by Espen, the Flying Norwegian
Here are some basic tips for keeping both safe and getting better when learning how to sitfly. These aren't advanced techniques, but tips to help someone out during the first couple of sitfly jumps. For more advanced techniques, ask someone who's very good at sitflying. If you have the money, I recommend doing a couple of coached jumps with a freefly coach. It's amazing how much easier it is to find mistakes when you can debrief the jump accompanied by video. This is something to play with until you take that step however.
If you haven't yet, see the gear safety page first. You should have gear that is compatible with vertical flying before attempting any of this.
Clothes For The First Few Sitfly Jumps
You should wear something baggy "up top" and something tight "down low". A big sweater and a pair of shorts is good enough. Do not wear anything baggy on your legs, as you are trying to fly with your arms in sitfly. The amount of "bagginess" on parts of your body decides how much that part will affect your flying. More fabric on your legs means your legs will control a lot of the body. That is not what you're looking for in sitflying. I personally do not recommend a chute assis suit (sit-suit with wings on the arms). I believe they are "crutches" which will have you unlearning stuff when you go to a sweater. It's a personal choice though, but they are too slow to freefly comfortably with so you will have to jump without such a suit eventually.
Like I said above, sitflying is all about the arms, so you want to take the legs out of the equation to begin with. Do this by pulling your knees up as far as possible towards your chest. Think of it as squatting on the floor. Your feet should be about level with your butt and your legs should not protrude from your body. The arms should be at about shoulder height and slightly backwards. If you squat down as described above, you will understand why. Usually one squats down and, at the same time, lifts their feet so that the "toe balls" are the only point of contact with the floor. Now reposition your feet so that the whole sole touches the ground. If you keep your back straight you will fall backwards, or at least be close to it. This is the same thing that will happen in freefall. You will lean backwards, which will cause forward movement (This will not be discussed extensively here. At least not yet). To compensate for this, the arms must be placed a little to the rear of the shoulders. You should feel some tension between the shoulder blades when doing this. Now, with your arms out and your feet tucked up, your arms will do all the flying. Now you need to straighten that back. Sit in a chair with your back against the backrest. Now pull your feet up onto the seat of the chair and pull your legs as close to your chest as possible. This is called the vRW Stable Position, and should be your basic position in the beginning.
Jumping out facing the tail of the plane is usually the easiest, even though some prefer to jump out facing the front of the plane. Go straight into the vRW Stable Position and hold it. No matter what you do, do not move out of this position. It will feel a bit weird at first (you might feel like you're falling forward or backward, depending on which way you're facing), but if you stick with it the wind will "mold you" into the right attitude. When your feet are pointing to the ground, it's time to enjoy the view for a second. When you're done doing that, you should follow the things under "Safety" described below. Now that you've got the basic position settled and know how to do it safely, it's time to look at your body position. Try to feel if you're leaning one way or the other. The most common mistake is to lean too far forward, so make sure your back is straight and perpendicular to the ground. If you are turning, make slight adjustments with your hands as they are the likely culprits. Make sure your arms are symmetric and that your palms face the ground.
When you have tried this position on some jumps, it's time to move on to a more "mobile" position. When sitting in the vRW Stable Position, force your feet downwards until your upper legs are at a 90-degree angle from your torso. Your lower legs should also make a 90-degree angle with your upper legs. And finally, the soles on your feet should be parallel to the ground. Do not lean forward when pushing your feet down. The only movement should be in your hips, like standing up from a squat. The most common mistakes here are to point your lower legs towards each other. They should be perpendicular to the ground. Also, make sure you do not pull up your upper legs too far. They should, like described above, point directly out from your body. Finally, be firm in your leg control. Do not let the wind flap them around. You are supposed to control the legs, not the wind. "Sloppy feet" is very common and can make you feel unstable in this position. When you are stable in this position it's time to advance, but that's easier to learn from a coach, so I won't delve into that here.
When starting out freeflying, whether it be sitfly or headdown, everyone zooms around in the sky. It is very hard to fall straight down, and even though it may feel like it, chances are there is some movement there. To avoid moving into the airspace of the group before or after you it is important to choose a heading which will lessen the risk of this. The most common movement is either forward or backward. So, to avoid moving into the groups around you look down and make sure your shoulders are parallel to jump run (you did check which way jump run was before you jumped, didn't you?). If you move now, you will move perpendicular to jump run and stay away from the other groups. While you are looking down to figure out which way you are facing, also note where you are in relation to the ground. This can help you figure out which way you are moving, and you can try to correct that by leaning a bit forward (if you are moving forward) or backward (if you are moving backwards).
IMPORTANT! Keep an eye on your altimeter often!! The faster speeds in freeflying will be unusual for your internal clock, which is set at formation skydiving speeds. A freefall that used to last 65 seconds can now last only 50. So, by the time you think it's time to get on your belly and slow down, it might already be time to pull, or even time to consider the reserve. An audible altimeter is nice to have as a backup, but don't let it lull you into complacency. Electronic devices fail, so you should never trust them. Trust your eyes, then your altimeter and then your audible. Either way, always remember altitude. Do not be afraid to go on your belly a few times if you become unstable when checking your altimeter or the ground. Very few can move about as they please the first times freeflying. Going on your belly can also be a nice "relaxer" if you feel like everything is going to crap. Go into a position you are comfortable in and relax. That's usually all it takes to get nice and stable again.
During the first freefly jumps, plan on going on your belly higher than you would normally track away from a formation. Today's canopies may not be too forgiving when deployed at 150-160 mph, so you will need some time to slow down before deployment. This will also give you some time to get your head together, so to speak, as freeflying can give people sort of a mental overload. There are a lot of new aspects involved and the body needs to get back into the "regular" mode again. Look diligently around you before deploying. Even though you exited a long time after the group in front of you, that delay may have disappeared now. So, expect to see people around you or below you. Suddenly seeing a big canopy right below you isn't the nicest view imaginable. Pay attention and deploy at an altitude you're comfortable with.
After deployment it is important to keep your cool. Do not just head for the landing area and prepare to spiral down to land. If the group ahead of you was belly flyers, they may still be in freefall when you pull. If you start flying down the line of flight you can end up right below them when it's their turn to pull. So fly perpendicular to the line of flight until you see the group ahead of you are under canopies. The best option is to wait until all experienced skydivers (excluding students and tandems) have opened, to better plan your flight pattern. This may not always be feasible though (i.e. a long spot and you really need to get going towards the landing area), but at least make sure the group that went ahead of you has canopies out. Now, fly your canopy like normal, land and take off your gear. It's time to contemplate what you did. Do not think "Man I really sucked at this and that". Rather, remember things that went well and things you can improve on. Then set goals for the next jump and go for it. Enjoy!
More safety issues on pages