There are rules and methods to landing your parachute at each drop zone. An important rule is the designation of different skydiving landing areas. To the untrained eye, the parachute traffic at a skydiving drop zone may seem a bit hectic. However, as experienced skydivers we know that there is a method to the madness. Okay, well I must admit, sometimes it is hectic madness, even though we are experienced!
Without the proper knowledge, it can be easy to assume we skydivers just land wherever our canopy takes us. But this is not the case. Skydivers are trained pilots of their parachutes. And there are landing rules to follow. When these landing pattern rules are followed, the risk factor for incidents are severely reduced. Think of skydivers and their canopies like cars on a highway. There are rules and particular places we are suppose to be flying. Such as our different landing areas! Lets take a look at why we have different skydiving landing areas, and some of the expectations of these zones.
Canopy landing rules
Each drop zone is going to have its own rules for their landing areas. Each drop zone is different. There will be different surrounding hazards and environmental factors to take into consideration for landing procedures. Some drop zones may have multiple landing areas, where others may not separate landing zones. Swooping may be permitted some places, and not allowed at other drop zones. Also, weather patterns, hazards, landscapes and air traffic can all be factors that change from drop zone to drop zone. If you are unsure about something, talk to an experienced staff member who knows the landing area and rules very well.
When you are jumping at a new drop zone, it is important to listen closely to the drop zone briefing. During a drop zone briefing, the landing area and patterns will be explained to you. Furthermore, any predictable hazards and precautions will be discussed. It is important to understand that this new drop zone may have rules different than your usual skydiving centre. Listen and follow the rules. Think about it, if you choose to not follow the expected behaviours of that drop zone, you could cause an accident with the skydivers adhering to the rules. You could seriously injure someone, or at the least, be grounded from skydiving at the drop zone.
Please don’t hesitate to ask questions if something is unclear or has not been mentioned. Its better to know as much as possible and not be wondering about something. Ask! Some rules that will be discussed during a drop zone briefing can include the following:
- Landing pattern direction (right handed pattern or left handed pattern)
- Different landing areas
- Rules surrounded aircraft runway
- High performance landing rules
- Surrounding hazards
- Off drop zone landing options
- Wind indicator locations
Different landing areas
There are almost always going to be more than one landing area at a drop zone. The separate landing areas are there to help the parachute traffic operate as smooth and safe as possible. Landing areas vary at each drop zone, but in this article we are going to chat about the common different skydiving landing areas.
Student landing area
The student landing area is for those skydivers who are in the beginning of their journey. A student landing area can also include those who only hold an A-license or perhaps those who only have a certain amount of jumps. Its important that those who are suppose to land in the student area do so. Student landing areas are often larger areas, free from as much hazards as possible. This takes stress of the beginner pilot, because they have more room for landing. Generally speaking there is also going to be a lot less traffic in the student landing area, so the stress of a bunch of other flying canopies is also taken away.
A beginner canopy pilot may not realize how their novice canopy piloting skills could be detrimental in the experienced landing area. What I mean by this is that students and those with lower jump numbers are just learning to fly a parachute. It is not easy to be accurate and land exactly where you want to. Yes, those skydivers on YouTube may make it look easy, but it is not! Flying and landing your canopy is a skill that requires practise.
Beginners are often not accurate in their landing patterns. Beginner canopy pilots are flying much bigger and slower canopies. Most often they over shoot their landings, and they will try to loose altitude by swaying their canopies back and forth, in what we call an S-turn. This can be very dangerous to experienced skydivers flying smaller and faster canopies. A student can be rather unpredictable compared to a more experienced jumper. Therefore, it is best practise to have a student landing area. Here they do not have the potential to disrupt or cause unintentional issues with the more experienced pilots.
Main landing area
This is most likely going to be the busiest landing area at the drop zone. Familiarize yourself with the rules, and maybe watch a couple loads landing, to get an idea of how things go. The main landing area is where most people are landing. If there are separate areas, the main landing area will be for experienced skydivers. Or those who meet the minimum jumps required for that zone. This last point should remind you that just because it is an experienced main landing area, perhaps some of the jumpers have only recently graduated to landing in that area. The main landing area can have a large range of experience levels, so keep this in mind.
The main landing area can change drastically from each different drop zone. Usually it will not be as large as the student landing areas. Although, they are often much closer to the hanger than the student area, so yay for not walking as far! The main landing area will of course be free from hazards as much as possible. However, it is likely to neighbour the high performance landing area (if there is such an area at the drop zone). This means the high performance canopy pilots (swoopers) are going to be expecting you to be adhering to the main landing area rules. If you are unsure of a landing pattern, or situation – ASK! You may not even realize that you could be flying right through the high performance area. Which could result in a serious accident or death.
High performance landing area
Not every drop zone accommodates high performance landings. Also, some drop zones have landing areas combined. Although, it is very likely high performance canopy pilots will have a different landing area. If the high performance landing area and main landing area are beside each other, the landing patterns will be mirrored. Those who do not land in the high performance area should still be briefed, and know where they SHOULD NOT be flying. High performance landing areas are STRICTLY for high performance landings, and anything else is not expected and extremely dangerous.
High performance landing areas are for experienced canopy pilots. This area is going to be a lot smaller and require more precise and accurate landings. There can also be a few more obstacles as a result of it being a more advanced landing area. It can also be busy if the drop zone has a lot of swoopers. The high performance pilots will be speaking prior to making their skydive to know who else on the load will be using the landing area. If there are many swoopers, it can be busy traffic in the high performance landing area. Already the pilot is focusing a lot on their manoeuvres, but they are also required to be extremely vigilant of air traffic around them.
Tandem landing area
For tandem landings, as usual, it depends on the drop zone. Many times the tandem landing area will be near to the high performance landing area. Although, they will likely use the main landing area as well, depending on how the winds are. Because tandem canopies are so large, they will take much longer to come in for a landing. Their landing pattern will not effect high performance canopy pilots, who will have landed long before the tandems get to the ground.
As well, the videographer on the tandem skydive will usually jump a high performance canopy. So if a tandem lands close to the high performance landing area, then the videographer has an easier chance to catch the landing on camera. Without having to run across landing areas to meet the tandem. Although, situations do happen, and you might see a cameraman hustling across to catch the landing shot once in a while!
Off drop zone landings & outs
This is not really a landing area per se. Although drop zones are often going to have a few suggested areas for off drop zone landings and outs. Sometimes things just do not go as planned and skydivers cannot fly their parachutes back to the drop zone landing areas. This means they need to choose a landing area off drop zone, or as we call it, a safe “out”. During your drop zone briefing, you will be shown an aerial view photo of the drop zone. This will be how you are shown the drop zone landing areas from an “above view”. It will also show the surrounding area. A drop zone will have areas surrounding that are better than others for off drop zone landings.
It is very important to listen to the information provided about the surrounding area. These aerial photos presented to you will not likely show you the hazards that are around the off drop zone landings. The staff will know which areas are better than others. And chances are that they can prepare you for hazards that exist in these spots. This can be anything from power lines that surround seemingly empty fields, or maybe even farm animals that could be present in an off drop zone landing. Educate yourself on your outs, so if you are in the situation, you can make the best and safest decision for landing.
Keep coming back
So by now you should understand that there is a method to our madness! Canopies are not flying with no rhythm or reason. There is training and rules in place to ensure the air traffic is working together to maintain a safe flying environment. The different skydiving landing areas play a huge part in keeping our traffic functioning in a controlled and safe as possible setting. Just like cars on a highway, we work together to get to our destination safely.
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