Exit Order and Aircraft Boarding

If there is anything consistent among a group of skydivers, it’s the fact that we all want to make more skydives! Often what stops us is money or time, but other times it’s just plain running out of daylight. We can’t hold the sun up in the sky to get more time, but every skydiver can work to make aircraft boarding more efficient and thus allow more loads in a day and more skydives for us!

So here’s the scoop:

  1. Be at the loading area at least by the 5-minute call.
  2. Use the time to look around the loading area and see what other skydivers are on your load, and work together to plan what the exit order should be (and the reverse, what the loading order should be). There may be someone already doing this for your load, or there might not. Don’t be afraid to take charge and ask who’s doing what and work it out yourself.
  3. Be in line ready to board as the plane pulls up. Don’t sit back on the benches until the group ahead of you is fully in the plane, working on that last smoke or what have you.

Freefall Drift Simulator

Here’s an excellent freefall drift simulator from Professor John Kallend of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Loading Order

So what should the proper exit order be with different types of skydives? Here’s how we load the plane at Spaceland (exit order is the reverse, of course):

  1. First to board: High pullers/Canopy Relative Work
  2. Wingsuits
  3. Tracking dives 2
  4. Tandems
  5. Skydiver Training Program Students
  6. Freefly groups, smallest to largest.
  7. Belly-fly groups, smallest to largest.
  8. Tracking/tracing/horizontal dives (Tracking and other horizontal skydives are approved and placed in the loading order on a case-by-case basis after approval from one of our S&TAs, load organizers, or drop zone manager.)
  9. Last to board, first to exit: Any lower-altitude individuals or groups.

Why, you may ask, did we pick this order? The answer is that we want to ensure as much horizontal separation between groups as possible. Vertical separation is nice, but it just doesn’t always cut it. What if that group that exited behind you and ended up on top of you has a cutaway? This is NOT what we want. So we’re back to horizontal separation, and consideration of freefall drift.

Think of the plane flying into the wind and skydivers falling straight down as they exit (yes, we know people don’t always fall straight down, but stay with me here :). The wind will affect us all the same according to how much time we spend in it, and think about that. The slower fallers will spend more time in the wind (potentially 20 seconds longer) and thus will drift further downwind than the faster fallers. This is why the belly flyers get out first… they will drift further aft of the exit point while the freefallers will get to their pull altitude sooner.

Students and tandems get out later as they are generally pulling significantly higher and this way they are not in the way of later jumpers pulling lower.

You may be asking why we put tracking dives and wingsuiters out first and last, since they will fall slower than freeflyers and pull lower than tandems. It’s a great question. First out and they’re tracking away from jump run, so they should not be a factor for the rest of the load. For the second group, exiting after tandems: Usually what’s happening at this point is that the rest of the load is out and the spot is getting pretty long. The aircraft may do a partial turn back toward the drop zone, or depending on the preferences of the jumpers and pilot it may just keep going further away. Either way, the spot’s getting pretty long and tracking dives/wingsuiters are both falling slower than typical freefall speeds and are moving around in the sky quite a bit, which allows them to get back toward the drop zone while staying clear of other groups (for example, if they went out first and ended up tracking partly up line of flight, they could very easily end up under other groups). Often trackers and wingsuiters will hold their exit for an even longer spot so they can safely do the ground-covering activity they like.

As always, if you have any questions about exit or loading order, check in with one of our instructors. Never be afraid to ask! 🙂

2 Replies to “Exit Order and Aircraft Boarding”

  1. I’m about to graduate AFF (not with you guys, I live in FL haha), but the same principles should apply. At my DZ it seems like we have tandems load first, then AFF students / instructors, then wingsuits, belly groups, free-flys, and all the hop and pops last (duh).

    My question is, after I graduate, how do I go about putting myself in the lineup? I’m going to be doing mostly solo belly flying, but want to start working other positions (like tracking, sitfly, backfly, and head-down).

    I think I want to stay toward the end of the exit order (just before wingsuits, students, and tandems). Is that correct? I’m a noob so I’m wingloading pretty light (.88 right now), but I’ve not been taught shit about making my first “instructor free” exits…

    How do you judge proper separation time? I see some people follow others out the door really quickly (and I don’t mean as a group), while others seem to take forever and a day to get the hell out. What is the decision making process?

    Thanks for your wisdom, and all hail SkyGod!
    – Blue Skies

    1. Hey Brian, good questions! First of all, I would strongly recommend that you consider changing your plan to do mostly solo belly jumps to planning to jump mostly with a coach or another more experienced jumper once you graduate. This is even more important when you start to freefly after developing good belly skills. You will learn much more, much faster with good coaching, video, and another skydiver to provide a reference to tell you if you’re backsliding or otherwise moving around the sky. Without that reference, you’ll have no idea and you may think you’re doing pretty well until you get in the air with another person and find you’ve wasted a lot of time developing bad habits because you couldn’t see the consequences.

      Where you go in the exit order will depend on what you are doing. Remember that we are trying to achieve safe horizontal spacing between groups while still keeping everyone close enough to land on the airport. All else being equal, you will drift further downwind if you are falling slower (belly flying), and less if you are falling faster. You’ve got a good start on understanding this by reading this article; I’d suggest you read it again and check out the freefall drift simulator to understand it better. Also read the following articles, and make sure to talk to the other jumpers on the load, every load, to make sure everyone knows what everyone else is planning and can organize an exit order that maximizes safety.

      https://houston.skydivespaceland.com/exit-separation-skydiving-groups/
      https://houston.skydivespaceland.com/whose-airspace-is-it-anyway/

      Good luck with your training and jumping, and let us know if you have any other questions!

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