland and former Director of Safety and Training Jim Crouch. Current Director of Safety and Training Ron Bell and Director of Information Technology Jen Sharp served as advisors. The task force proposed a number of changes to the rating process that the full board approved at its summer meeting. These changes to SIM Section 7-2 take effect on January 1, 2020.

First and perhaps most significantly, is the addition of a high-performance canopy endorsement to the standard PRO rating. USPA will still issue a PRO rating for each jumper for the canopy size that the jumper used when qualifying. (The smallest canopy that the canopy pilot is qualified on will still be listed in their PRO-rating file.) However, if that canopy puts the jumper’s wingloading above 1.5:1, they must also receive a separate high-performance endorsement to their rating. Because wing loading is defined as the jumper’s exit weight divided by the square footage of the parachute, this means that PRO-rating holders will need to be cognizant of the weight of any equipment carried on demos to ensure they don’t go over 1.5:1 without an endorsement. Jumpers should also recalculate their wing loading after gaining any significant weight to be sure of staying under the requirements.

The task force recommended and the board approved steps to ensure the integrity of the PRO rating and HP endorsement. Jumpers receiving their initial rating or endorsement must provide video (either point of view or taken by someone on the ground) of their qualifying landings. The jumper must submit the videos to their Regional Director along with the application. Videos are not required of those renewing ratings or endorsements. 

Standard Rating Changes

The first change that the task force proposed and the board adopted was to the size and shape of the landing area PRO candidates must use to qualify for their ratings. The circular landing area previously mandated was no longer functional since jumpers now fly canopies with higher forward speeds and longer landing glides than previous designs. The task force adopted a slightly smaller landing area but changed its shape from a 32-foot-diameter (845-square-foot) circle to a 40-foot long by 20-foot wide (800-square-foot) rectangle.

Since PRO-rated jumpers are rarely lucky enough to be landing on the wind line during demonstrations, the board added a requirement that candidates make two of the 10 jumps needed to qualify for the PRO rating off of the wind line. The jumper must predeclare a landing approach 90 degrees off the wind line in wind speeds between 5 and 15 mph. The jumper can determine the orientation of the landing area but must do so prior to the jump, and it must be clearly marked. The candidate must make these jumps at a wing loading at or under 1.5:1 and within 12 months of applying for the rating.

The High-Performance Endorsement

In addition to the 10 jumps needed to receive the PRO rating, those wishing to use a canopy loaded at higher than 1.5:1 must make five additional jumps to receive a high-performance endorsement. The candidate must perform one of these additional five jumps off the wind line. On another two of the jumps, the high-performance endorsement candidate must prove their ability to make a flared, carving turn while demonstrating adequate control of the flaring phase of the landing. The jumper must make a heading change of at least 45 degrees below 25 feet AGL during the last 150 feet of canopy flight. On these high-speed swoops, the task force felt that the emphasis should be on a safe, controlled landing so did not require the jumper to stand it up. Whether the applicant chooses to stand up or slide in for landing, they must show control and make the first point of contact and stop within the designated area.

Current standard PRO-rating holders who wish to downsize their canopies above the 1.5:1 wing loading threshold must go through the HP endorsement process. When a PRO-rating holder with an HP endorsement wishes to downsize, they must make three qualification jumps with at least one crosswind and one carved-turn landing under the new canopy.

For rating-renewal purposes, any PRO-rating holder with an HP endorsement must make two additional jumps (on top of the requirements for the base PRO rating) using a wing loading above 1.5:1 to keep the endorsement current. This requirement is to ensure that PRO-rating holders with an HP endorsement maintain proficiency on both large and small canopies.

By making these updates, USPA is helping to ensure that its PRO-rating requirements align with the realities of modern canopy flight. However, the crowd at a demonstration will likely be more impressed with a canopy landing directly on the 50-yard line than they are with a swoop. Every PRO-rating holder, including those with HP endorsements, must understand that demonstration jumps are a time to show off the sport itself, not their personal advanced-canopy-piloting skills, which the crowd will not likely understand and appreciate anyway. The number-one priority during a demonstration must be to make a safe, professional landing. A PRO-rating holder can introduce our beloved sport to thousands of people in one jump, which is why they are known as the ambassadors of the sport. This responsibility should weigh heavily on the shoulders of all 1,363 active USPA PRO-rated members.  

Ron Bell | D-26863
USPA Director of Safety and Training

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