Cloud Dancer
Freefly Coaching With Orly King
Archway Skydiving Center in Vandalia, Illinois
July 1-4, 2000
Notes by Tamara Koyn


The following material does not necessarily represent my opinions and represents my best effort to capture the material actually presented in the seminar. This material may contain significant errors.

Rodney's Experiences with the Spaceball

To start my weekend, fellow freeflyer, Rodney tells me about a previous weekend when he was taking his Atmosphere Dolphin A License test with the Spaceball. First, he was required to take a regular instructional jump with the examiner to determine whether or not he was ready for the test. While flying head-down, it was a "Monkey-See Monkey-Do" type of jump. First, was pawing forward in the air in front of the body and then Rodney put his hands together in front of the torso as if praying. Next he performs a 360 degree pirouette followed by a right handshake and then a left handshake. Next, Rodney flew with one hand positioned on the top of his head. The examiner asked him to make a cartwheel transition. Finally, the examiner moves horizontally across the sky, first backing up, and making Rodney follow. Rodney was considered ready to take the test.

During an Atmosphere Dolphin License Test, the examiner releases the ball from an exit altitude of 13,000 feet and the candidate must perform rotational and independent arm maneuvering skills flying with a standard Spaceball.

During the A License test, the candidate must:
  1. catch the ball
  2. pass it from one hand to the other and release it
  3. perform a 360 degree rotation (any choice between a pirouette, loop, or cartwheel) relative to the ball
  4. catch the ball
  5. pass it from one hand to the other and release it
  6. perform a different 360 degree rotation relative to the ball
  7. catch the ball by 6,000 feet
  8. pass the ball to the left hand to prepare for deployment
  9. return the ball to the examiner after landing

Rodney attempted the A License test twice and failed both times and he was sharing his video as well as his learning experiences at the drop zone. Mainly, before each transition, Rodney had positioned himself relative to the Spaceball. He then performed the transition and recovered his relativity to the Spaceball to catch it. However, establishing relativity to the Spaceball prior to the transition took valuable time causing him to not complete the exercises within the time limit. His examiner pointed out that it's not necessary to achieve perfect relativity with the ball before the transition. Rodney also tells his fellow freeflyers that its important to not overamp when grabbing for the Spaceball as this can cause you to miss the ball or to bump the ball, pushing it away from yourself.

Rodney knows how to make a Spaceball. The length of the pullup cord sticking out of the ball determines its fallrate. If it is falling too slow, cut a little bit off the end of the pullup cord. Cut only a little bit at a time because if you cut too much, the ball will be too fast and you will not be able to restore any length back to the pullup cord.

Rodney feels comfortable to make solo jumps with a Spaceball and feels that he can be responsible for the ball so that it is not dropped. However, being a ballmaster for someone else to practice with the ball is another story. If the student bumps the ball, it can go sailing across the sky and be more difficult for the ball master to retrieve. This is particularly a problem if this happens close to the 6,000 foot retrieval hard deck.

There is more about the Spaceball in my article about the 1999 Skydive Chicago Space Games on this web site.

Note: Starting in December 2002, Vladiball, which is a safe sky ball, has been made available to the market.

Freefly Safety and Tips Seminar with Orly King.

On Saturday night, July 1, 2000, Orly King gave a seminar. Orly has been touring the drop zones of the US sharing his knowledge in freeflying.

It is impossible to teach freeflying in a room, however, we can cover some important topics regarding safety. Please also do not hesitate to ask your questions.

First, let's talk about your equipment. Flaps need to stay shut. The closing loop needs to be good. It's too often that closing loops are too loose. Orly actually observed a jumper who would close his rig by holding the closing loop in his fingers and inserting the pin! This is seriously brain dead. If you are not struggling to close your container, your closing loop is too loose. BTW, there are some rigs that have the closing loop on the bottom flap of the container. With this configuration, you can not have a sufficiently tight closing loop. Even with the closing loop as short as the thickness of the four grommets, it can still be loose. Velcro is fine. The problem is that skydivers allow their Velcro to wear out.

Wear a helmet. You might get kicked, smack your head in the door frame, etc. It's NOT to save you from a serious collision in freeflying.

Audible altimeters are a good thing. Many freeflyers don't use a visual altimeter and use two audible altimeters instead. When using two audible altimeters, be sure that one has a half used battery while the other has a new battery. In other words, you don't want to be putting new batteries in both audible altimeters at the same time because, then, both batteries could go dead at the same time. A Skytronics or ProTrack is good. The company that makes the Time-Out went out of business. You can't trust audible altimeters. A wrist mount altimeter is good to have. A Skytronic resets when the pilot performs 0 Gs with the aircraft. The Skytronic will consider that altitude to be ground level. ProTracks shut off at 20,000 feet and also during a 0 G experience in the aircraft. ProDytters reset after a certain amount of time at the same altitude, which can occur when the airplane is in a holding pattern.

Use a BOC or pullout. If you don't have it, get your rig converted. Not having it is not even good for flat flying! Someone grabbing for a grip may grab the Velcro of a leg strap throw-out. When packing your pilot chute, roll the bridle inside the pilot chute. If you just stuff the loose bridle into the pouch along with the pilot cute, it could just "feed" out during freefall.

In the past two years, exit procedures and, especially, order has been a big issue. At 80% of the drop zones, people just say wait 5 seconds. You have to adjust the time according to the winds aloft. What is a safe space? 800 feet? 1,000 feet between each group? After we define a specific safe horizontal distance, we can mathematically calculate how much time should be between each group according to the current winds aloft. Look out the door to determine when it is safe to go. A good rule of thumb is to observe the group out before you to be on a 45 degree angle out the door. However, don't wait until this time to start your climbout. You should start your climbout sooner. A fellow from NASA in Florida gave Orly long documentation about exit order. John Kallend offers information at his web site which you can visit at: A head-down freeflyer travels forward about 3.2 seconds more than a belly flyer. Belly flyers should exit first. Most drop zones have belly flyers exit first because the groups are larger. A large group can take 30 seconds on climbout. Freefall drift is a minor consideration. All drift is the same and 15 seconds difference in freefall time is not really that much. If you do get out first, don't fly your canopy towards the DZ. If you are getting out first, you should still practice the freefall portion of your dive facing perpendicular to the jumprun. In the door, look down to observe the direction of jumprun. Some skydivers experience too much sensory overload and cannot observe the direction of jumprun. While other skydivers think these people probably shouldn't jump or do freefly because they are unsafe, they will still be out there. Regarding the number of groups...5 groups should be able to exit on the same pass. However, if you have 11 groups, the pilot may have to go around.

Regarding a jumpsuit for starting out in freeflying, save your money and wear Wal-Mart clothes for your freefly suit. A sweat shirt and pants are good. [Caution: Be sure the shirt is secured very well into the pants so that it does not come up and cover your emergency handles.] To learn sit flying, wear minimum clothes on the lower body and more on the upper body. If you use a winged sit suit, get out of it as soon as you have learned to sit. For head-down flying, wear baggy pants and something tight, such as a T-shirt, on the upper body. Consider the fabric of the clothes you choose. Stretchy material like a sweat shirt has a lot of drag. Large baggy pants made from ZP don't provide drag! When learning, it's better to have some suit on the arms and legs for some "power" and feeling the air.

Beginners should start with sitting. Orly has met people who fly head-down but don't know how to sit fly. Feeflying means flying your body in all body positions and expanding your capabilities in flight. Maximize your potential to fly. Learn to sit in place. Learn forward and backwards movement in a sit. And, then, learn how to turn in a sit. Repeat this learning progression in a standup and then while head-down.

While freeflying, it's important to keep the speed, i.e., maintain your fallrate. If you lose your head-down position, flip to a sit position. There is a large difference in fallrate between head-down and being on the stomach. However, the fallrate of a sit position and head-down position are similar.

Learning to fly head-down involves a foreign visual, i.e., the world appears upside-down. For more tips, look for Max Cohn's articles in the skydiving periodicals, mainly Parachutist and Skydiving Magazine.

Don't progress to larger groups. It is very tempting to invite one more friend to your dive and, through this process, the group gets bigger. Two people might be able to fly safely together. However, in a 3-way, the third person could end up 1,000 feet straight above you. This is common and dangerous. If you can't see the third teammate who is doing a buzz job because he can't control his flight, it is not safe. A zoomer blasted through a 2-way grip at another DZ two weeks ago. That third person may need to use the group as a reference to learn additional skills but he certainly must not hit it! If you can't fly in your slot, then don't jump with more people than you can see. That means jump with only one other person. It's not worth killing your friends. Even if you think 2-ways are boring, you will learn more. One person can fly as base for the other to practice. Opportunities for good dives is more with 2 people than with 4 people. Stick to your plan. Don't bust out an extra move. You just might flail and hurt someone. Be strong about discipline. Don't invite undisciplined individuals on your nice-way.

To learn head-down flying, it's best to go with an instructor. Starting from the exit, he will hold you in a head-down position and manipulate you as well as give signals about your body position. Then, he will release you and let you try to fly head-down on your own. When you lose it, you will go to a sit position and practice a sit program. For head-down flying, the legs should be spread strong and wide. The head should be straight on the spine. If you are holding your head straight on your spine, you can better know your orientation. If you see the sky, you know you're on your back. If you see the ground, the you know you are more face down. Having your head straight gives you a reference. The arms should back in a delta wing position and you should see your fingers in your peripheral vision. Fly with the forearms perpendicular to the relative wind. One student had the hands slightly raised such that the forearms were at a 45 degree angle to the relative wind. However, with the forearms more blown back and perpendicular to the relative wind, the arms provide more stability and more maneuverability.

While Orly doesn't recommend for novices to use a head-down Daffy, very few top freeflyers don't fly in a head-down Daffy. The Daffy leg position is used to avoid kicking one another when flying close together, such as the case may be when forming an 8-way head-down star. The head-down Daffy provides the ability to fine tune your flying. As a beginner, don't try to learn the head-down Daffy. Beginners tend to fly with one leg straight to the sky and one knee bent and forward. This causes beginners to backslide. Beginners also twist the hips which causes them to pirouette or to orbit about the base. To have the advantage of both positions, you can fly in between a head-down straddle and a Daffy.

Do enjoy solo jumps! It's fun to watch the clouds! Can you do 20 360s on a solo jump? If so, you won't have a problem turning in place! [Caution: Doing 20 360s all in the same direction could make you seriously dizzy and severely disorient you in freefall. Practicing 360s in alternating directions would be considerably less disorienting.] Learn transitions on solo jumps and then try them with a partner or 100 feet away from a group who you are using for a fallrate reference. If you do this, communicate to that group prior to the jump and breakoff high.

For your solo practice, make up a routine. Sit to head-down. Head-down to head-down. Head-down to sit. And sit to sit. Then, try the same routine with a double loop or cartwheel transition. To make a cartwheel from a headup position, remove one arm to start the cartwheel. Tuck the body to rotate and stick the head down. If, as you go to the head-down position, you leave the knees in a sit position, they will cause you to backslide.

Try a head-down solo dive with your eyes closed for the first 20-30 seconds. You will learn something. But don't cheat and peek out your eyes. Carry a lemon and bite into it. Experience taste in freefall!! It's definitely a new experience.

When beginning with 2-way freeflying, it is much more important that you control your level with one another than it is to control your proximity. If your partner can't stay down, then you must go to their level. Levels is most important for safety. If your partner can't stay down at your level and you can't go to his or her level, don't jump together. Levels is especially important at pull time.

Sometimes staying close is the work of both people, not one staying fast waiting for the one who corked to come back.

The magic answer for learning freeflying is to "relax!" Be comfortable there. Yell, "Yahoo, I'm having fun!!" during your climbout. Be sure that you breathe. This gets oxygen into your system and helps you to relax. A freeflyer is relaxed and strong. This is the magic of breathing. It allows you to be strong and "sporty." Include relaxing and breathing in the dirt dive. Take a deep breath to blow out the stress.

Cloud Dancer
© Copyright 2000. Tamara Koyn. All Rights Reserved.