Author Archive

Blue Skies, Bob Sinclair

November 26, 2014

Bob Sinclair, USPA member #4778, passed away November 20 at age 87. Though he never served on the USPA Board and was never honored with any USPA achievement award, Bob Sinclair managed to influence skydiving in ways that few ever do. His first jump was a military static-line at Ft. Benning, Georgia, in 1945, and he never looked back, joining the Parachute Club of America in 1957, earning C-59 the next year and D-272 in 1963. He accumulated over 2,800 jumps along the way. He began performing paid jumps at airshows, fairs, carnivals and “dog races,” as he once described. When other skydivers began doing demonstration jumps for free, he gravitated to Hollywood for skydiving stunt work for films and TV shows, including the TV series “Ripcord.”

In the early 1960s, when static-line jumps were the only way to learn skydiving, he and others developed a “buddy system” training method where a single jumpmaster took a first-jump student on a freefall jump. In 1968 he famously took Johnny Carson on a buddy jump, and subsequently Sinclair and a film of the jump were featured on a “Tonight Show” segment. Little known is Sinclair’s claim that he took “hundreds” of VIPs and Hollywood-types on buddy system first jumps.

Sinclair didn’t let age slow him down, earning jumpmaster and instructor ratings in the early 1980s. In Florida in 1992, he was on the very first Skydivers Over Sixty 10-way, the event that started SOS. He remained a jumper’s jumper to the end, spending his last years in Florida and sharing his love for the sport with anyone willing to share the air or just swap stories. Bob Sinclair’s last jump will be an ash dive set during the April 16-19 POPS Springfest at the Florida Skydiving Center. Blue skies and fair winds, Bob Sinclair.

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Sharing the Sky

March 14, 2014

You don’t need to be either a pilot or a skydiver to be gripped by the dramatic photos of the recent in-air collision between a departing single-engine airplane and a landing skydiver. The series of photos shows the airplane’s right wing snagging the parachute lines just as the skydiver was preparing to touch down. The jumper was thrown for a vicious loop, and the airplane impacted nose-first and was substantially damaged. Miraculously the pilot and the skydiver received only minor injuries. The sensational photos went viral, and the media propagated the story, demanding to know what happened and who was at fault. And across the country, airport managers sought out their drop zone operators to reassess how to ensure that pilots and skydivers avoid each other.

The truth is that collisions between airplanes and skydivers in the airport environment are extremely rare, occurring less than a handful of times over the past six decades. In any given year, skydivers are making more than 3 million jumps onto 240 airports, about evenly split between public-use and private-use.

Just as in flight training, where student pilots are taught from day 1 that “see and avoid” is the principal method of collision avoidance, the same is true for skydivers. The imperative of see and avoid is a shared responsibility among all those in the sky. There is no higher responsibility for those who share the air. Skydivers are not only taught to avoid landing on or near a runway, they are also taught to avoid overflying a runway below 1,000 feet.

Airports are shared facilities, and with good communication, they can safely accommodate both flying and skydiving. Skydivers cannot and do not insist that airports close or that aircraft operations cease when skydiving is underway. We know that unimpeded air traffic is vital to airports that serve the public. Equally, airports and pilots must understand how to accommodate skydiving operations while other aircraft are active. Let’s all, pilots and skydivers alike, use the recent accident as a reminder to adhere to proper procedures and constantly scan the sky and maneuver to avoid others, whatever they fly. It’s a big sky; let’s work together on every jump and on every flight to keep it a safe sky.

Ed Scott
Executive Director

USPA Raises Minimum Deployment Altitude

August 2, 2013

One of the actions arising from last week’s meeting of the USPA Board will raise the minimum deployment altitude for C- and D-license holders in the Basic Safety Requirements from the current 2,000 feet to 2,500 feet. The board had discussed this idea at previous meetings, and it has now come to the conclusion that the change will save lives.

Since 2001, there have been nine fatalities—two of them this year—associated with low reserve deployments after automatic activation device activations, most of them at line-stretch. In each case, the AAD activated at the proper altitude. There are a variety of factors that can interfere with a timely reserve deployment, among them a jumper’s body position, a weak pilot chute spring, a low-drag pilot chute, a pilot chute caught in the jumper’s burble, a bridle that briefly snags on something or a tight reserve container that slows extraction. And while it is often impossible to determine whether any of these factors were present in these accidents, what is known is that if there had been only another second or two, we could have asked the jumper what happened. Clearly, an AAD-activation altitude higher than the current 840 feet for one product and 750 feet for another may have provided those precious extra seconds.

But the AAD manufacturers had a dilemma: They couldn’t increase their activation altitudes if the BSR allows a 2,000-foot altitude for initiating deployment. If jumpers deployed at 2,000 feet and waited on main canopy inflation or fought a malfunction while going through 1,000 feet, then low-altitude two-canopy-out scenarios or worse, main-reserve entanglements, would become more likely. Raising the minimum altitude for C- and D-licensees to 2,500 feet provides more time for the main to open or for a jumper to enact emergency procedures before the AAD activates and, hopefully, now at an altitude that helps ensure a fully-inflated reserve canopy.

Yes, most jumpers already deploy higher than 2,500 feet; you almost have to if you are complying with the long-standing Skydiver’s Information Manual recommendation for B through D licensees to enact emergency procedures by 1,800 feet, especially with today’s slow-opening main canopies that are quick to go into a hell-bent spin. But some jumpers still deploy below 2,500 feet, sometimes for good reason. To allow those good reasons, the board motion allows Safety and Training Advisors to waive the BSR on a jump-specific basis. If there is a low ceiling and the airplane can’t get above 2,500 feet for low exits or accuracy jumps or if the same low ceiling threatens a demo or if the big-way attempts need a little more room at the bottom to ensure adequate separation, then the S&TA simply waives those specific jumps from the BSR. There is no required paperwork or time spent waiting on someone else’s approval. However, DZ-wide or season-long waivers are not the intent. Otherwise why enact a rule that could be universally waived?

Finally, USPA isn’t ignoring the tight-rig issue. Back in 2010, USPA formally asked the Parachute Industry Association to research the accidents in which the container design may have infringed on reserve deployment. The PIA committee tasked to do so is also setting up testing protocols to try to identify rig designs and components that have the potential to inhibit reserve deployment. We continue to monitor PIA’s progress and look forward to seeing continued improvement in rig design.

Update 08/21/2013:

There were many reasons behind the USPA Board’s decision to increase the BSR minimum deployment altitude for C- and D-license holders from 2,000 feet to 2,500 feet. In no particular order:

  1. USPA’s long-time SIM recommendation of 1,800 feet for initiating emergency procedures more or less requires main initiation above 2,000 feet. The fact that the SIM has listed a 2,000-foot minimum container opening while at the same time recommending 1,800 feet as a decision altitude has always been an unrealistic set of guidelines to provide to our members.
  2. The 2,000-foot minimum altitude was in place years before the now faster freefall speeds, slower-opening mains and slower reserve deployments, which all argue for a higher main deployment altitude, even when no AAD is involved.
  3. Too many jumpers are running out of altitude with low cutaways after experiencing a spinning line twist. Many of them had deployed below 2,500 feet.
  4. Recent fatality statistics indicate that the performance of our canopies and rapid altitude loss during a malfunction have gotten to a point where the 2,000-foot BSR is no longer enough of a safety margin.

And yes, there had been discussions with the AAD manufacturers about a series of too-low (i.e. fatal) reserve deployments following proper AAD activations. With a BSR allowing a 2,000-foot main deployment, the AAD manufacturers did not feel that enough buffer existed for them to raise their baseline activation altitude. Now, a 2,500-foot main deployment BSR provides them that opportunity.

The new CYPRES with programmable activation altitudes actually argues for increasing the main container opening altitude, since Airtec states that a jumper should plan for a fully open main at least 1,000 feet above the programmed CYPRES activation altitude.

Skydiver safety is always the primary focus of USPA. The higher deployment altitude is safer for our members, and there is little or no downside to the increase, especially with a Safety & Training Advisor able to allow sub-2,500-foot deployments if circumstances require it for demos, big-ways, etc. S&TAs already have the authority to waive important BSRs like wind limits, landing area size and the need for flotation gear when near water; they can easily handle this waiver as well.

Ed Scott
Executive Director

Colonel Joseph Kittinger Awarded Cliff Henderson Trophy

June 21, 2013

From left to right: Col. Kittinger, USPA President Sherry Butcher and USPA Executive Director Ed Scott

At a June 18 luncheon in Arlington, Virginia, legendary record-setting skydiver Colonel Joseph Kittinger, USAF, (Ret.) was awarded the Cliff Henderson Trophy by the National Aeronautic Association. The Henderson Trophy is awarded annually to an individual or group “whose vision, leadership or skill made a significant and lasting contribution to the promotion and advancement of aviation and aerospace in the United States.” In one of her first formal acts as USPA’s new president, Sherry Butcher was asked to introduce Col. Kittinger and describe how his record-setting 102,800-foot parachute jump in 1960 still inspires skydivers and others.

White House Responds to Petition Effort

January 18, 2012

If you were one of the nearly 9,000 people that signed an online White House petition opposing an aviation user fee, you may have received the White House’s response via email last week. Not surprisingly, the administration used the opportunity to justify its desire to impose a $100 per flight fee on many segments of aviation. While their plan is still vague—at one time they described an exemption for “recreational” aviation; more recently they said they would exempt “piston aircraft”—the fact is that all of the aviation community should be opposed to the concept. Once approved, and following the creation of new FAA offices to track, invoice and collect the fee, any “exempted” aviation segments are sure to face the fee later on. The good news is that aviation has many friends in Congress; lawmakers who understand the importance of a thriving aviation system, and who agree that a per-flight fee is counterproductive. Congress has repeatedly beat back similar user fee proposals before, and will be called upon to do so again at the proper time.

USPA has reached out to the other aviation associations to join their coalition and help fight user fees. We do so not just because a $100 per flight fee on turbine jump planes will dramatically increase the cost of a jump ticket, but because the whole concept of charging operators for each flight will throttle aviation’s efficiency, reduce flying and cost jobs. Jump operators, like all operators, currently pay a federal tax on each gallon of fuel burned, and all want to keep it that way. So stand by and be prepared to voice your concerns to your legislator at the appropriate time. We’ll let you know the very day that is needed.

Ed Scott
Executive Director

USPA Acts Against Indiana Bill

March 2, 2011

Within days of learning from USPA members and Indianapolis attorneys Amy Romig and Brett Nelson that a bill to regulate skydiving had been introduced in the Indiana State Senate, a “steering committee” comprised of Romig, Nelson, Mideastern Regional Director Randy Allison, USPA Director of Government Relations Randy Ottinger, and USPA Executive Director Ed Scott conferenced and devised a plan. Within a week, Scott and Romig convened a meeting of Indiana drop zone operators and their S&TAs in Indianapolis. The group then met with the sponsoring state senator and pressed him for the reasons he had introduced the bill. Hearing no good reason from him, we parted agreeing to disagree. Later that day, a smaller group was able to speak to the chairman of the Senate Commerce & Economic Development Committee, through which the bill would have to pass. The chairman wanted more information from USPA about existing federal regulations and about USPA’s safety programs. USPA provided that information within less than a day, along with an argument that FAA regulation and USPA oversight worked well. The USPA also highlighted that there are certainly no safety problems in Indiana. The USPA heard a few weeks ago that the committee chairman was convinced that state regulation of skydiving is unnecessary and that the Senate Commerce & Economic Development Committee will not move the bill. As of February 23, the last day for the third reading of Senate bills, the proposed legislation had not been called for either a 2nd or a 3rd reading and will therefore not pass as drafted this legislative session. Thanks go out to the Indiana DZOs and S&TAs who dropped what they were doing to join us on very short notice, and to all Indiana members of USPA for their assistance. This outcome is a great example of how the USPA and its members can work together to ensure that the best interests of skydiving are represented in each state.

Election Turnout Nearly Doubles

January 6, 2011

By every metric, USPA’s move to online voting for the biennial board election was a success. The number of completed ballots totaled 6,441, with 5,661 (87.8%) submitted online and 760 (12.2%) using the paper ballot. In the previous election that used paper ballots only, the ballot total was 3,290. So there was a 95.7% increase in member participation. From the perspective of staff resources, staff workload was reduced about four-fold. To validate, batch and count the ballots two years ago involved four people devoting an entire week to the process. This time, it required only occasional attention by one staff member. Plus, results were known within two business days of the election’s end. Every prior election took a week to ten days to produce the results. Member comments were overwhelmingly favorable. Yes, there were a couple of glitches and some members’ spam blockers and e-mail settings interfered with their use of the online ballot. We’ll perform an after-action analysis to see if we can address the few problems next time. There will be a full report to the board at the February meeting and an article in the March issue of Parachutist.

Voting Online in USPA’s Election

November 2, 2010

USPA’s first online election for the board of directors kicked off Monday morning, November 1, with an e-mail blast to all current USPA members who have a valid e-mail address on file. Some early voters encountered initial problems with the link, but the vendor quickly reconfigured some settings to resolve the issue. Anyone who received the e-mail but could not voter earlier is encouraged to go back and try it again.

If you did not receive the e-mail—

  • Check to make sure your membership is current.
  • Check your spam and/or junk folders for the e-mail.
  • Make sure votenet.com and uspa.org are included in your e-mail’s list of approved contacts.

Current members who did not receive the link should either vote using a paper ballot or submit your e-mail address here. Within 10 days from submitting the e-mail address at USPA Headquarters, you should receive an e-mail from cvincent@uspa.org containing a link to the voting website. The website recognizes the member’s encrypted user name and unique password and logs the member in, displaying candidate information for national directors, as well as regional directors for the voter’s region. Write-in spaces are provided for each. To indicate your selection, be sure to click the box next to any candidate’s name, including write-ins.

For added security, the e-mailed link will expire in three days from when the e-mail was sent. USPA will send a weekly e-mail reminder to all eligible voters who have not completed the voting process, so if the link expired, keep an eye out for the next e-mail or vote by paper ballot. If you started voting but didn’t finish, your partially completed ballot will be saved, and the link in the reminder e-mail will return you to your ballot.

While we’ve received several comments that the online voting process was easy to use, we’re aware that a few members have had problems. If you are one of those few, e-mail an explanation of your issue to cvincent@uspa.org.

Voting is open until 5 p.m. EST, December 31, but don’t delay. Vote now!

Canopy Safety Discussion

October 13, 2010

One of USPA’s responsibilities is to track and analyze safety data, and disseminate it so that others can be aware of accident trends. My “Gearing Up” commentary in the October Parachutist was intended to elaborate on the recent advisory we sent out about the rising trend in canopy-related fatalities. [See advisory here.] The piece went on to describe the many steps taken to educate skydivers and mitigate the problem.

Already, the USPA staff and the board’s Safety & Training Committee are developing ideas on possible solutions to present to the full board. We’re doing so with an open mind and are trying to investigate all possibilities. Here are some of the questions we’re asking:

Does USPA need to …

  • alter the Integrated Student Program to include more canopy-skills training?
  • alter any licensing requirements to include more canopy-flight training?
  • certify canopy flight coaches and/or instructors?
  • require jumpers to attend dedicated canopy courses for licenses or ratings?
  • restrict wing loading by license level?
  • require DZs to post landing areas and patterns?

We’d like your thoughts, too. We’ve created a web page for you to post and share your comments. You’ll see a more in-depth explanation of our thoughts and you’re welcome to respond to those, or share your own ideas. We’re all in this together, and we’re all going to need to work together to reduce canopy-related accidents.

USPA Nationals Website Explained

September 13, 2010

We’ve been asked to explain the disappearance of a website that intended to cover the USPA Nationals. Here goes. One of the main reasons a DZ bids to host the USPA Nationals is for the resulting exposure to skydivers as well as the general public. A Nationals host DZ is anxious to have its website host reporting of the event, to drive up web traffic and increase its search engine ranking. This was the case this year as well, with Skydive Chicago making plans early to host Nationals team photos, standings, scores, official updates and informal blogging on its DZ’s website here.
Two days before the 2010 Nationals started, USPA was contacted by a third-party that had activated a website using USPA’s name in the url and USPA’s name and trademark on the homepage. The website claimed that it would feature team photos, standings, scores, reports, etc., all without requesting or receiving permission from either USPA or Skydive Chicago. USPA had no control over the site, and there was incorrect and misleading information on it. With plans already firmly in place for web coverage, USPA had no choice but to request that the third-party site come down.