The original text from the September 1994 Parachutist magazine and the World Freefall Convention Welcome Book
Note: As I review this article written in the early 90's, I realize how much of it is still current. It was of course written with relative work (formation skydiving) in mind but certainly applies to other formation skydives as well. G.P. 2003
Nearly all of the large skydiving events and some of the larger drop zones now have on staff a number of individuals referred to as "load organizers". These organizers are available to jump with those jumpers who may not know anyone at the event or those who may not have a large number of jumps and who may be hesitant to ask someone to jump with them. Sometimes even very experienced jumpers may make use of the load organizers if they simply want to get on a load quickly or if their favorite jump partners are not available.
Even at your home drop zone there are probably one or more individuals that are considered good "load organizers". Certain people seem to be good at organizing a group of skydivers and doing the things required to produce skydives that are fun and successful. Usually these people have a large number of jumps and have jumped with many different types of people with various skill levels, and this is what makes them good organizers. They have seen many skydives that have worked well, but have also seen some that have not, and have been able to apply what they learned after the jump to plan a more successful one the next time. Another reason for their success is their ability to get others skydivers to listen and cooperate during the planning process, because other jumpers have confidence in their abilities to plan a successful skydive. Sometimes a local "personality" can be a very effective load organizer for this reason, due to their experience and familiarity, or even their notoriety!
When you are at a large skydiving event or large drop zone where you do not know very many people, you may feel like you or your friends need some formal organizational skills in the form of a load organizer to help you plan your skydive. However, with a little experience and common sense, anyone can learn to organize successful skydives. You may not be able to plan a 20-way right away, but you can start with a group of 6 to 8 jumpers and expect reasonable success if you keep in mind the basics.
For those of you who still do not care to organize a skydive, but would rather have someone else do it, there are some things you can learn to help the organizer better serve you. After all, you know your skills and techniques better than anyone else, and you can help everyone on your skydive by using your own judgement along with the advice of the load organizer. In this respect we can all be "load organizers" by effectively organizing and representing our own skills.
There are some basic techniques involved in organizing skydives that are fun and successful. The following is a list of some of the things that most successful skydives have in common, plus some additional things to help make your jumps more enjoyable when organizing yourself or others at a large skydiving event or drop zone.
A note about jumpsuits: Most jumpers, unless they are very light and already wear weights, can benefit from having available to them an additional jumpsuit that allows them to fall a litle bit slower than usual. This is especially true at a large skydiving event where they will be jumping with people that have fall rates that are unfamiliar to them, or with less experienced jumpers whose fall rates are less predictable. A larger jumpsuit is certainly not the best way to adjust fall rates in a formation but it might just be neccessary for your success on certain jumps and it may save you a lot of frustration. If you have only one jumpsuit and it results in your falling faster than the average group you are jumping with, you will not have the ability to recover from going low on a formation, whether it be from your own mistake or from others falling slower than they should be falling. In that case the best thing that you could do for everyone involved is to find faster or more experienced people to jump with, or to volunteer to be in the base of the formation most of the time.
Planning fewer points is the easiest way to create a simple skydive. If you happen to finish all of the planned points, consider your skydive a success, and then use the remaining time to relax and analyze the group's fall rate and body positions. That information will be useful on later jumps. Simply releasing grips at that point will provide everyone with an opportunity to see just how well they are flying as a group. It is much more difficult than it seems.
Another way to keep your skydive simple is to plan easy to build formations. Formations where everyone is facing toward the middle are easiest to fly because everyone can watch each other and help compensate for what others are doing. Seeing the keys that signal formation changes are also much easier when facing in.
One of the most important aspects of dirt-diving is to show up on time and not to leave until everyone is present and you have gone through the skydive at least once. After that there may be time to do last-minute things before getting your gear on and going to the airplane, but even then, don't count on it. It is important to take your time while practicing, and there may be changes to work out that will take some time. If any single person has a question about where they are going or what they are doing, you should all take the time to practice again.
An important thing to accomplish early in the planning process is to be sure everyone is comfortable with their position and their responsibilities on the jump. If you have any doubts whatsoever about either your performance or someone else's, then let your group know. Maybe you are not the only one that feels that way and what might really be needed is to simplify the skydive or to move some people to different slots. Do not be afaid to speak up to the group or to the load organizer. If your skydive goes well your suggestions will be appreciated.
There may not be enough creepers for your whole group to use to practice the jump, but you can at least have everyone lay down and take grips on the initial formation. Sometimes this can provide some valuable information and will allow you to check for hard to reach grips. What looks good on paper or with the magnet-men may not be as practical as you thought.
At some point during the practice for a skydive everyone should be wearing their gear. Remember, when you are jumping with people that you do not know, their jumpsuit colors will not be familiar. If something happens on exit that places everyone in unexpected positions, it will be neccessary to find the person you are to dock on. A good time to do one last dirt dive is when everyone is geared up and waiting for the airplane. Take one last look at everyone's colors in case someone changed rigs or did not wear one during the earlier dirt dives.
A suitable break-off altitude needs to be chosen by the group according to its size, and everyone needs to look around a great deal while tracking to see if other jumpers are indeed tracking further away from them rather than tracking under them. This needs to be followed by a good wave-off before pulling while checking above you. If a formation has trouble building and the fall rates become varied, it is possible for jumpers to become very spread out both horizontally and vertically. If this happens you will need to take a very good look around. If you go low on a formation and it is obvious that you will not make it back up, you have no choice but to track away as far as you can, and to start doing it as soon as you know you won't make it back up.
After opening, the most important things to watch for is the large number of canopies that will be in the air at once, not only from your load, but from anyone else on your airplane. If you all plan to land near the same area to debrief, make sure that you watch for others in this area when landing.
Although head and foot protection are optional with experienced jumpers, there are good reasons to wear them when at a large skydiving event. Having something on your head is a good idea because an even slightly less-than-perfect exit with a large group can cause some firm contact between your head and someone else's body. Also, those normally conservative and capable jumpers while doing 4-ways back at their home drop zones can become excited and hurried missiles when faced with a more challenging position or exit. Foot protection is also a good idea since the larger airplanes you may be jumping at a large event will provide a greater variety of exit points, and you may land somewhere other than back at the airport in the grass.
Some jumpers simply fail to show up for the debriefing at all for various reasons. Some are unhappy with the performance of someone in their group, and some may feel resonsible for a problem with the skydive. Unfortunately, some jumpers even think that a post-dive debriefing is not all that important. None of these is a good reason to skip the debriefing! Anyone who makes a mistake on a skydive can learn from it if they have an open mind and are able to take advice from the load organizer or other jumpers in the group. Remember that problems on skydives can also be caused by many things that are not the fault of an individual jumper. Maybe all that is needed is a few simple changes in the arrangement of the skydive in order to produce success. If you don't show up for the debriefing you will never know.
Here are some miscellaneous tips for planning formations:
If you are planning a large formation that includes a wide variety of skill levels, put the less experienced jumpers closer to the base in the lineup even if they are docking further outside the formation than the more experienced jumpers behind them. A more experienced jumper with better diving skills will simply pass them up, and at the same time enjoy a good swoop, while the less experienced jumpers will not have to go so far and can take their time.
Moderate differences in fall rate can be used to your advantage when organizing larger formations. For example, if you know that someone tends to fall slower than most of the others they can be confidently placed on the outside of the formation where they may have to deal with a formation that has slowed down while building.
Keep the base people in the base throughout the skydive. Hopefully the jumpers in the base have been selected because of their faster fall rate, and it does not make sense to have slower falling jumpers that were on the outside of the formation come to the middle and be in the base on any subsequent points.
Very large people are capable of falling fast even when they are wearing what appears to be a large jumpsuit. Their suit will look big compared to the jumpsuit of a small person, so don't get too excited when you see a big jumpsuit. Some of these larger jumpers actually wind up with jumpsuits that are smaller than ideal, which makes their fall rate faster than average even with their big suit.
Don't forget to consider planning some jumps that are practical only out of certain airplanes, such as tube-dives.