Cloud Dancer
The 1998 Freefly Festival
held at Skydive Arizona on November 23-29, 1998
Notes and Observations by Tamara Koyn


The following material represents my best effort to capture information that I have acquired at the festival. I do not guarantee that it is error free.

This year, 165 people registered for the freefly festival. Unlike the past years, Charles Bryan did not have a core group of the best freeflyers jumping together. There were more organizers, who were big names in the freeflying community, intended for organizing all the participants. I, myself, had difficulty in getting on organized loads involving desired dive plans. It was reported that others expressed similar complaints. For me, I didn't really know how to approach the organizers and the organizers very rarely made any type of announcements organizing certain types of jumps for certain experience levels. In spite of this small disappointment, the freefly festival was a good experience.

While visiting Square 2, I note that there are new books and video tapes that any avid freeflyer should add to his collection. Chronicles III is a third tape in a series and, as a highlight, it has one scene that may very well command your respect for watching your altitude and save your life. The scene involves the camera flyer releasing his head-down partner and the view of the ground rushing up as the camera flyer barely gets deployment in time to live. Brian Germain's book, Vertical Journey, is instructional in nature covering all types of freeflying, 2-way dives to practice, safety and more. Brian keeps you engaged with his humorous writing style and he speaks personally to you. Pat Works released a video and book set titled, The Art of vRW. The book is instructional and inspirational in nature. The video is artistically assembled and divided into parts of various types of freeflying such as headup, head-down, carving, etc. along with some tips. The artistic nature of the video is dynamic and the enjoyment of the video and book set will not end. Engage the slow motion feature of your VCR to carefully observe the techniques used by the experienced freeflyers. These products may be found by calling any of the venders.

Activities at the Freefly Festival

Among interesting activities, a group of experienced freeflyers made big ways flying around and about large tubes fabricated from nylon in an assortment of different colors and designs. Once deployed in the air, these tubes were around 15-20' tall. These tubes are shown on the cover of the December 1998 issue of PARACHUTIST magazine. I thought about joining one of these dives and flying near the top of the tube and looking down the side of it. Charles kindly invited me to jump with a 30 way dive with the tube but I was too shy about getting in the sky with so many people. The tubes were carried in a variety of ways. A freeflyer would fly head-down wearing the tube attached to both ankles. Another version of the tube was worn attached to one ankle only and allowed the freeflyer to fly in a head-down Daffy if he desired. These tubes were released from the feet using a similar release system that skysurfers use and then retrieved after the dive. For a standing freeflyer, the tube was held in the hands by using a barefoot water ski rope handle. And then there was the tube that was labeled as "the bomb." This tube was attached to a large jug of water. After the freeflyers broke away from it, an automatic opening device triggered the jug to lose it's payload of water so that it would not descend to the ground any faster than a malfunctioned canopy that was cut away.

I discussed my shyness about getting on big ways due to the risk of freefall collisions with others. Most responded by asking me if I had a Cypres. I found the impression that a Cypres was viewed upon as a solution for freefall collisions to be disturbing. While I'm a proud owner of a Cypres and turn it on before I jump, I will skydive like I don't have one. It is of paramount importance to take the greatest care while freeflying. At the beginning of the festival, I was invited on a 3-way. I did not know anyone's flying skill. Later, in the dive, I was only a little higher and not too far from one of the jumpers who suddenly lost balance and struck me. Even associated with such a short distance of travel before impact, it hurt. Freefall collisions in freeflying can badly break you and owning a Cypres (while it can save your life) isn't going to protect your body from careless freeflying. A Cypres will not prevent the injuries of a freefly collision from killing you.

A boogie environment involves lots of meeting new people. The first dive with new people is basically an orientation dive during which you learn how the people fly and discover everyone's fallrate needs and tendencies. Avoiding multi-level formations and transitions as well as those movement that involve the loss of eye contact is a good idea. Multi-level movements and movements which cause the loss of eye contact is best reserved for jumping with those people whom's flying skills you're familiar with.

Tracking dives were also organized. These came in two forms, tracking relative work or a tracking contest. Both of these require good planning for the jumprun.

For tracking RW, a standard jumprun was used. Typically, only one group doing tracking RW was exiting on the same pass along with regular jumpers doing RW, freeflying or freestyle. Usually, the strategy is for the tracking group to exit last, track perpendicular away from the axis of the jumprun and then to curve towards the DZ following a path parallel to the jump run. However, when I did a tracking dive, we exited first. In this case, Knut, the organizer, had us track on approximately a 30 angle in the same direction as jumprun but diverging away from the jumprun itself. During the dive, Knut tracked on his back with the rest of the group following. He adjusted the efficiency of his track so that the slowest person could keep up with the group. As I tracked in my moderately baggy Body Sport Suit (and weighing in at 117lbs), I found the forward motion of the group to be much slower and the fallrate to be much faster than my comfort range. While tracking on my belly, it was all too easy for me to find myself jetting out in front of the group and being floaty. Rate of forward tracking can be controlled by how much the legs are extended and pressed into the wind and fallrate can be adjusted by the arch of the torso and shoulders. During this dive, I needed to place my hands and forearms behind in the burble of my rig. Leaning this way or that way allows movement toward the right or the left. Tracking on the back allows more flexibility in adjusting the fallrate as one can de-arch much more than one can arch. And good horizontal movement can be achieved by adding pressure on the relative wind with the legs and flattening the body more.

During tracking contests, competitors were dropped along an East-West road with about 2 seconds between each exit. The idea was to see who would track the farthest. Each tracking competitor had to track straight to the South which was towards the DZ and ensure that they went straight south without deviating off to either side to avoid entering other competitors' airspace. This is accomplished by looking down at the ground and making sure that you're tracking exactly parallel to the North-South roads and field divisions. Just prior to exiting, the fellow next to me was tying his sweat pants over his shoes. Giggling, I told him that I liked his "jets." As I was tracking, I was looking forward towards an East-West road beyond the DZ. I was trying to adjust the angle and efficiency of my track in attempts to make the road appear to descend in my field of view. I did succeed in keeping it stationary. Once open, most of the tracking competitors were behind me and a few really good ones in front of me. Once down on the ground, other competitors were commenting about how their bodies hurt from the tension they were holding in their bodies to track. Since I wanted to simply track rather than actually competing, this dive revealed how my track tends to relate to others--something to keep in mind for future tracking RW dives. In hindsight, I realize that I probably should have changed my angle of attack more dramatically to explore what would happen. Back during the summer, I had the opportunity to fly gliders. During one flight, it appeared that I was barely able to reach the runway to land. The CFI asked me to lower the nose of my sailplane and my instinct told me that this would be trading away altitude at a more rapid rate for faster airspeed and I was convinced that this would cause us to not make the runway. However, I was very much surprised to see how much further my point of reach was after I had lowered the nose. Experienced glider pilots have a better knowledge of L/D ratios and polar curves--all of this being about the efficiency of the glide.

My First Video Jumps

This was the highlight of my Freefly Festival experience. My camera helmet is an XS ArrowDynamics HawkEye with a Sony DCR PC7 and .5 Kenko wide angle lens attached. For my camera, I have a Camera Condom which is a custom fit neoprene cover produced by Peter Raymond for the PC7 or PC10. I cut a hole in the front of my Camera Condom so that my subject can see if my record light is on or not. To prevent myself from accidentally switching into photo mode instead of standby for normal video, I caked up a small bit of gaffers tape on that portion of the switch so that it could not be rotated into photo mode. I also taped around the C-bracket and the helmet so that there would be absolutely no way that any lines could get caught in there. Before placing the camera in the Camera Condom (and after focusing), I taped with Gaffers tape all around the lens attachment point all the way onto the camera body itself. And I placed a piece of gaffers tape over the mic.

Since the camera is on the left side of my head, I have some additional considerations for opening. Firstly, I wear my chest strap more loosely. This allows my risers to be more spread during the opening. (Normally, I wear it tight.) This may not be a concern for some jumpers whose shoulders are much wider than mine. Even with a PC7, someone told me that if I turn my head to look to the right during opening, a hard opening could still seriously hurt my neck, so instead I elected to tip my head toward the right and allow the risers to slap the right side of my helmet. For this purpose, I put gaffers tape covering the snaps of my chip strap on the right side so that the riser wouldn't knock them off by accident.

Before getting in the air with the camera, I came up with some skydive ideas for getting oriented to camera flying. These were: 1) Make a solo freestyle jump taking the camera along for the ride. 2) Make a flat turn looking straight down and then making some cartwheels looking at a landmark on the horizon during another solo jump. This dive would be repeated with the camera mounted on the helmet at various angles. Without actually trying to "sight" on anything, this would be helpful for finding the most natural camera angle for sighting. 3) With a camera angle chosen, make a solo jump filming a landmark on the horizon in the headup and head-down orientation holding the head naturally. The goal would be to notice if the horizon was angled and then to correct those tendencies on the next dive. 4) Make a relaxed freeflying jump (with a single freeflying partner), allowing the camera just to come along for the ride. 5) Make jumps filming another small freefly group doing their thing and jumps filming a freestylist.

In using the video camera, I realize a set of priorities to remember.
1) Skydive safely.
2) Fly your body.
3) Shoot video.

As I jumped with the camera, I discovered a few things.

While on the ground, I practiced sighting with a friend. He would point my head so that a certain object would be in the center and I noticed how the bridge of my nose was positioned relative to that centered object. I've chosen to not use a right sight (as one freeflyer mentioned that it could cause serious damage to the eye in a freefly collision) nor even use a dot on my goggles. I, then, pointed the camera to other objects and got my friend's feedback on how I was doing.

The helmet fits perfectly like a glove, a lucky find for me without having to build a helmet completely from scratch. The padding around the ears is slightly bulky and when I was about to alter that, Mike McGowan suggested that I make at least 20 video jumps before doing anything, the padding will compress. Mike also pointed out that padding seems to be a little more plush at altitude since the air inside is a little more expanded.

When I switch to standby mode on jumprun, I could hear the motor of the camera engage. There is no sound when I engage the record function so I look to my partner to confirm that my record light is on. Once under canopy, I can hear the motor of the camera again when I switch it off and I know I shot video.

At breakoff altitude, my regular Dytter was barely audible and I heard it only because I was already conscious of arriving to this altitude through my sense of time awareness. I am now the proud owner of a Pro-Dytter which not only sounds louder but also beeps at 3 different user definable altitudes. My regular Dytter is plenty loud for freeflying with my leather hat. However, different helmets are different. Everything including the relative wind sounds unrealistically quiet with the full shell of my helmet. The canopy ride down to landing is practically silent.

I elected to put my camera on the middle angle on my HawkEye helmet. When flying headup, my head seems to be in a normal erect position while aiming my camera. However, while head-down, it seems that I have to tuck my chin down unnaturally so. While watching the video screen in the main hanger area, I also became more conscious of the tendency of many head-down camera flyers to crop body parts on the bottom of the screen, legs cut off if the subject is also head-down.

The HawkEye has a Gath style neoprene lip that comes across the forehead. While I was in a headup stance, I noticed it fluttering on my forehand. Other freeflyers cover up their neoprone lip with gaffers tape. While flying head-down feels very smooth, there is a bit more vibration on the helmet in general while flying headup.

It takes additional concentration to aim the camera in the desired manner to capture reasonable video. This concentration can easily distract one into losing altitude awareness. I carefully maintain that but the additional concentration took its toll on me differently. During skydives in which I intended to fall down the tube at a constant fallrate for a partner to practice a certain drill in front of my camera, I realized in hindsight that I did not do this as I promised. I tended to adjust my fallrate and proximity for optimum shooting. I note that it will be easier for me to just shoot a group or a freestylist simply as an external observing camera flyer than it is for me to perform a skydive like a Skydive University coach would while shooting video.

When I am within 5' of my subject, it becomes noticeable that the camera is on the left side of my head as they appear more to the right on the video screen. So, when I'm closer to the subject, I need to remember to point my camera a little more to the right.

I also discovered that when the viewfinder says I have 15 minutes of battery life remaining that I have actually only about 4. So, if my viewfinder reports something less than 15 minutes remaining then I'll need to recharge before the next dive. (I'm taping only the freefall portion.)

Even though the PC7 is light and I don't really notice it even during opening, my neck still got sore from just wearing it on the minutes prior to jumprun. This is a good reason for putting it on at the last minute. Another solution for this minor problem could be to wear the helmet awhile each day while doing some chores around the house. The adjustment will not take long.

Greg Gasson noticed that the corners of my video are slightly darker due to my wide angle lens. He suggested that I zoom in slightly or to not use the wide angle lens at all. For now, I just would like to shoot video for the dive debrief and this isn't really a problem for me.

For more details about using the Sony DCR-PC7 video camera in freeflying, please see "Getting Started with Freefly Video using the Sony DCR-PC7/E."

In summing up, articles about the Freefly Festival appear in the December 1998 issue of Skydiving Magazine and the January 1999 issue of Parachutist. My freefly festival experience included watching the big way dives with the large tubes in action, tracking dives, my first jumps using a video helmet, and, of course, visiting old friends and making new friends.

Cloud Dancer
© Copyright 1998. Tamara Koyn. All Rights Reserved.