Annually, the U.S. Parachute Association designates the second Saturday of March as “Safety Day,” a day for everyone at the DZ to refresh themselves on the rules, regs and emergency procedures prior to the start of the spring season of skydiving. This year’s Safety Day is March 12. Skydivers will hear about diverse topics from experienced instructors, USPA Safety & Training Advisors, and other DZ staff. Jump pilots should volunteer to lead a discussion on things skydivers should know about jump plane operations. Here is list of topics, tailored for Cessna 182 jump pilots.
Gear Checks Save Lives. Serious skydiving accidents occur every year due to gear problems that should have been caught; thinks like a frayed container closing loop, unfastened chest strap, mis-rigged 3-ring riser release, or loose pilot-chute pouch. Skydivers should always perform a full check of each other’s rig before boarding. A jump pilot can encourage the practice by always asking “Did you get your gear check?” Skydivers should again check that all their handles are firmly in place prior to the jump door opening. In fact, a good practice is for the pilot to yell “door” and give the jumpers a few seconds to check their handles before the door is opened.
Seatbelts and Restraints. There are a variety of approved seatbelt and single attach-point restraints approved for jump planes. None of them do any good if they aren’t used, and most DZs do an excellent job of insisting on seatbelt/restraint use. Dig into FAA Advisory Circular 105-2E, Appendix 3 for the results of research on the best way to secure a skydiver using the different restraints.
Emergency Exits. In the event of an engine failure, skydivers are primed to exit the airplane and trust in their parachute to get them safely to the ground. Most DZs have set an altitude following takeoff at which all skydivers release and stow their seatbelts/restraints. Some say 1,000 feet, some 1,500 feet, some even higher. The premise being that jumpers will be ready to quickly exit if the pilot says to (and only when the pilot says to). But are emergency exits at 1,000 feet or even 1,500 feet realistic? By the time the pilot has sorted out what has happened, configured the airplane, and opened the door, the airplane will be hundreds of feet lower. Instead, the pilot should be focused on maintaining airspeed (by quickly pitching down) and putting the airplane down safely, not on trying to get the skydivers out at an incredibly low altitude. For a Cessna 182 pilot, it should be easy to get the airplane back to the runway from 1,000 or 1,500 feet, and the touchdown speed should be 60 mph or less, depending on the use of flaps. Dead-sticking a 182 back onto the runway should really be a non-event.
Scan for Traffic. Depending on the location, time of year or day of the week, air traffic around a DZ can be quite busy from the traffic pattern all the way up to jump altitude. Sure, the pilot is talking to ATC, scanning the sky, and is probably also pinging traffic on the iPad, but extra eyes looking for traffic never hurt. This is particularly true on jump run since the pilot cannot see any aircraft below the jump plane. Skydivers in the door should look intently for any air traffic below jump run that looks to be on a heading to overfly the airport. Always let the pilot know whenever you spot another plane; he may already know about it. But he may not.
Not yet a jump pilot? Most DZs don’t mind if local pilots sit in on their Safety Day. Contact your local DZ to find out when their Safety Day is (some DZs select other dates) and make plans to attend.