Tuesday, August 13, 2019

This is Mexico by Dean Ricci

This is Mexico
by Dean Ricci

I’ve never felt further away from home than I did at that moment. I could feel the pieces of tooth swimming across the left side of my tongue, but it was a distant and almost unimportant sensation. At that instant I was focused on the baseball bats in the hands of the four men surrounding me, but much more so on the pistol aimed right at my chest by the fifth. The tiny little (sixth) guy with the ring that had split my canine tooth in half was still bouncing around in front of me like a madman, and I, well I must have had the most confused look on my face I have ever had in my life.
Perhaps a bit of a rewind is in order. Cut to my very first solo Otter load flying for Chicagoland Skydiving Center. I had told Doug, the owner and pilot training me to fly her, that I wasn’t sure if his winter trip to Mexico was something I’d want to take on. I’d suggested that perhaps we both find out first if I could handle the Otter there at home before I agreed to fly it off to Mexico. I was climbing through about 8,000’ on my first solo Otter load before I radioed down to manifest to tell Doug that Mexico sounded just fine to me! That’s how much I loved flying that plane.
Chicago to far southern Mexico is no small trip. Flying your own aircraft internationally is no little deal. Doing it with nothing but a few notes from a jump pilot buddy named Kro, the first flight plan I’d made in more than two years, an outdated GPS database, and non-pilot co-pilot is just, well it’s f*cking stupid.
Hinckley to Texarkana to Brownsville went off without a hitch. My close long-time friend Mandy kicked back in the co-pilot seat listening to music and enjoying the view, while I sat wondering if the cloud layer we’d been over for the last 200 miles would break before we got to Texas and I’d have to shoot an approach I was completely unprepared to make. Once the Otter was firmly planted on the ground in Brownsville, Texas (through clear skies), and the prevailing weather had been checked (f*cking crap), I let the boss know that I wouldn’t be continuing on to Mexico until the next day (even though Brownsville, Texas was the biggest shithole town I’d ever been in) because the thought of trying to land in some random field in Mexico in the forecasted bad weather ahead scared the living f*ck out of me.

Two days later … Puebla, Mexico was in sight. It was a pretty straightforward flight, other than the fact that it didn’t appear that Mexico had an air traffic system (that I could identify anyway). I believe after having crossed the International line, I spoke to only one Mexican controller, and he basically told me he didn’t care what I did. Once I was on the ground in Puebla I started their version of clearing customs, which involved spending a lot of money on paperwork I wasn’t told I’d need and going back and forth between two counters filled with people whose apparent jobs were to make the whole experience as difficult as possible. I made contact with the DZO Tony, who told me he was about an hour’s flight south of Puebla, just around the back side of the big f*cking volcano. He said that Pepe, his “guy” on the ground, would be waiting for us.
Imagine the most rutted-up f*cked up, weed-covered, rock-strewn, pothole-filled back road you’ve ever seen. That was the runway. Place on one side of that runway 50’ tall high-tension power lines. Place on the other side of that runway a rather deep ravine. Space those two very daunting obstacles about 2,000’ apart, angle the runway downhill just a touch and then stick the whole f*cking mess at about 4,500’ above sea level. Now bring in a fully fueled Twin Otter stuffed to the gills with everything from a dozen spare tires and enough spare parts to build a second plane, to a scooter and a six-month stockpile of cleaning supplies. Put in the pilot seat a guy who’s only landed that Otter completely empty and at sea level, and … BAM! Welcome to Mexico!
Cut to a day and a half later. The plane had been emptied, and was happily parked on a completely different runway that had everything from pavement to a centerline. I was about a million times more secure with my choice than I had been the previous evening, and was starting to think that I might just manage to survive the whole experience for more than a week. My nerves were settled, I once again believed I knew how to fly a plane and was totally ready to get it all started. It was Friday, the beginning of the DZ’s Halloween Boogie, and people were starting to show up for what promised to be quite the party.
DZO Tony had quite the reputation as a total party animal, and f*ck me, it was true. I was to be a guest at Tony’s house for the first week or so that I was in the country, which, unfortunately for Mandy, Fritz Pfnür, Fritz’s girlfriend, and me, meant we couldn’t get away from the damn music raging at Tony’s house long enough to get any rest. As I began flying on Saturday, it was only the mood of the jumpers that kept me awake.
[...I watched him taxi the King Air down a hill and hit one of the props on the runway...]

Besides the Otter, the DZ had a King Air leased from a drop zone in Colorado that was being flown by a local pilot by the name of Cesar. I’d heard about Cesar from Kro, the pilot who had flown the Mexico gig before me and was warned quite firmly to keep an eye out. At first Cesar didn’t seem to be much of a concern. He didn’t speak English, and didn’t seem to have any desire to get to know the gringo pilot in the flash Otter. I’d almost decided not to give Cesar a second thought—until I watched him taxi the King Air down a hill and hit one of the props on the runway, sending sparks and a few chunks of pavement flying! I was floored almost to inaction by what had happened, but after what I’d seen soaked in, I ran in front of the King Air as the jumpers began loading the plane screaming, “Shut this f*cking thing down! Shut it down!” Not only had Cesar known he had a prop strike, but the f*cker was still gonna fly the load, putting not only himself but everyone onboard at serious risk! There was just no way in hell I was gonna let that happen.
After I’d finally managed to get the attention of Cesar, as well as Tony, I was able to get the load transferred over to the Otter while they “inspected” the King Air. I didn’t really know what type of inspection they were doing, but as I pulled up to load the third group since the prop strike I saw some really stupid shit … The King Air was chalked on all three tires and completely unattended with both engines running. I can only assume that Cesar must have decided that doing a run-up from a safe distance would be a good idea. The next thing you know … He also decided that taking a quick flight was a good idea as well. A quick flight that involved buzzing the Otter at high speed! I just about lost my f*cking mind.
Luckily for me, Cesar hadn’t learned English in the two days I’d been in Mexico, so he couldn’t understand the massive string of profanities flowing through my headset—but Pepe on the ground sure as hell could! I was so mad I couldn’t see straight, and ended up glad that I had another two hours of flying before I was able to shut down, giving me a good chance to cool off before I could confront F*ckstick for his actions.
With Tony interpreting, I told Cesar that he had absolutely no business being a pilot. I made it very clear to him that in no uncertain terms was he to go anywhere near the Otter either in the air OR on the ground, and that he should stay the hell away from me as well. As it turns out, considering I was basically all alone in far southern Mexico right around the time the drug cartels were really getting the hang of killing people and cutting off their heads, calling Cesar out in that way may not have been the wisest of choices.
It was almost twenty-four hours later that I climbed out of the plane after a beautiful flyby that I found myself approached by the six men I mentioned earlier. I guess it had been a really good day, full of fun jumps and happy people, because the previous day’s excitement wasn’t even remotely in my mind when the first guy walked up and said, “We have a problem.”
That’s just about the time I swallowed half of my tooth. The little guy, who probably stood no more than about five-foot-five, threw a sucker punch from my blind spot that confused me more than anything else, because my first reaction was to laugh and bark out the word “what??” It wasn’t until he came in for punch number two and I’d shoved him away that I saw the baseball bats. As he came in for number three, I got my first view of the gun barrel pointed straight at my chest, and let the little shit swing away.
Cesar, being the big man that he was, stood a safe twenty feet back from the action, letting his boys prove how rugged and tough he was. The gang clearly saw that I saw the gun CLEARLY, and slowed the pace a bit, I assume to savor what was to come. “This is MEXICO” came from the mouth of Mr. We Have a Problem. He had clearly been voted the spokesman for the group, and was taking his job quite seriously, using the full weight of the situation to really put some impact behind his words. And then … My savior!
Mandy had been watching the situation unfold, and according to her, screaming her f*cking head off (although to this day I don’t recall hearing a sound) loud enough to attract the attention of the military on the field. It didn’t appear that the military intended to do a damn thing about the attack, but they did stand up and look our way (I assume to get a better view), which turned out to be just enough to back my new friends off just a touch. The Spokesman looked to the military, then to me and said, in his most ominous tone, “Eeef you are here Saturday, you go home in a box.”
“Doug, if I’m here on Saturday, the f*ckin’ guy says I go home in a box! So … Either I leave Mexico with the Otter, or I leave without it! Your choice!” To his credit, he handled the news pretty damn well. I mean really, when you consider I had just called him to tell him that I was flushing his entire winter down the toilet because of something that happened to somebody else’s plane, he was a real gent.
Tony, the DZO, had quickly gone into damage control mode, and was busy telling his entire staff that there had been no gun, and that for some unknown reason I was making the entire story up. It wasn’t until Fritz’s girlfriend stood up and called bullshit that he stopped trying to play everyone. Luckily for me, she had seen the guy with the gun (who turned out to be a f*cking Federale) and told the entire staff right then and there what she had seen. Between her, Mandy, and a staff that wasn’t blind or stupid, everyone got a pretty good picture of what had transpired.
From then on out, things started to get a bit strange … First, I found myself standing in front of a group of 20 or so staff members, telling them that I was leaving as soon as the sun came up WITH the Otter, then apologizing deeply because I knew that I was ruining their season by doing so. I felt horrible in a way that I never have before, but it was the only choice that was to be made. Once Doug had the chance to get a handle on the situation, he told me flat out to get in the Otter and get the f*ck outta there. To this day I still greatly respect his decision and how hard it must have been to make. Then, the staff, whose entire season I was about to destroy, did something I really never would have expected.
Each and every one of them went above and beyond, and helped me load thousands of pounds of equipment back into the Otter so that I’d be ready to leave at first light. They actually helped me take money right out of their pockets. Of all the staff, I only knew Buzz from Chicagoland. I don’t know a single one of the other staff members’ names, but I owe them a huge debt of gratitude nonetheless.
That night Tony took me to meet a Mexican version of the Godfather who told me, through Tony, that I should put the past behind me, and that I should not worry. He told me that I should not speak of that night any further because I was now under his protection, and nobody would touch me. He invited me to stay to finish the season in comfort, knowing that he would be looking out for me. I flew out as soon as the sun hit the horizon the next morning.
As I crossed the border from Mexico back to the U.S. and Brownsville, Texas, I remember thinking that it was just about the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. If it hadn’t been so damn close to the border, I probably would have settled down there …
["So, to the staff of that DZ in Southern Mexico I give my heart-felt thanks."]

I lasted a total of four days in Mexico. It was the last time I visited that country, and I still have no plans to return. Ninety nine percent of the people I met there (well, ninety five anyway) were wonderful people. Had it not been for the crazy events that took place there, I truly believe I would have had an amazing experience. The staff at the DZ were kind, full of smiles, apologetic for the events, and were amazingly generous with their help. It is a testament to what I hope is the real spirit of the Mexican people.
The true test of a choice that you make is simple. Would you make the same choice if you had it to do all over again? Absolutely! Would I change the way I approached f*ckstick Cesar? Sure. I can tell you from experience that having a gun pointed at you sucks! Would I change stopping him from flying a load of jumpers after the prop strike? NEVER! Those were my people! It didn’t matter if I knew them or not, they were skydivers, and I would never be willing to risk their lives under any circumstances, no matter who they were or where they were from. So, to the staff of that DZ in Southern Mexico I give my heart-felt thanks. To Cesar I say, “GO F*CK YOURSELF!” (From a safe distance and an undisclosed location).

This article was posted on SkydiverDriver.com with permission from Dean Ricci and  Blue Skies Magazine

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Right Stuff by Dean Ricci

The Right Stuff
by Dean Ricci

So, just what makes a good jump pilot? The truth is, there’s no real set answer to that question. As you can imagine, there are as many factors that go into a good jump pilot (some more important than others) as there are factors for a good skydiver, so let’s do it backward and list a few things that make a really shit jump pilot.

While on the road and flying for a really nice Midwest drop zone, I had the opportunity—or misfortune, if you will—to fly alongside a Caravan flown by the worst jump pilot I have ever met, seen or heard of. The DZ got stuck with this guy we’ll call “Tool,” after their two very accomplished jump pilots had moved on to bluer skies as it were, leaving them in a tight spot.

Tool had interviewed with the DZOs of this unfortunate operation and told them that outside of what I’m sure he explained was an amazing corporate career, he’d been quite the successful jump pilot as well. He told of his 500+ hours flying jumpers back when you had to spot with your eye, not the GPS, and that with everything available to him in their beautiful aircraft, the job would be as easy as could be. So, as any DZO would, they checked him out in the Caravan, ensured that he knew how to go up and back while keeping the rubber side down, and strapped him in the cockpit with very simple instructions: Go up and down, fast.

Cut to just under two weeks later, and my arrival. I’d had the chance to fly for this particular DZ the year before in the Chicagoland Otter, and knew the operation pretty well. It’s a drop zone full of great people, very accomplished jumpers, an airport willing to bend over backward to please them and an all around great vibe.

Perhaps it was because they recognized me from the previous year, perhaps it was because more than a few of them had read my articles in Blue Skies Mag or perhaps it was just my considerable charm and devilish good looks, but for whatever reason, I ended up getting an earful about Tool right away. They all said it in slightly different ways, but in a nutshell, Tool was an asshole that couldn’t spot for shit. I decided that I’d try to have an open mind, keep an eye out, and see for myself throughout the day. It didn’t take long to form my own opinion.

Strike One: While chatting with Tool on the ground before load one was even manifested, I tried to discuss a discrete radio frequency for us to be on so we could talk between ourselves. His question, without even a hint of sarcasm, was, “Why do we need to talk?” I thought about trying to explain to him that while running a multiple aircraft operation, it’s imperative for the pilots involved to be in constant contact to avoid dropping jumpers on top of each other, aircraft collisions, spotting corrections, jump-run separation, checking out the blonde tandem student with the amazing rack, etc.—but he walked away before I even had the chance to get the dumbass look off my face.

Strike Two: I was taxiing out for load five and getting ready to depart off runway 23. I heard the Caravan make a two-mile, 3,000’ final approach call for the same runway, so I made my call. “Middletown traffic, 2ST rolling for an intersection departure off 23.” I instantly got an almost panicked response from the Caravan with Tool yelling into the mic, “But I’m coming in HOT, I’M COMING IN HOT!” I couldn’t help but laugh out loud into the mic and respond “You’re in a Caravan that’s two miles away Tool, you’re NOT coming in hot!” Then, just for my own personal satisfaction, after he landed and once he called clear of the runway I announced, “Middletown traffic, 2ST climbing thru three thousand five hundred and WELL CLEAR of inbound HOT traffic”.

Strike Two and a Half: This strike was for the dozen jumpers that Tool put off the field on a light-wind day with mild jump-run speeds, having done so AFTER the jumpers on board asked him for multiple corrections and after I’d told him what direction jump run was, the distance prior to the field he should turn on the green, and how far he could let the last one exit at. It turns out that his favorite word every time a jumper asked him for anything was “WHY??” Jumpers land off, it’s a fact. Many factors can go into an off landing, but when you have all the information Tool had at his disposal it just shouldn’t happen.

Strike Two and Three Quarters: This one I didn’t get to see in person because I never flew in the Caravan with him. It turns out that on every single load he was on, he would go out of his way to announce that he’d give extra altitude if any of the girls on board would show him their tits. That’s actually how he did it as well … “I’ll give you more if you show me your tits!” He also attempted to institute a rule that only women were allowed to sit in the co-pilot seat; that way the tits were more accessible. Now don’t get me wrong, BIG fan of tits here, but in my opinion, asking for them is a lot like paying for sex. If you have to do that, you’ve got real problems!


Strike Three: While flying through about 4,000’, I heard the Caravan call two minutes to jumpers away. About four minutes later, as I was calling my two minutes to jumpers, it dawned on me that I hadn’t heard Tool call jumpers away, nor had I heard him communicate with approach that he was dropping. I hopped on the discrete frequency I’d finally gotten him to go on and asked where he was. By the time he answered, I was under one minute and about to give the door light. He explained to me that he was about one minute to the green light and was too busy to talk. The worst of many problems with this situation was that Tool was dropping fun jumpers from 13.5, and I was dropping tandems from 10.5, a fact that both he and I were aware of. When I leaned forward and craned my neck to look up, I’ll be damned if I didn’t get a great look at the belly of the Caravan about three thousand feet directly above me, totally ready to drop right on my head. Even worse than this was the fact that when I explained the whole thing to him later, he didn’t seem to really grasp what the problem was.

Even if you take the different jump altitudes out of the equation this is still a big deal. Two aircraft dropping at the same time and not talking could potentially put jumpers from different aircraft jumping into each other without even knowing. Imagine a tracking dive out of one aircraft, inadvertently blasting straight toward a tandem from the other aircraft … There are just too many possibilities for death and destruction to list.

In my personal opinion, and that of many other people I know, the best damn jump pilots out there start out their careers as jumpers. As a skydiver, you should already have a damn good grasp on issues like spotting, jump runs, group separation, wingsuits versus tandems or big ways, etc. The things that jumpers take as basic knowledge, your average general aviation pilot is completely clueless about. I honestly believe that it would be easier to take a non-pilot skydiver and turn them into a jump pilot, than to take an accomplished pilot and do the same thing.

What makes a good jump pilot? A little skill, a little luck, and the realization that your responsibility starts the moment you fire up the engine, and ends when the last jumpers are on the ground, and the aircraft is all tied down. It’s taking and giving corrections when needed, communicating both with other aircraft and air traffic control and with the jumpers. It’s knowing your responsibility not only to the jumpers, but to the operation as well. It’s about protecting the jumpers by giving them the best spots and the most information possible. It’s also about trying your hardest, every damn day, on every damn load to keep from being a complete and total fucking TOOL.

Lastly, if you’re a Midwest Skydiver wondering how to make sure you don’t end up in Tool’s aircraft, you need not worry. He got canned a few days after my weekend with them! (I’d like to think I was part of the reason why he got tossed.) So take yourself a drive down to Start Skydiving in Middletown, Ohio, and tell ‘em “The Fuckin’ Pilot” said to say hey!

This article was posted on SkydiverDriver.com with permission from Dean Ricci and  Blue Skies Magazine.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Pissed Off Pilot? What Your Pilot May be Thinking and Why. By Dean Ricci

by Dean Ricci

I love this sport. I love the people, the vibe and the job, but that love doesn’t keep certain things from really pissing me off! Before I started flying jumpers, I was a fulltime AFF and tandem instructor. I had close to seven thousand jumps, I’d worked at half a dozen DZs including Cross Keys, which was the busiest DZ in the States at the time. I’d done a lot and seen even more, and I knew everything … right up until I started sitting up front full time.  As soon as I was behind the stick, I started paying attention to things that had rarely, if ever, crossed my mind as a jumper. I looked back at more than a few of my actions over the years wondering what I’d been thinking and realizing how little I really knew.

The thing is, I’m a jumper first. My life as I know it started with a parachute on my back almost 16 years ago. As a jump pilot I always try to keep that in mind. On the flip side, most jumpers aren’t pilots and have little or no idea what goes on at the front of the plane and, at bigger drop zones, may not even know who their pilot is.

We’re gonna try here to cover some of the things that I, and other jump pilots I know, think about and are concerned with while taking you to altitude. Some of them may seem like old news, but you just might be surprised!

The Loading Area

Here’s the spot where my head just about comes off a dozen times a day. My whole reason for existence is fast turns, and as many loads as I can manage. At a medium or large drop zone, there are a whole lot of people who want to jump and only so much daylight; the loading area is where the difference between thirty loads in a day or thirty-five-plus loads is made. It’s also where you the jumper can dictate how many jumps you’re gonna get in.

Have your dirt dive done BEFORE the plane pulls up to the loading area! As a pilot, there’s nothing worse than watching the clock ticking with props spinning on the ground while jumpers are trying to figure out their slot and first point on a 10-way.

It is everyone’s responsibility to keep everyone else away from the propellers! A screaming pilot is really hard to hear with the engine running, and he or she can only see and do so much. Even if the engine has not been started, stay away from the spinny, whirly, choppy thing and yell to anyone that heads that way!

Know your exit order BEFORE you get in the plane—that way when you get to the plane, you can get in and sit the f*ck down!

If you’re trying to help out the pilot and DZ by loading, pulling the power cart from the A/C, helping an observer on the plane, etc., make sure that what you’re doing is really helping! If you’re not sure what’s going on, either ask or let someone else do it.


Hardly a new topic, right? I for one never thought about not putting on a seatbelt in an aircraft and yet, as a jumper and pilot, I see it happen all the timeIf you choose not to wear your seatbelt for takeoff or landing in a jump plane, you’re going to appear twice in the FAA report: once as a victim and yet again as the probable cause of death to someone else, more than likely a friend of yours.

Hey jackass, that camera helmet should be boned in or worn for the same reasons you should be. The people around you aren’t trying to be dicks by telling you to secure it, they are trying to keep if from taking their fucking heads off! It’s nothing but a really big projectile if that plane stops quickly. The seatbelts come off you and your equipment at the altitude your DZ and pilot want them to, and it’s your responsibility to know what that is.

Not nearly as important as putting your seatbelt on, but still important: take it off when you’re supposed to. With your belt on, you create a potential log jam in an emergency situation in which people need to leave quickly and safely.

Last but not least, your pilot can receive a violation against his or her license if the FAA observes passengers without seatbelts on, so watch out for him as well! You’re not going to do much jumping without a pilot, and when he’s flying again after getting spanked by the FAA, see how much extra altitude you get.

The Ride to Altitude

Have fun! That’s what we are here for, and there’s nobody on board who doesn’t know it. The thing is, have responsible fun. No screaming at the top of your lungs to show how much you love skydiving. There’s one particular fool that used to think it was great fun to scream like a B horror movie from takeoff through one-thousand feet, right up until he got thrown out of the plane (you know who you are, asshole!). It’s not only stupid behavior that makes you look like a tool, but it’s dangerous as well. Why would you want your pilot to wonder if there’s something horribly wrong during takeoff?

Keep the shifting around in the plane to a minimum, especially in a mid-sized aircraft. Your pilot probably isn’t worried about weight and balance at this point, but he’s getting pretty tired of trimming out the aircraft ‘cause you’re chatting with the whole load. It may not look like the pilot is doing much, but trust me, he’s busy! Anything to help out on a 12-hour day is greatly appreciated!

Keep your eyes open. You have a view of the aircraft that the pilot doesn’t. If you see something that looks funny or wrong with the plane, the jumpers, etc., say something to the pilot. The life you save may be your own.

Try to remember that the pilot is there to do a job, and that job is not only taking you to altitude but also keeping you safe along the way. If you need to speak with him or her, do so, but get to the point! Distracting the pilot too much could result in anything from a bad spot, less altitude, or even him/her not seeing the other plane flying right at you!

Jump Run, Exits and Freefall

Whether or not your jump plane has jump lights, you undoubtedly have signals for when to open the door and when to leave. These signals are given (or not given) for a reason. If the green light hasn’t come on when you think it should, it may be that the pilot knows there is another aircraft below you that causes a major hazard and is holding you until it’s clear, or that winds have changed drastically. The pilot of your plane is more than likely in constant contact with a controller and has information you don’t have, so whatever the reason may be, don’t do anything before the pilot signals you!

Remember how you figured out exit orders BEFORE you got on the plane? Now is the time to put that info to use. Know how much time you should be giving to the group in front of you. Have a good idea how long your climbout is going take and GET ON WITH IT! In the door isn’t the place to chat, and all you’re doing is screwing the spot for those in the back, usually the tandem instructors who already have enough on their plate without having to deal with a bad spot!

Unless you’re at a DZ where the jumpers are responsible for spotting, let the pilot fuck up the spot BEFORE you try to correct him! As a jump pilot, I know how fast we’re going thru the air, how fast we’re going across the ground and EXACTLY how far away from the DZ we are, as well as wind speeds from the ground to exit altitude, so give your pilot a chance to do his job. Then again, if you’ve been on a load with a bad spot, it’s not a bad thing to let the pilot know where you opened up because he may not realize it. Be polite though, or you may be doing a lot of hiking!

If you look down and can’t see the ground because of clouds, tell your pilot! There isn’t a licensed jumper out there that doesn’t know you’re not supposed to punch clouds, regardless of how amazing it may be.

Here’s a question for you. If the FAA is on the ground watching jumpers punch clouds, what happens to the jumpers? The answer is: NOTHING. If the FAA is on the ground watching jumpers punch clouds, what happens to the pilot? The answer is: the pilot is f*cked!

Depending on how much of a d!ck the FAA official wants to be, your happy time in a puffy may have just trashed your pilot’s career. This is especially important for you WINGSUIT FLYERS! It doesn’t matter how far you had to travel to hit that cloud, it’s still your pilot’s responsibility, and he or she is the only one that will pay the price for your fun. If you didn’t realize that, now you do—please please please act accordingly! Oh, and there may be another aircraft in that cloud you might hit as well!

Truth be told, I, like most of the jump pilots I know, absolutely love what I do. For the most part, flying jumpers to altitude and diving down like a mad man to get more jumpers is an incredible ride. The people, the vibe, the scene and the sport is what I’ve lived for, and enjoy more than almost anything else. The tips, suggestions and criticisms offered here are things that not only slow down a DZ’s operation, but also pose potential hazards to jumpers and pilots alike. With very few exceptions, every jump pilot I know takes very personal responsibility for everyone onboard the plane they fly. Not only are the people onboard fellow skydivers, but more than likely friends. Most of the things that really piss me off are things that put the people I care about at risk, and that’s something I’m completely willing to get publicly pissed off about. It’s all about having a fucking blast SAFELY, and like it or not, every skydive starts with an aircraft and every aircraft starts with a Fuckin’ Pilot!

This article was posted on SkydiverDriver.com with permission from Dean Ricci and  Blue Skies Magazine.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Way of the Jump Pilot by Dean Ricci

The Way of the Jump Pilot

By Dean Ricci

F*ckin’ Jump Pilot. It’s not exactly the job title most pilots look for when entering aviation. Indeed, most pilots who find themselves spending any time dropping jumpers usually only do so on their way to bigger things. But for some, it’s not only the most exciting, challenging and rewarding flying they’ve done, it’s the top of the pyramid.

Working as a pilot in skydiving offers a number of unique challenges that not everyone in aviation has had experience with, and as such it tends to attract a rather small percentage of commercial pilots. As a six-thousand-hour airline transport pilot, with almost five thousand of those flying skydiving operations, jump aircraft have been my home almost since the beginning of my career. Flying skydivers helped me refine stick and rudder skills, learn to fly an aircraft at its maximum performance, and deal with unique and challenging conditions not found anywhere else in aviation.

Nowhere else in flying does a pilot have to learn to deal with a shifting load of crazy jumpers, but passengers who leave halfway through the trip—all while making sure passengers exit in exactly the right spot, at exactly the right altitude and at the perfect speed every single time. Add to that the need to read and understand the effect of winds for jumpers both in freefall and under canopy, then toss in having to land an aircraft literally thousands of times a year, and you end up with a skill set unique to jump pilots. It’s a type of precision flying that isn’t easily understood or mastered. Yet like most pilots, I was lead to believe that flying jumpers was not a goal, but rather a steppingstone to a more fulfilling career, and so I moved on to bigger and better things.
… it became glaringly obvious that the dream job I was after was the one I had walked away from …
Having spent two years flying for a regional airline in the United States, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the side of flying that most people envision when they think “pilot.” What I discovered may surprise you. Bottom line: IT F*CKING SUCKED! Not only did I spend drastically less time actually flying an aircraft, but while flying, I spent much of my time simply monitoring systems and meeting paperwork requirements rather than actually piloting the craft. Add to that having to play stewardess for the passengers because an Otter is too small to have a true cabin crew, you can imagine what a fucking dream that can be. The whole experience turned out to be much less than I had expected or hoped for, and it became glaringly obvious that the dream job I was after was the one I had walked away from. So when the opportunity to come back to the sport I enjoy and the aircraft I love arose, I jumped at the chance! As it turns out, I’m not the only one.

Paul started out like many in aviation. Having started working as United States Federal Aviation Administration instructor pilot in Southern New Jersey, he eventually transitioned to jump pilot for a number of reasons.

“I needed a way to build time flying, and realized pretty quickly that as an instructor I was not only not building a lot of time, but wasn’t even flying the aircraft! When the chance to start flying skydivers in a Cessna 206 came up, it was a pretty simple decision to make. The more I flew jumpers, the more I enjoyed the challenge, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the larger aircraft the DZ had for their operation. And when I started flying the Otter … I was hooked.”

The de Havilland Twin Otter is widely considered the overall best aircraft in skydiving, and there are a whole lot of reasons why. Originally built for passenger operations and short haul cargo, its reputation as a short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) monster grew quite quickly. Because of the Otter’s short-field and rough-terrain capabilities, skydiving operators quickly recognized how wonderful a fit the aircraft was. Its popularity and reputation in the sport grew to such a degree that a special variant was designed specifically for the United States Air Force Academy, and the 400 Series specifically for the United States Army Parachute Team.

“The Otter simply does things you would never imagine an aircraft of its size could,” says Paul. “It’s probably the most incredible aircraft I’ll ever fly, and I came back to the sport when I realized that the only real flying I’d ever done was for jumpers. There just isn’t anything more incredible than flying a formation of four or five Otters while jumpers stream out into the sky!”

Like me, Paul left a career in what most would consider the sought after path in aviation to return to the jump-pilot life on the East Coast of the United States, and the larger-than-life Twin Otter.

Yet bigger isn’t always better, and doesn’t always fit. Probably the most well-known aircraft type used in skydiving is one that’s been around for ages, and is the daily workhorse for skydiving operations around the world: the venerable Cessna.

It also happens to be one of Chris’s favorite aircraft. Chris, a U.S. commercial pilot flying just outside of Austin, Texas, has been enjoying his flying career immensely. “I love the challenge of having to eyeball the spot without a GPS. I love having the jumpers right there next to me, and I have to admit that every time the door right next to me opens up, I get one heck of a rush!”

Cessna Aircraft currently manufactures 10 different models; the C-172, C-182, the C-206, and the larger, widely popular Turbine C-208 Caravan and Grand Caravan have arguably taken more jumpers aloft than any other type of jump ship in existence. Nicknamed “Time Machine” by jump pilots, it’s usually the first aircraft most will fly, and with an average load time of 30-plus minutes, a pilot’s logbook can quickly fill up with the hours needed to tackle the larger and more complex aircraft most desire. It’s the same route Brent took. Flying out of Northern California with Skydive Sacramento, Brent knows the sport from both sides, being a tandem instructor as well.
Having made the transition out of Cessnas, Brent was at one point one of the highest time jump pilots in the aircraft that became his favorite jump ship. Standing out in skydiving as the only aircraft specifically designed from the ground up for parachute operations is the PAC-750XSTOL. Developed from the Cresco, a New Zealand crop dusting aircraft, the PAC took its roots from a heavy hauling yet nimble ship. Its light weight and high lift wing has made it one of the most efficient aircraft in the sport. Its very high power-to-weight ratio makes it possible to reach 12,000’ and return in just over 10 minutes.

“The fact that it has a stick control instead of a yoke control in the cockpit, lots of power and a responsive feel makes it a blast to fly. It’s got all the bells and whistles—including top-of-the-line GPS, which makes spotting a piece of cake—but when you’re flying it, she feels like a dive bomber, she comes down so fast! Watching jumpers that just exited your plane landing while you’re loading the next group is just cool.”

Yet there is no denying that sometimes the most popular aircraft has nothing to do with speed, efficiency or even comfort. Sometimes you simply want unique and cool! Take Perris Valley Skydiving in Southern California. When their fleet of two Twin Otters, a Skyvan and a few Cessnas didn’t seem to be enough, they added a big brother to the family. Delta Airlines first introduced the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 into passenger airline operations in 1965. Primarily used for passenger and cargo operations, the idea of using such a large jet-powered aircraft for skydiving was an idea that didn’t take shape until Ben Conaster, owner of Perris Valley, took a closer look. After years of research and planning, in 2008 the FAA made it the only airline transport-class jet certified for skydiving operations. It is by far the world’s largest and fastest tailgate jump ship, and the crews that fly her are unique in their field.

Not all popular and efficient aircraft used in skydiving come with wings though. For many years now, Skydive Cross Keys has operated the very popular Aérospatiale Alouette II helicopter. This ship provides a strong enough platform for jumpers to leap from at over 9,000’ while hovering, essentially allowing a zero-airspeed exit. Using the Alouette for everything from lower-altitude fun-jumper operations to tandem skydives, Cross Keys has thrilled jumpers and non-jumpers for years.

“For as much of a challenge as flying jumpers in a fixed wing aircraft can be, holding a hover over 2,000 meters up while jumpers hang from the skids is intense!” says Tom, a long-time rotor jump pilot. “It’s the most exciting passenger flying I’ve ever done.”

Toss into this wonderful aviation mix a wide variety of both fixed wing, rotorcraft and lighter than air, along with all the different pilots that fly them and you’ll find an incredible variety of ways to take to the skies and make a jump. As skydiving and aviation both continue to progress, we can only wonder what ships will be taking jumpers aloft in the future, and what pilots will decide that skydiving is where it’s at.

This article was posted on SkydiverDriver.com with permission from Dean Ricci and  Blue Skies Magazine.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New for 2019 - Articles by Dean Ricci

Back in 2008 I was flying for Skydive Temple, about 50 miles north of Austin Texas. That is where I met a fellow jump pilot by the name of Dean Ricci aka Princess. He was flying a Twin Otter for Chicagoland Skydiving Center, whom my DZ had leased the Twin Otter from. Dean and I have remained in contact over the years and he is now flying a Twin Otter for Skydive Dubai. He has logged over 9000 hours of flight time, 7000 of which is flying skydivers. He is also a tandem instructor with over 10,000 jumps.

Since I last saw him he has also started writing articles for Blue Skies Magazine. I also wrote an article for that magazine back in January 2015 and I plan on writing more for them in the near future. 

I have read all of Dean's articles over the years and I have found them to be entertaining and informative, and I am happy to announce that new for 2019, and with permission from Blue Skies Magazine, we will be featuring Dean's articles here on SkydiverDriver.com! We are excited to be adding his flavor to our site and we hope that you all enjoy the articles as well.


Friday, September 7, 2018

Featured Jump Pilot - Daniel with Skydive San Marcos

Meet our Featured Jump Pilot Daniel, a Caravan pilot with Skydive San Marcos. A drop zone just south of Austin Texas. This is not only a Drop Zone that I use to fly for, but the exact same airplane that I flew while I was there in 2012! Although, they have replaced the standard 675hp Pratt engine with a 900hp Blackhawk Modifications upgrade. I still have yet to fly one of these modified Caravans, but hopefully in the near future!

Age: 34
From: Australia
Total Time: 1350 hours
Company: Skydive San Marcos
Location: San Marcos, Texas USA
Years Flying Skydivers: 13 months

What do you like most about flying skydivers?

Being PIC! Landing and taking off  in 100 degree weather with dust devils. Trying to have perfect landings. Perfecting my jump runs. I could go on for an hour! I just love this shit! lol 

What are your career goals?

Flying bigger and faster aircraft in the most challenging situations I can find. I'm not in it for the money. By the time I'm 45 I would like to think that my experience is as such that I could freelance around the world in November tail numbers. If that doesn't work, then corporate flying.

What is your advice for younger pilots?

Hustle, to the point that some will love you for it or some will blatantly tell you to eff off. Never forget how lucky you are to have become a pilot. Most people can only dream of the opportunity. If you can pay for food and shelter while building hours, you are beyond blessed.

If you have any questions for Daniel, please post them below this article on the Skydiver Driver Blog!

Feel free to visit the Skydive San Marcos site skydivesanmarcos.com


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Jump Pilot Academy

Sky Diver Driver announces a partnership with Jump Pilot Academy!

Jump Pilot Academy is specifically established to train new FAA CPL holders with 250 PIC flight hours on how to fly for skydiving operations according to FAA CFR 105 and USPA recommendations.

The Jump Pilot Academy team consists of some of the most experienced jump pilots in the skydiving industry. They have tens of 1000's of flight hours as jump pilots on various aircraft and are specifically selected to pass on the much needed and valuable training to you.

For more information click here.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Make Your Flight Training Plans Now!

If you are looking for Caravan or King Air Initial or Recurrent training, train with our partners at Turbine Training Center!

After your training is complete we will provide Job Placement Assistance for you with our extensive connections with Caravan and King Air operators worldwide.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

The USPA Safety Day is March 10th

The United States Parachute Association (USPA) designates the second Saturday in March of every year to be its Safety Day and this year that happens to be on March 10th. Many of the skydivers are a little rusty from not jumping much (if at all) during the Winter months and is why it is held at this time of the year. Started in 1997, it is the day that all of the USPA drop zones around the country gather up their employees and skydivers to review safety issues in a group setting.

If this will be your first Safety Day at your DZ as a Jump Pilot, be sure and ask your DZO if it will be okay if you can speak at the general meeting.  Be sure and write down at least an outline of items that you want to speak about. Things that you want your Skydivers, Manifest and Ground Crew to know or be reminded of.  

As pilots we are taught that safety is priority #1, so do not simply stand up and say a couple words.  Take advantage of the fact that you have everyone's attention on the topic of safety.  Personally, the main topics that I always talk about are: Weight & BalanceSafety BeltsEmergency Procedures and Prop Awareness during hot fueling, just to name a few.

Remind the skydivers of the various emergencies than can happen IN an airplane. Explain what your actions as PIC will be in response to each emergency and what you want them to do (or not to do) ie. If there is an engine failure at 500ft AGL, they are not to be tapping you on the shoulder asking if they can jump out. Also, insure that the Aircraft Emergency Procedures are posted at your DZ so that all skydivers are aware of them.

The only problem with Safety Day is that it's only one day a year. If I owned a Drop Zone we would have safety meetings once a month. Even if it was a 15 minute safety review on a Saturday morning. But I don't plan on owning a DZ... I'm not a good babysitter ;)

My fellow Jump Pilots, please remember to review often and fly safe, so that you can continue to have fun!

For more information about Safety Day from the USPA's own site, visit their designated page on that topic here.

As always, if you have any questions or comments about this topic or any others relating to flying skydivers and/or our sites, please email me chris@caravannation.com and please visit our sites  skydiverdriver.com and caravannation.com

Blue Skies, 

Chris Rosenfelt

Friday, February 16, 2018

Looking for a job flying skydivers?


Are you currently looking for a job flying skydivers? Most of the Jump Pilot hiring is done between now and May. Visit our "Jump Pilot Jobs" page here and check back often!

DZOs, looking for pilots? We have literally placed hundreds of pilots with Skydiving companies all over the world. We now have over 100K followers on our various Social Media channels, so your Ad will reach far and wide.

If you would like a Job Ad placed on SkydiverDriver.com and/or CaravanNation.com and linked to our Social Media pages and groups send a request to chris@caravannation.com


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Turbine Training Center

Visit our friends at Turbine Training Center for your Caravan and King Air Initial and Recurrent training needs!

They also offer a Jump Pilot training course!


Friday, October 13, 2017

Jump Flying, the Rotary Version! by Dan Rose

Jump Flying, the Rotary Version! 
By Dan Rose 

This article is in no way a guide to being a jump pilot, this is written to show the rotary side of jump flying for both pilots and jumpers as the helicopter is a rare visitor to the drop zone. In this article I've tried to guide the reader through the various stages of arrangements, phases of the flight and the individual problems and pitfalls of helicopter jump flying. If you want to learn to become a jump pilot go ahead and contact your local parachute authority as they'll have the relevant material to cover for jump pilot training. I hope the below helps both pilots and jumpers understand the principles of helicopter parachute operations as I've found there's a severe lack of resources and training material for the helicopter jump pilot!

First of all, a little bit about the helicopter and why the appeal to use it as a jump platform? Most fixed wing guys would describe them as 'the dark side of aviation', 'a million bolts flying in lose formation', and I've even been told by the guy who taught me jump flying that by flying rotary I'd be going straight to hell! Joking aside if you ask any rotary pilot they'll explain to you the attraction of the helicopter, the ability to lift vertically, hover and maneuver laterally. But the appeal of the helicopter as a jump platform isn't about what the pilot likes, it's the jumper! From the jumpers point of view it's a toss-up between the appeal of jumping an unusual aircraft, and the unique exit experience a helicopter gives. With the low airspeed on the run-in, this gives the jumper the subterminal exit more commonly experienced from a base jump.

To make a start we've all heard the saying 'the weight of the paperwork has to match the weight of the aircraft before you can go', this applies just as much here! Before any jumping has even been thought of, it’s important to make sure the relevant paperwork and authorisations are in place before you carry out helicopter parachute operations. What's needed may vary from country to country depending on your Civilian Aviation and Parachute authority. I'd advise researching heavily into what applies to you the pilot, the aircraft and the parachutist before you think about carrying out any kind of drops. For a pilot in the UK he/she must hold the appropriate licence/rating to operate and to be in command of the aircraft, be a BPA approved jump pilot and cleared on the aircraft he/she is going to be operating for the parachuting role. With reference to the helicopter or any aircraft carrying out parachuting it must be approved to carry out such operations, normally in the form of a flight supplement which has been prior approved by your relevant civilian aviation authority. This supplement may state any modifications made to the aircraft, door removals, and thus any airspeed or flight conditions that must be adhered to during the jump role. Finally for the jumper most drop zones put a licence and jump limit on anyone taking part in helicopter jumping, this is quite rightly so due to the complexity and the extra skill needed to carry out a helicopter jump. After the above has been said I'd just like to again emphasise that you must research the exact requirements needed for your particular location and operation, I've deliberately kept away from exact details as this article is more about an insight into helicopter parachute operations rather than definitive rules and regulations.

One final thing to be said about paperwork is the all-important weight & balance, look closely into the weight limits and envelope of your particular helicopter and any changes that'll occur through all phases of the flight. I'm not suggesting W&B is more important in the rotary world compared to fixed wing as it's vitally important in both roles, but in the rotary role the limits are very much more restricted and envelopes very much smaller. Thus 4 jumpers exiting from a Jet Ranger will have a larger effect on C of G and control forces needed to counter it, than it would in a fixed wing aircraft. The other aspect to think about in rotary operations is lateral C of G, this is where smooth jumper exit and exit order come into play. For example on a B206 with the pilot sat right seat and 2 jumpers exiting on the right side might be within C of G limits but would cause severe control inputs while they're at the door and upon exit, unable to guarantee a smooth and stable jump run. To put simply the helicopter pilot really gets to feel the difference between a light and heavy jumper and the control inputs needed on exit! It's important to sit down prior to jumping and work out suitable exit orders to ensure the safest and most stable way for all jumpers to exit the aircraft, this will vary on type, number of jumpers and pilot judgment. Also with some helicopter types there will be C of G and airspeed limits when the doors are removed. This is due to the way the air flows around the fuselage with the doors off, the rearward C of G, the effect on the directional stability of the airframe, the compensatory effect then needed from the tail rotor and cyclic inputs needed. As a result directional control may not be possible above certain air speeds and at certain C of G positions! With all this said I'd recommend running up w&b schedules for all possible jumper/fuel configurations through the day, this way you'll know what you can and can't do as things will typically change throughout the jumping day.

With the paperwork in order and your weight and balance figured out, what now? A very important source of information for both the pilot and the jumper is a proper briefing. This is an excellent opportunity to pass your requirements ascertained from your weight & balance calculations as to jumper numbers and types of exit. This is also a chance to run down the all-important safety briefing, what the jumpers do in an emergency may vary greatly between fixed wing and rotary and they must be completely clear as to what they should and shouldn't do. The briefing should include both what to do in an emergency and normal operations, for example how jumpers enter the aircraft during rotors running boarding, sounds simple but it's all too easy to walk into a tail rotor which is conveniently placed at head height! This is also a good opportunity for a question & answer session between the pilot and jumper, you'll more than likely get the typical questions like 'can we hang off this?', 'can we hang off that?', it's essential that you make everybody clear as to what they can and can't do as you don't want questions being asked while the pilots busy on the jump run. Typically with a helicopter a jump light system may not be installed so a system to notify the jumpers as to when they're on the jump run, when to climb out and exit the helicopter needs to be agreed on. With the pilot normally sat in close proximity to the jumpers verbal warnings usually work, but everybody needs to be clear exactly what the verbal warnings will be and when they'll be given to save any confusion once airborne.

Before the jumper gets into a helicopter to do a jump, it's probably a good idea to look over the aircraft while it's on the ground and shutdown. This will give them a chance to appreciate the major differences between rotary and fixed wing. The first thing a jumper may notice is the severe lack of space! Unless you happen to be really lucky and get jump a chinook, you're more than likely to be jumping a 4-5 seat light helicopter, maybe a B206 Jet Ranger or R44. I'd recommend sitting in the helicopter prior to jumping with a rig on to get used to your sitting position and how to operate the seat belts. Once you've figured out the basics think about where the handholds are and how you'll transfer yourself from sat in the door to your exit position, this might sound easy but when the time comes to exit it'll be the difference between a smooth exit and what's technically known as a cluster f**k! Ruining the experience for yourself, your fellow jumpers and not to mention making the pilots job a whole lot harder as you faff about in the door! A very important point to note are the additional snag-up points with a helicopter, door fixings, earthing points, skid supports and skid wheel attaching points are to name but a few! This emphasises the point about looking over the helicopter before the jump, chat with the pilot as he'll be able to point out the most obvious hangup points and the parts of the helicopter you should be looking for and avoid during the exit.

Once you're familiar with the seating, seatbelt usage and snag points it's time to think about the exit. Once again sit in the helicopter beforehand and plan the exit strategy and order. Will it be a single jumper exit, multiple exits, in what order and what type of exit? This will vary hugely on the type of helicopter you're jumping for reasons I'll explain later. My best advice for this is to speak to the pilot, he'll know the limits of the helicopter type and the preferred exit type and in what order to maintain a balanced and controlled exit for yourself and the aircraft. During the exit for smaller helicopter types it's vitally important jumpers are aware not to 'push-off' from any part of the airframe, it must be a 'fall away' exit. This is due to the fact the helicopters fuselage is supported under the rotor disc just like a pendulum and any outside force pushing on the fuselage will create a swinging motion and control problems for the pilot and an uncomfortable exit for following jumpers. Smooth exits are the order of the day when it comes to helicopter jumping!

Having dedicated ground crew may also be a good idea as invariably jumper loading will be done rotors running, having someone to guide them on and get them strapped in helps greatly. Due to the smaller fuel capacity and likely weight restrictions hot refuels may be needed, a ground crew will help with this and save valuable turnaround time. Whatever your ground handlers job he/she needs to be briefed just as much as the jumpers, particularly in emergencies and any relevant hand signals used during the ground handling phase.

Okay, so the paperwork, weight & balance and briefing are all complete and everybody is clear as to what do to and when. Time to start up, as with all jump flying you're more than likely be departing close to the helicopters MTOW. Careful thought needs to be taken as to the type of departure you'll be making depending on the conditions at the time, wind, temp, a/c weight, local obstacles and noise abatement need to be taken account of. Check your flight manual and make sure you're aware of your machines torque/power limits at all phases of flight, this is especially important for the helicopter when lifting/maneuvering at low level on the airfield. This is due to the power required to keep a heavily laden helicopter hovering at slow speed, and the additional power requirements needed to make turns with the tail rotors requirement of engine power. I personally try to ensure the pickup point is into wind and clear of obstacles for a straight out departure, thus easing the workload on the engine and making my job a whole lot easier! For a rotary departure it's important to try and remain clear of certain parts of the Height/Velocity curve. Any helicopter pilot will explain to you that during single engine operations, certain Height and Airspeed combinations will give unfavourable conditions for an autorotation in the event of an engine failure. Remain clear of these combinations as much as you can giving yourself the maximum possible chance to recover in the event of an engine failure, I'd also recommend scouting the airfield surroundings for ideal set down points if you have an engine failure or other technical problems on the departure phase.

When airborne and climbing it's important to have a predetermined pattern to follow to reach the jump run and exit point, this will hopefully keep you clear of other air traffic and possibly other jump ships and drops running alongside your rotary parachute operations. After all parachutists under canopy and helicopters don't mix! This is best arranged with a prior briefing amongst yourself, your fellow jump pilots and the DZ controller so you all work efficiently together through the day. On the climb-out and the doors off it's tempting for the jumpers to dangle legs, cameras etc out of the door, this should be discourage wherever possible, this is to avoid anything departing the aircraft and hitting the tail rotor with obvious serious consequences such as tail rotor failure! It's also worth mentioning that parachutist line checks must be strictly adhered to before climbing into the helicopter for the very fact doors are open during flight and thus the increased danger of premature canopy deployment and hang ups. Although a premature deployment and hang up is a serious situation in both fixed and rotary I'd argue that it's more likely to lead to an incident when on a helicopter with the additional rotating aerofoils and the proximity to these and the jumpers. In this situation the helicopter then has the reduced ability to maintain aircraft stability compared to fixed wing and should a canopy be cut away you then pose the risk of a main/tail rotor strike and failure. In this event it's important that any remaining jumpers smother the pre-deployed canopy to reduce the chance of any part of the canopy exiting the aircraft, leaving anything hanging outside the aircraft is strongly discouraged for the above mentioned reasons. Simply said with hang ups and premature deployment prevention is better than cure, parachutists check your gear before boarding and pilots ensure everybody is properly briefed on airframe snag hazards!

As with both fixed and rotary, both types face the chances of an engine failure, this can happen at any phase of flight and the pilot must be happy he can deal with this as per his emergency drills at all times. While most fixed wing pilots might think that when the helicopter experiences an engine failure it just drops out of the sky like a brick.....fortunately for rotary pilots and their passengers this isn't so! While the procedures for engine failure on rotary aircraft differ to fixed wing the basic principles remain the same, maintaining control of the aircraft and find a suitable place to land the aircraft safely. In this fact helicopters have an easier time than fixed wing with the ability to set down in relatively small and confined areas. With an engine failure in a helicopter the procedure is called an Autorotation, a short explanation of this is where the helicopter uses the airflow from the decent to maintain rotor RPM, thus it's the airflow rotating the rotors rather than the engine. This is completed at the end with a flare and a hopeful smooth set down, with the pilot keeping careful control of the rotor RPM throughout all phases of the Autorotation. Another situation unfamiliar to fixed wing pilot is a tail rotor failure, which at some phases of flight can be worse than an engine failure! The purpose of the tail rotor on a helicopter is to counter the engine/rotor torque and give directional control, with this said I'm sure you can understand how serious is can be should it fail. Depending on the phase of flight this can be dealt with in a variety of ways, one of which is to enter an autorotation. All of the above can be complicated even further by the fact you may have jumpers inside/outside of the aircraft so make sure you're comfortable with you emergency procedures.

Once on the jump run the helicopter needs to be set up ready for the jumpers to climb out and exit, for the rotary pilot this is normally speed and power adjustments as the doors are normally already open/removed and flap configurations don't apply. As with the departure, power limits and requirements need to be carefully monitored due to the helicopter slowing and needing more power to maintain this flight configuration. It's also worth mentioning at this phase of flight pilots need to be aware of the condition known as LTE or Loss of Tail Rotor effectiveness, this occurs when the helicopters tail rotor is unable to counteract the main rotors torque effect, LTE is commonly experienced during low-airspeed high-power conditions which are both experienced during the jump run. As with most aerodynamic effects the chances of LTE will change depending on atmospheric conditions, most helicopter jumps in the UK will be done anywhere between 5000-6000ft AMSL and conditions similar to standard atmospheric conditions. Should you be operating anywhere Hot & High check your flight manual to ensure you're operating within performance limitations. With reference to the run in speed on the helicopter unless you're flying/jumping a large twin turbine you won't be hovering (much to the jumpers disgust!) and this is due to the fact high hovers require large amounts of engine power and should the engine fail at this point it would drastically reduce the chances of recovery. For this reason the run in will be done at a speed suitable for autorotation should the engine fail, with most light singles this is typically around the 50kt mark. I've been told that at 50kts and the combination of the rotor down wash the exit experience is as if you're making a still air exit from a building or as in a hover.

When the helicopter is configured, stable and you've received the 'clear-drop' from the DZ controller it's time to notify the jumpers it's time to climb out. Hopefully with the practice they've had on the ground and knowing the hand holds the jumpers will climb outside as smoothly as possible, as previously discussed the exit order and movement around the helicopter needs to be carefully rehearsed due to the pendulum effect of having the fuselage hung under the main rotor disc. As the jumpers exit (making sure they 'fall off' rather than 'push off') be prepared for shifts in CofG and the cyclic movements needed to adjust for this, after my first few lifts I soon became able to pre-empt the cyclic inputs needed as the jumpers exit the aircraft. Also be cautious with the sudden reduction in helicopter weight as they exit, unless you're quick with the collective this may lead to a sudden climb and if you're sat just below cloud level a chance of inadvertent IMC. Take your time of the first few jump runs to get used to the feel of the aircraft as they exit, it may also be a good idea to sit with an experienced helicopter jump pilot while doing a light load before you chuck yourself in at the deep end with a 20 lift cycle first time around!

 Once the jumpers have exited the helicopter it's time to descend and pick up the next load, as with all helicopter control inputs try to make this as smooth as possible. On two bladed teetering hinge rotor heads you have to be careful not to cause 'mast bumping', which may occur during the descent or when arresting an inadvertent climb after the jumpers have exited. This is where in low G conditions (typically arising from excessive forward cyclic inputs during a descent) the fuselage and rotor hub exceed angle limits causing the hub hitting the rotor mast resulting in damage and potential main rotor separation! For this reason use the collective to initiate the descent and the cyclic to control pitch and airspeed, this brings me to my next point. With some types you'll have airspeed limitations when the doors have been removed, adhere to these strictly as it's all too easy to forget this when trying to hurry the descent and pick up the next load. Ignoring these airspeed limits can lead to directional control problems as previously mentioned. As with the climb out make sure your descent and airfield joining pattern doesn’t clash with local air traffic, other jump ships on jump runs and jumpers under canopy. Keep the lookout going all the way through the descent as you're more than likely operating with a lot of activity happening in a small amount of airspace. Once you're on finals and positioning to pick up the next load be cautious of ground obstructions and personnel, this is where it's a good idea to have a designated loading area for rotors run refuels and loading jumpers under the safe control of a ground handler.

With all the above said, helicopter jumps are novel and challenging for both the parachutist and pilot. As with all types of flying, caution and a professional attitude are needed from all parties involved. I’m hoping from the information in this article it’ll allow the fixed wing pilot more information into what a rotary pilot goes through, the rotary pilot more information and a starting point on helicopter jump piloting, and the parachutist an insight as what he/she will experience on a helicopter jump. I encourage any pilot to research the above further before he/she takes up helicopter jump flying as I’m in no means an expert.....but this should give you an idea where to start and what to expect! Fly Safe!!

*Thanks to John O’Connell & Alex Law for their Technical Input!