If you ever need a quick and easy way to make every coach and instructor in the hangar run away and hide, just yell, “I need someone to handle the student radio!” It’ll look like you just turned on the kitchen light in a house with a bad cockroach problem. No doubt about it, running the student radio is the most feared job on the drop zone.
Every student must learn to fly and land a parachute without assistance of a radio. Radios break, fall out of their pouches and get left in the off position all the time, so instructors must thoroughly cover canopy control and landing before each student’s skydive.
However, the radio is a valuable training tool, and every coach and instructor can master it with a little practice. For starters, anyone who coaches with a radio should make a few jumps on student canopies to become familiar with how they fly, glide and land. Chances are that you haven’t jumped a student canopy since your own student days, but getting back under one can help you become a better informed and more professional canopy coach. Aside from learning how the canopy reacts to toggle and riser input, you’ll learn its gliding distance and therefore where each student needs to fly from the opening point to the landing pattern and where the reference points should be for the downwind, base and final-approach legs of the landing pattern at 1,000 feet, 600 feet and 300 feet.
Less is more when it comes to radio guidance. The student should follow the training details, but the canopy coach can use the radio as a reminder:
• After opening, if the student does not begin the assigned canopy drills, a simple prompt of, “Remember to practice your riser turns,” should be sufficient.
• If the student is drifting out of the assigned holding area, saying, “Fly to your holding area,” is more effective at getting the student thinking than just telling him to go left or go right.
• When you see that the student is near 1,000 feet and is not already flying toward the assigned point, saying, “It looks like you are close to 1,000 feet, start your landing pattern,” instead of just telling the student to fly in one direction or the other will better reinforce what he learned on the ground.
Finally, students seem to fear the flare more than any other landing task, especially on the first few jumps. Instructors can use the radio as a tool to help smooth out the landings. Teaching two- or three-stage landing flares can help (so the student has a gradated process instead of just slamming down the toggles and hoping that the height above the ground is correct). You can also use the radio as a backup to add guidance. Guard against high flaring by saying, “Not yet,” repeated once a second or two as the student descends below 50 feet, then adding, “Flare,” or, “Position 1,” when the student is at the correct flare height.
Running the student radio is challenging, but if you do so correctly it can be a beneficial learning tool that helps each student learn the basics quickly and with confidence. The same goes for coaches and instructors: With some practice, maybe they won’t scatter when the call for help comes.
Jim Crouch | D-16979
USPA Director of Safety & Training