"Skydivers Unite for Safety"
Skydive Chicago Expo 2000

Article from Dropzone.com
March 13, 2000
A New Tradition For Skydivers

Posted by:Christy West

arrow Photo Gallery
arrow Seminars & Lectures
arrow Door Prizes/Winners

This season kickoff safety seminar may well become one of the most popular skydiving events in the U.S.

If you weren't at the Skydivers Unite For Safety/Skydive Chicago Winter Expo on March 3-5, you missed the event of the year.

You missed out on 40 seminars dedicated to skydiving safety, gear safety, FAA and NTSB stances on skydiving issues, different skydiving disciplines and student training.

You missed the chance to meet and talk with 12 of the most progressive gear manufacturers in the sport one-on-one as long and often as you liked, and even demo some of their products.

You missed three days of unseasonably warm weather with a Super Otter that never shut down.

You missed three days of unseasonably warm weather with a Super Otter that never shut down and even flew a night load. Oops, did I mention those were $10 skydives, and Missy Nelson manifested about 1,140 of them?

You even missed Roger Nelson, program director at Skydive Chicago, personally thank Terry Murray "for all the inspiration I have" in his welcome to the event-which of course laid the audience out in the aisles howling with laughter.

OK, all kidding aside, this was probably the most impressive skydiving event I've ever attended. Everyone likes a good boogie with warm weather, twin-turbine aircraft and cheap skydives, but when you add that to the safety seminars and manufacturers in attendance, the real focus of the event, you've got a truly winning combination.

"It All Started When..."
Steve Alexander  of the Columbus School of Skydiving has been running the Skydivers Unite For Safety seminars in Indiana and Ohio for the last 2 years on USPA's Safety Day. Their goal was to bring some of the biggest names in the industry to provide a major draw, and devote the day to all aspects of freefall, airplane, gear and landing safety in order to make us better skydivers and minimize injury and fatality rates.

The seminars were well attended both years, with big names like Dan Poynter, Cliff Schmucker, Glenn Bangs and Bill Booth delivering outstanding presentations. Skydivers actually gave up a solid day of skydiving, once even with beautiful, warm weather outside, to sit indoors and learn how to be safer in our big blue playground.

Last year, Steve Alexander saw something at the seminar that really got his attention. "When John LeBlanc introduced the Velocity last year, it was amazing how many people flocked to touch it," he said. "That's really where the idea of the Expo came from."

After speaking at the 1999 seminar and seeing how valuable the event was tot the sport, Roger asked to team up with Alexander and Neece for 2000. They decided to hold the event at Skydive Chicago's spacious, one-of-a-kind facility to give attendees the space for booths and seminars, a Super Otter to jump and all the amenities of a major conference hall, and then some.

Bill Booth
Bill Booth

The Land Of Oz
Many of the 360+ Expo attendees said a part of their decision to come was to see Skydive Chicago for themselves, as they'd heard so much about it. "I had to come see Roger's palace," said Bill Booth of the Relative Workshop. "If all DZs were like this, we'd have more skydivers."

The 15,000-square-foot hangar (which has on occasion held two Super Otters, two Cessna 182s, a Piper Arrow and a Bell 222 helicopter with room to spare) easily housed 12 manufacturers' booths and several comfortable wrestling mats for packing. The new heating units kept the hangar a good 15-20 degrees warmer than the early spring outdoors, even with a hangar door open slightly for traffic to the Super Otter.

Away from the hangar it got even better. How often does one see a drop zone with a 350-seat assembly hall? How about one that also has three 75-seat halls, an on-site cash machine, a VIP full bar and lounge with state-of-the-art projection and stereo equipment, full-service gear store, oak-paneled walls, functional toilets, door prizes and three excellent meals a day by master chef Tim Wardenski of Pahokee, Fla. and Jeanie Nelson of Skydive Chicago? The visitors were in heaven.

"People that learn to skydive here are really spoiled," said Glenn Bangs, director of safety and training for the USPA. "The real world just isn't like this."

Year two, I was hanging out with Bill Booth playing the piano.

"These seminars are great!" Brad Hazelbaker of Cincinnati, Ohio continues: "The first year, I got to have a beer with Dan Poynter and talk parachutes one-on-one. Year two, I was hanging out with Bill Booth playing the piano. This year, I can just go up and talk to any of these manufacturers or whoever and ask questions, since that's what it's all about."

The strength of all the Skydivers Unite For Safety seminars, including this year's Expo, is the caliber of speakers they get. The local skygod at your Cessna drop zone may be a fabulous learning resource for all of you there, but who can fail to learn something about canopy flight from John LeBlanc of Performance Designs? And who better to tell you about the USPA's new student training and ratings programs than Glenn Bangs? Not only that, but how often do you, the typical skydiver, get a chance to have all these people in one place, for a solid 3-day weekend, just waiting to answer your questions?

Add this to the fact that 12 major manufacturers brought their wares so you could inspect, ask questions about and try out their stuff. Where else would you want to be? Not only were they here, but they sent their best for this unique event. Simon Mundell, general manager, represented Icarus Canopies, SSK Industries, Inc. president Cliff Schmucker came with the SportParaSim and lots of Cypres information and Ted Strong brought a full line of demo gear from Strong Enterprises. Designer Sandy Reid brought the new Voodoo container from Rigging Innovations, Inc., Jenny and Marty Martin brought lots of Zute Sutes, Bill Booth displayed a bunch of Vector IIIs and Microns, Kat Grix, new president of Alti-2 brought a calibration chamber, etc.

You get the idea. These industry representatives were available for about 21 hours across the 3-day Expo for you, the average jumper.

Something For Everyone
The event started before most of the attendees even packed their cars. During the week before the manufacturers arrived, designated practical rigger examiner Kirk Smith held a rigger's course and a Vector tandem certification course. Roger Nelson held a drop zone owner's seminar attended by six DZs from around the country, and Glenn Bangs held a basic instructor's course.

He was able to find and repair potentially deadly problems on 12 rigs.

The early visitors got to hear Kirk Smith, instructor and master rigger at Skydive Chicago, discuss BASE jumping and reviewing your gear for the upcoming season. The gear reviews turned out to be an excellent idea; after the manufacturers reviewed the latest gear advisory on protruding grommets, Smith inspected many of attendees' rigs at no cost. He was able to find and repair potentially deadly problems on 12 rigs.

Friday attendees also learned about the future of freefly competition with top freeflyers Rook Nelson and Mike Ortiz of the Flyboyz. "In the previous years of competition, if we stayed in the frame and did our trick it counted," said Rook. "Now we're turning 20 to 25 points and looking for 30. Also, pylon racing is a good spectator sport because it's easy to see who wins."

More freeflying and general skydiving footage was in order with the premiere viewing of "The Clouds Edge" by New Tribe Entertainment Video and Joe Jennings' "Good Stuff." Another video previewed later in the seminar was "Liquid Sky: Freefly Millennium II" by Speed Curve Productions. Skydivers always appreciate good video, especially when it's new; they were definitely not disappointed with these offerings.

At the official welcome on Saturday, most were surprised to see Roger introduce local Ottawa mayor Bob Eschbach. Instead of warning the jumpers to behave themselves, he welcomed them with open arms and spoke of what a great partner Skydive Chicago has been with Ottawa. "Everyone's always watching for the burst of color in the sky when the canopies open," he said. He figures that skydivers put about $2 million into the local economy annually and are the biggest customers in the local motels, and invited any drop zone managers with local official problems to call him any time.

Wrapping up the welcome, Steve Alexander said, "What we are trying to do is introduce new techniques, gear and training with the best in the sport." And that they did.

A rigorous schedule of safety seminars began with Glenn Bangs' presentation on the year in review. His impressive review of USPA jump and fatality statistics led into to a somewhat sore topic for many skydivers: the USPA's stance on revamping the recommended student program and license requirements. As many people seem to think the USPA is doing nothing on these issues or is hopelessly deadlocked, Bangs stood most of the audience on its ear with a proposed 8-part program that has a bare minimum of 17 student jumps, and a new instructional rating program.

USPA also wants to kick the jumpmaster rating for good, replacing the current system with non-method-specific ground coaches, air coaches and method-specific instructors and instructor-examiners.

"Take out hook turns and emergency procedure problems, and you remove 2/3 to 3/4 of all the fatalities we've ever had."

While not entirely new ideas (these proposed systems were announced at the DZO conference), most of us hadn't heard of them before. "We realized that we're trying to force-feed students too much information in a specified period of time," Bangs said. "We have to do a better job educating the next generation of jumpers. Take out hook turns and emergency procedure problems, and you remove 2/3 to 3/4 of all the fatalities we've ever had. We used to teach ourselves how to skydive, and now we have all this information from other people to train with. We have to use it." The full texts of both programs are online at www.uspa.org (or will be very soon). Please also let the USPA know what you think of an E-license, and what you think the requirements and privileges should be (email communications@uspa.org).

There were also quite a few seminars on drop zone issues, including high-performance canopy and freefall training by Roger Nelson, the Javelin student rig by Dave Ruffell and the instructor's guide to tandem/advanced freefall program instruction by Nelson. Attendees also got to discuss jump plane airworthiness with Scot Landorf of the FAA and skydiving liability and legal issues with well-known BASE jumper and lawyer Fred Morelli.

Roger's seminars on training were popular, as he's got one of the more controversial student programs in the sport. Students on high-performance canopies? Absolutely, says Roger. "Give them less transition, train them on the gear they'll jump later. And you've got to teach them to plan. We did about 15,000 student jumps in 1999 with NO serious injuries and zero fatalities. We did this with easy-to-fly parachutes, a flight plan each student filled out before jumping and by teaching them the dangers and parameters for certain toggle levels." Even though many listeners seemed disbelieving at first, his humorous references to extremely common student problems and how his system addressed them quickly had the whole room nodding in agreement.

John Kallend, professor of materials engineering and physics, presented another DZ issue: his software program for determining freefall drift based on several conditions. Should your DZ put freeflyers out before or after belly flyers? Well, that depends. Check out the program at www.iit.edu/~kallend/skydive.html.

John LeBlanc
John LeBlanc

John LeBlanc's wing loading and canopy control seminars (one seminar with three parts) were some of the best-attended of the Expo. They covered canopy survival skills and flying and landing high-performance parachutes safely, and were quite useful to many listeners who enjoyed being able to test their new knowledge the same day as the seminar. Some made it back from long spots using the techniques they'd learned where they wouldn't have before, and one jumper said (anonymously, of course), "I finally managed to land on my feet! I figured out that I was flaring too slowly and had to pop the toggles down a little faster." Simple, perhaps, but obviously a problem that hadn't been explained to clear understanding previously.

Gearwise, jumpers got to hear reserve and main packing tips from Ty Bowen of Relative Workshop and information on the construction and proper use of helmets from Nick Kaminski of Sky Systems. Bill Booth gave a seminar on his 3-ring release system, and Simon Mundell discussed the structure, manufacturing and distribution of Icarus Canopies. Doris Pfister of Sun Path Products talked about the popular sport Javelin, and Sandy Reid discussed the development of Rigging Innovations' new Voodoo container.

New Releases
A big splash this year was Bill Booth's unveiling of the Vector III tandem container. Bill contends that if you eliminate out-of-sequence tandem deployments, then you eliminate half of the tandem fatalities we've had (after taking out ones that an AAD might have prevented). This new container, although it almost looks like something you'd give your worst enemy to jump, promises to do just that.

One of my more entertaining activities at this Expo was to grab a friend who'd just walked in the door, tell him or her a bit about the rig as we walked to the Relative Workshop table, then pull open the main flap and watch them recoil in shock. With the flaps closed, the rig just looks like a big Vector III with a clear plastic window over the reserve pin and Cypres control unit. Open the main flap, and you've got no clue what you're looking at. A big aluminum disk sits in the center with the closing loop routed through all the flaps, but the flaps don't overlap at all. A full description of this rig would take forever, but suffice to say that Bill Booth has once again come up with something totally unique.

His tests say it's impossible to have an out-of-sequence deployment with the rig due to its secondary locking pin, it's got that weird disk to keep the bag in the container, the handles are now retractable and there's no 3-ring release for the drogue. Several of Skydive Chicago's tandem masters jumped it this weekend and really enjoyed it, and the design will be finalized and in production in a month or so.


SSK Industries, Inc. had one of the most popular booths this year with the new SportParaSim (link: www.sportparasim.com), a hanging-harness virtual reality canopy flight simulator. Virtual pilots got to pull, respond to various malfunctions and work on their accuracy on fields, cities and even aircraft carriers. The harness responded to riser and toggle input, which was logged by a nearby computer. Spectators got to watch the "jumper's" point of view on a large TV monitor next to the jumper, with an altitude reading and toggle input monitoring.

"Skydivers here are providing the example for the simulator's usefulness," said Schmucker. "Some of these people have great accuracy with none or very few jumps, and others with thousands of jumps aren't responding properly to malfunctions." SSK thinks it will boost retention rates because students will feel more prepared and confident under a real parachute, be easier to wean off radios and they'll have something to do in case of bad weather and scheduling problems. Even the experienced jumpers stayed inside for the simulator on a beautiful day, and had probably the first ever zero-altitude accuracy contest!

The simulator currently emulates a 7-cell canopy at a 1:1 wing loading, and doesn't have data for higher-performance canopies yet although they're working on that. "This program will always be evolving," says Jeffrey Hogue of Systems Technology, Inc., who helped develop the simulator. "We've gotten some great ideas for this program here, like using it to teach spotting. We're already working on two-canopy-out situations." This would dovetail nicely with Scott Miller's dual-square-canopies-out seminar.

A Fabulous Event
Everyone agreed that the Skydivers Unite For Safety/Skydive Chicago Winter Expo was a roaring success. When asked what he thought about the event, Edgardo Guerrero of EG Sky Technologies responded, "I would like to come again. Don't forget to send me information on the next one!"

The door prizes, including a free Javelin, 50% off a Vector III, a free Quasar, a free PD canopy and a free Icarus canopy among other things were quite well received. One of the more humorous wins was a SSK NiteStar night jump light-won by the only person on the night jump to land in a tree.

Booth thought people weren't attending the scheduled seminars as much as with the previous years' events, but that more people were stopping by for a one-one-one chat. "These seminars are really valuable," he said. "Last year we talked about the increased pull force for cutaways with soft housings and one girl turned to her husband and asked, 'I have those on my rig, don't I?' They went back to the hotel, opened her container and had a couple of guys hold her off the ground by her risers while she tried to cut away.

"She couldn't, and she was terrified. She had her housings replaced immediately, and had a mal about 150 jumps later. She called me afterwards, thanking me for saving her life. That's what these seminars are about."

Ted Strong felt that it was "an excellent, all-inclusive seminar, with great chances for more hands-on discussion of gear." Mundell felt that it was a valuable chance to interact with competitors and skydivers, and get instant feedback on products. "It's been a great opportunity to poll knowledge and bounce ideas off people," he said.

"It's always a great idea to hold something like this where the whole premise is safety," said Kaminski. "Often it's the only time people think about it." Well, the whole focus of this event is to change that.

One participant said on his post-event questionnaire, "Very well put together event! I'm very impressed and will spread the word for future Expos." You do that, because next year's Expo will really knock your socks off!

- Christy West for Dropzone.com

Christy jumps at Skydive Chicago. She has been in the sport for 2 1/2 years and has done 800+ jumps. She is a Women's World Record holder.