Tandem skydiving has been instrumental in promoting and growing our sport; it brings both revenue and new skydivers to our DZs. It has become the face of our sport to the public and is the method most people associate with making a first jump. Tandem skydiving is also more visible now, receiving constant exposure on a spectrum of social-media outlets. Tandem skydiving is safer than ever, in part thanks to improved equipment and instructor-certification courses, but even though you can see hundreds of videos of good, safe, fun tandem skydives online, it’s inevitable that terrible video of an out-of-control tandem jump will get shared and viewed by the most people. Of course, bad skydives can and will always happen, but we can reduce their occurrence by refocusing on the basics.
The most critical of the many key components of a successful tandem skydive is the exit, the important elements of which are the set-up, launch and fly-away. For these steps to flow smoothly, you must provide your student proper ground training. Whatever exit you use—sitting, kneeling, poised or diving (just to name a few)—the key to a controlled exit and a stable drogue-deployment attitude is the use of the relative wind. The size and aptitude of your student, as well as the size and location of the plane door, will dictate how you exit and how much time you need to spend training and practicing with your student. If you focus on repeating specific critical skills and enforce proper technique, your students will understand your expectations and have the best chance of success.
Perform your ground training at the aircraft or in a mock-up, if possible. Demonstrate or walk the student through the entire process of moving to and setting up in the door. Practice proper hand positioning and foot placement for the set-up, and review all the verbal commands you’ll use. Once the student demonstrates understanding, move on to discussing and training the aspects of the launch and fly-away. Based on the plane you’ll be jumping from, choose the technique that will best help you present your body cleanly into the relative wind and control your student. Make sure your launch technique maximizes the amount of relative wind that hits you, as a tandem pair, on your front. This will help minimize the effect if the student has a poor body position. When you’re training, emphasize the need for a good arch upon leaving the plane, which requires the student to look up and keep their legs up and between yours. Instruct them to maintain that solid arch on the fly-away as you transition to a belly-to-earth position. Practice the arch both horizontally and vertically, then rehearse the whole exit sequence. Practice until you are confident. Remember: What you see on the ground is what you will get in the air.
On the ride to altitude, mentally rehearse your exit and the jump. Give yourself plenty of time to review the skydive with your student while reserving time for your hookup procedures and handles check. Verbally and physically guide the student to the door. Once there, you may have to take some time to ensure that they are in the correct position. When you exit, perform:
- The Set Up—Ensure that your body, hands and feet are in a suitable position to execute a dynamic and powerful exit.
- The Launch—Physically and verbally start your exit count. Propel yourself (including your torso and your hips) into the relative wind. Fly your body and try to anticipate your student’s actions. You are in control of the skydive, not your student!
- The Fly-Away—As you leave the aircraft, you should be head high or diving in a vertical position, maintaining line of flight. The more unstable your exit and fly-away, the more likely the student is to move, which may cause trouble during the transition. The actual fly-away should be smooth (the student hardly notices it) and there should be an easy transition from the hill to a belly-to-earth position to ensure proper drogue deployment.
Taking a step back to understand the basics and focus on the objectives of a good tandem exit could make all the difference on your next tandem jump. Consistently working on the fundamentals and building good habits will help you make your tandem exits fun, safe and effortless.
North Central Regional Director Michael Wadkins | D-18691; Coach Examiner; AFF, Static-Line, IAD and Tandem Instructor Examiner
Chair, USPA Safety & Training Committee