Cloud Dancer
Freeflying with Monkey Claw
2001 World Freefall Convention, Quincy, IL USA
August 8, 2001 (Wednesday)


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.

"First things first, gotta beer?!"

One third of the audience had less than 50 freefly jumps.

The seminar is divided into three sections
1) Getting Started
2) Practical Tips & Coaching
3) Technical Bigger Way Drill Dives
4) The seminar will finish with a Q&A session.

These are opinions from Monkey Claw. Overall, there is no right or wrong way in freeflying.

What is the definition of freeflying? It's everything and anything. It's presenting to the relative wind in any way and being in control. It's being able to go slow or fast, adjust proximity and heading, playing with or without toys, and performing transitions. You control your body and the air. Giving a definition to freeflying makes it limiting.

Section 1: Basic Safety

Freeflying is different than RW. There is more speed and freeflying is more dangerous.

Gear concerns are the same regardless of the brand of rig. Be sure that the rig stays closed, i.e., all parts stay closed until they are used. Be sure Velcro is clean. If a riser comes out and a brake gets unstowed, you will spin on opening under an elliptical canopy. The tuck flap must be tucked completely in. The reserve flap should stay closed. The hacky of the main pilot chute should be the only thing hanging out for the ENTIRE skydive. All handles should be well secured.

The members of Monkey Claw prefer pillows for the emergency handles. In RW, you are docking head to head or shoulder to shoulder, etc. In freeflying, docking is performed face to face with chests facing one another. Chests can bump one another and it is more likely to snag a handle.

Add a bungi cord or tie a pullup cord between the leg straps. This keeps the leg straps together and up away from the knees.

The chest strap should be secure and tight.

In the case of instructing freeflying and noticing something wrong with the partner's gear while in freefall, a Monkey Claw member will get close to them and cross the fists. If, while in freefall, you know there is something wrong with your gear and you are in a group, back away from the group. If your gear has a known problem, FIX IT. Don't jump gear that you know comes open or has another unsafe problem.

Wear a hard helmet. In freeflying, the potential for speed changes are higher. Also, a leather hat does not serve as a good camera mount.

Jump with two audible altimeters. Use your brain first. An AAD is recommended. People may lose awareness. Cypres is the brand of choice. Be sure to have it turned on.

The speed of freeflying is a lot faster. Changes in proximity happen faster than RW. Therefore, collisions can happen fast. Work on 2-way dives. After working on 2-way dives, you work up to larger dives. However, you'll find 2-ways to be the most fun and you'll go back to doing 2-ways. During group dives, all freeflyers need to be on level with one another so you can see everyone. Breaking off from loose groups is confusing. Keep it small. For 2 to 6 ways, breakoff at 4,500 feet. One of the Monkey Claw members emphasized that they deploy between 2,500 and 3,000 feet. When there is a nucleus and outside rings, the break off altitude should be higher to accommodate a break off that occurs in stages. Before taking off into a track, check that you have clear air behind you. As you are tracking, slow your fallrate. It takes 8 to 10 seconds to slow to 120 mph from 160-170 mph. Don't deploy while in a track nor on your head! Make a barrel roll to be sure the airspace above you is clear.

Section II: How do I get started in freeflying?

Establish a mental attitude conducive for learning freeflying. Don't limit your potential with preconceived ideas or expectations. If you are a student, understand that you are not going for a perfect skydive. If you are teaching, make this clear to your student. Freeflying is new so it can't be perfect. Have fun learning, don't be hard on yourself.

There are two types of awareness, body awareness and air awareness. Where is your hand? Where do you feel the air?

Set goals. But, they should be short term goals. Get coaching from an experienced freeflyer. This saves money and frustration. When learning without a coach, you might learn habits that are not as efficient.

Being and staying current is important. You need lots of time in the air for both learning and staying safe. If you are not current, you get tense, etc. Currency requirements depends on the individual. It takes dedication to get good at freeflying. It's about consistency. If you layoff for six months, you'll lose skills.

When you are participating in a big way freefly dive, admit when you are not comfortable with a responsibility. Organizers appreciate that. You ruin the dive for the others as well as increase the risks, if you remain silent about your discomforts, try, and then fail to meet your responsibilities. One of the Monkey Claw members indicated that they reward a person who backs off by offering to do a 2-way with that person later.

Freeflying is not anti-RW, anti-belly, nor anti safety. If you say belly flying sucks, you have just limited yourself.

Section III: Big Dives

It's important to cover safety. It's boring. Get up and leave if it bores you.

In a big way with different skill levels, you lose others. It's scary. And, you learn less. Stay in small groups. Do a 2-way with someone of your own skill level. Freeflying in small groups is fun, safe and provides better learning experiences.

Regarding exit order...Most commonly, freeflyers exit last due to freefall drift and forward throw from the airplane. At Z-hills, freeflyers exit first. This began since freeflyers wanted a better spot and wanted to sit by the door. But, then upon deployment, you see a 4-way breaking off straight above you! Freeflyers also get out first at Byron and Skydive Texas. Another reason that a DZ has freeflyers get out first is to prevent an entire load of jumpers competing for the landing area all at once. However, this is not a good reason for putting freeflyers out first. First, in a 20-way RW formation, everyone competes for the landing area anyway. This is a canopy control issue and not a reason for freeflyers get killed on deployment! Assuming that the pilot is flying into the wind, the slower freefallers should exit first.

Regarding solo freefly dives...Try to get into a 2-way dive with one person laying a good base. When solo, a novice freeflyer loses sense of direction. If you are freeflying solo, tell people behind you that you are a beginner and you will be moving a lot. During the jump, don't fixate on a certain point. Be sure to make at least two heading changes.

BTW, good freeflyers stay under the plane longer than a newbie who wipes out on exit.

While freeflying, your airspeed is anywhere from 140 mph to 200 mph. If you go flat, you rapidly lose speed and risk a collision. This is corking. When you lose balance, keep up the speed and flip to a sit. Don't go flat during the dive.

4,500 feet is the lowest altitude that the nucleus should break off. During staged break offs, the last freeflyers should be peeling off no lower than 4,500 feet.

Any good freefly school should be able to teach you to track well. Before going into a track, do a 360 or a 180 to check all around you. If you do a 180, you can then transition to tracking on your back. Do a barrel roll to be sure no one is above you. If you have a blue and green suit, they won't see you. During your barrel roll, you might even see someone from another group above you. Try to see his body position to know where he is going and you take a perpendicular direction. A solo or a 2-way that has exited behind you is a concern. A 4-way is probably going straight down. It's a good idea to track away from the axis of jumprun.

Plan the dive. Dive the plan. Don't throw in extra tricks. Performing extra tricks is not safe. In case the plan doesn't work, elect someone as the base and plan for everyone to fly to the base. Keep track of everyone throughout the dive.

On bigger groups, you don't see when someone is behind you. When you are approaching a freeflyer (in the base formation) from behind, be offset one shoulder width so that the inside freeflyer does not track into you at break off time. If someone is below, you might feel the burble. It causes you more concern if someone you don't know is out of sight. Keep groups small.

You should also use a visual altimeter and your eyes. Some freefly students fall as fast as 200 mph, which makes for a very fast skydive!

Using toys during freefly dives... Freeflyers have a greater tendency to play with toys than RWers. Spaceballs are not allowed at many DZs and there are FAA issues, especially over populated areas. At Eloy, cars or even toilets can be thrown from the plane (during an organized "junk day"). You have to be responsible for your actions with such toys. It must not damage any property nor hurt anyone. Space balls can be deadly. Jump with a ball only with an experienced ball master. Don't do it alone.

Freeflyers also jump with tubes. Tubes are much safer and will not do damage. Tubes are about 20 feet long and have cutaway handles. They are great for pylon races. However, they are not a freefly training aid. When flying with a tube, stay on level. If you fly high on a tube dive, someone might get right below you. Also, the tube can come off the freeflyer's feet in freefall. You don't want to be above it. Don't fly above any toys. Also, because premature deployments can happen, don't fly above any other freeflyer, unless it is a part of the dive plan.


Regarding jumpsuits for freeflyers... Beginners can wear a sweatshirt and shorts for sit flying. Beginners can wear a T-shirt and sweatpants for flying head-down. A full suit is more difficult in the beginning. For a two piece suit arrangement, be sure that the shirt stays tucked in and will not cover the emergency handles. With a one piece jumpsuit, pull the fabric tight across your chest to be sure the emergency handles are clear.

Learn to fly in a static position. This is the most important, to be able to fly with no motion.

What's a good drill to stop orbiting? Maintain eye contact. Avoid forward drive and turning. Pick a ground heading. Break the dive down into its learning parts. When orbiting starts, stop, expand your awareness, take a breath, and resume the dive. To correct for the orbiting problem, learn to side slide (or teach your student to side slide).

Cloud Dancer
© Copyright 2001. Tamara Koyn. All Rights Reserved.