|Freefly Rig Safety|
by Espen, the Flying Norwegian
For gear to be "freefly compatible" it does not mean that it is smooth and looks cool (even though it may seem like it sometimes). With the unusual body positions in freeflying, as opposed to formation skydiving, gear safety has taken on a whole new meaning. Here are some of the important issues to consider before positioning your head or feet towards the ground and letting it rip:
A BOC (Bottom Of Container) or a Pull Out (aka PUD) setup is a must! An ROL (Right Of Leg) has too much bridle exposed from the rig to the pilot chute pouch. If that bridle comes loose during freefall there are several options for what can happen next. The nastiest of these are a premature deployment (which is likely to hurt at 150-170 mph) and a horseshoe mal. So, if you have an ROL system, talk to your rigger about converting it to a BOC system. It shouldn't be too expensive, and your neck or left hand will be grateful in the long run.
The bridle between your pin and your pilot chute is the loosest part of your rig. so extra care must be taken to protect it. Some of the newer rig designs are modified to make sure no bridle is exposed anywhere on the rig. Unfortunately, all freeflyers do not jump these rigs, and many cannot afford to buy a new one. If you jump an "old style" rig, make sure you minimize the amount of bridle that is exposed. Do this by tucking the bridle well under the right main flap (not too far, as it can get stuck there and give you a pilot chute in tow).
Also, make sure that the distance the bridle has to cover, while exposed, from this flap to the pilot chute pouch, is as short as possible. If this distance is much more than a couple of centimeters (about one inch) you should talk to your rigger about adding some Velcro on the rig and bridle at this point. Also make sure that the bridle is nice and tight under the pin cover. If this cover opens during freefall there should not be much loose bridle there for the wind to catch. Tuck the bridle in under the top main flap (where it comes out from the deployment bag) to prevent any slack at that point. Also make sure there is no slack from the pin and to the edge of the flaps.
Both the riser and pin covers should stay closed during the whole skydive.
In the case of the riser covers, this is to prevent a nasty surprise upon deployment. If these covers open, the risers will be free to move about and this can expose the toggles. The wind can cause the toggles to come undone, and a floating toggle can make for an "interesting" main deployment.
The main pin cover must be closed to protect the bridle exposed there. If you've done the recommended things under "Bridle Protection" and the following things under "Closing Loop" this may be a non-event. You shouldn't count on it, though.
To prevent any covers from opening, tuck tabs are strongly recommended. Velcro just doesn't cut it and is recommended only in addition to tuck tabs, not as a replacement for them. A lot of people claim to have very good Velcro and that they take very good care of it. Well, chances are it's going to turn into "not good enough" at the worst possible time. That's Murphy's Law for you.
If you have to jump a rig with Velcro, make sure that the Velcro is, in fact, very good. Clean it regularly. Also, when closing the covers, make sure that all of the Velcro has been mated, not just parts of it. But, even tuck tabs can fail, so check your covers regardless. The covers should require some tension to open, and they should never open when you're just wearing the rig (ie. on the ground or in the plane). If they do open, it's time to take a look and see what's wrong. Riser covers usually open because the reserve has been packed with too much fabric up by the shoulders. Main pin covers usually open because the tuck tabs do not have any stiffness left in them. Both should be easy to fix.
In Formation Skydiving, the closing loop is almost a non-issue. A premature deployment usually means a long canopy ride, and that's about it (in some cases it can mean a horseshoe malfunction, though). In freeflying, on the other hand, a premature deployment can cause extreme pain due to the faster opening speed and, in some cases, damage to the canopy and its lines.
If the pilot chute bridle comes undone, for any reason, the closing loop on the pin should be tight enough to keep the pin in place and prevent deployment. The way to go about this is to shorten the closing loop until it's hard to put the pin in, and then tighten it a bit more. If it's easy to close the rig, it's also easy for the pin to come out. You should have to really pull on the pull up cord to close the rig. After a while you will get accustomed to it.
Also check your closing loop regularly. It can get looser if you pack different, and more compact, and it can get frayed. A worn closing loop is the equivalent of asking for a premature deployment or a horseshoe malfunction.
A "butt strap" is highly recommended. It is a strap designed to keep the leg straps from sliding down your legs when sitflying. This is very common if the leg straps aren't tightened well (a lot of freeflyers prefer to keep the leg straps quite loose), and can be a distraction and an uncomfortable experience.
The "butt strap" can be something as simple as tying a pull up cord around your leg straps. The most common is to use some sort of bungee though. I use MOM's Homemade Freefly Butt Strap, which I highly recommend. It is completely adjustable and can be removed quickly (as opposed to the permanent solutions some riggers make). You can contact Mike at email@example.com to find out more about it.
Another thing to consider is the added risk of snagging the reserve handle. In freeflying, a lot of grips are placed on the harness. With a protruding loop from someone to get their hands on, the risk of an inadvertent reserve deployment is high. A pillow (like the cutaway pillow) decreases this risk, although there are some cons with this method as well (ie. less grip). It's basically a matter of personal choice, but it's something one should at least be aware of.
These are all things to consider to be a safe freeflyer. There are more things to consider when it comes to the actual freeflying, but that will have to come later. If you're just starting out, you should check out the sitfly and headdown tips in the next issues of skyXtreme. Hopefully they'll be useful as well.
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