Cloud Dancer
Solo Drills for
Learning Basic Head-down Flight

by Tamara Koyn
© Copyright 1995, Tamara Koyn. All Rights Reserved


This introductory document is written only to provide brief information regarding learning head-down flying techniques. It is intended to prepare course participants for getting the maximum benefit possible from a VRW course prior to attending an actual course.

During the beginning stage, it is most important to learn good habits and it is essential to practice the exercises as correctly as possible.

Before beginning basic 2-way relativity drills in the head-down orientation, solo freefall drills will help you to develop air awareness, orientation awareness, aerodynamic control and better balance skills. Like the document on standing solo drills, this document describes three series of solo freefall drills. The first series will help you to learn the Basic Head-down Position from which you will eventually learn to control your proximity and level. The second series serve as a preparation for learning forward and backwards movements and the third series prepare you for learning to control your fallrate. You may find that you can sometimes combine more than one drill during one solo skydive or you may repeat one drill for a number of dives. In any case, you want to keep your drills simple. Do not burden or overwhelm yourself with trying to remember or do too much during any single dive. In cases where a skill learned in a previous drill is required to perform a more advanced drill, you should not proceed onto the more advanced drill without first mastering the necessary drills. For example, if you have not yet learned to balance in the head-down orientation, you will not be able to effectively practice Solo Drill Number 1 in the third series of drills. In some cases, trying some drills before others or in association with others can assist you with a particular problem that you may be working on. For example, Solo Drill Number 1 in the second series of drills can help you with Solo Drill Number 3 in the first series of drills.

While holding the Basic Head-down Position, the legs are spread and turned out with a very slight pike in the hips. The knees point toward the sides and are slightly bent. At all times, you should feel air pressure against both ankles and knees while spreading your legs against the resistance of the wind. The hands should be positioned topward from the head with the forearms straight into the windflow and elbows even with the shoulders (neither forward nor backward) with the palms presented to the windflow. You can imagine holding two large dinner platters, one in each hand. Or, you may prefer to hold your arms in a more blown back position. Your spine should be straight with your head erected straight on your spine with the horizon line straight ahead in view (after exit transition).

From the list of exits, select an exit with which you would like to start a solo freefall drill. If you are exiting after another group, you should allow approximately 7 seconds of time or more between the group's exit and your exit to insure sufficient horizontal separation. While practicing a solo drill, you should face perpendicular to the jumprun. In this way, you will avoid drifting into the airspace of other jumpers.

Exits to Practice

Number 1: This is a progressive series of exit drills. You can use these exit drills to assist yourself in learning the Basic Head-down Position. Try the following exits in sequence, trying the next exit in the sequence only after successfully completing the previous. On the first exit, perform the flyaway portion of the exit in the face to wind position and feel the exit transition as you move into the face to earth position. This involves stepping from the inside of the aircraft with the left foot (when exiting from a door on the left side of an aircraft with no hardware outside the door) and presenting the chest to the relative wind. With respect to the ground, you will be head high on the same heading as the aircraft just immediately after leaving the aircraft. On the second exit, gently exaggerate the feeling of riding the hill by tilting forward into a no-lift dive. Immediately after you exit into the face to wind position, you can look at the ground beyond your feet (with the arms positioned at your sides). This will encourage you to straighten your knees and to bend forward at the waist. As you gradually tip forward, allow yourself to view the horizon line upside-down. Do not try to rush this transition. Relax and enjoy the flow along with any exhilaration you may feel. On your third exit, exaggerate the feeling of riding the hill just as you did on the second exit. However, this time keep your arms spread wide (with the palms presented to the windflow) as you tip over to the Basic Head-down Position. Keep your legs spread as well. You will probably use more bending at the waist and hips to proceed into a head-low attitude.

Number 2: Diving exit. Dive toward the tail allowing yourself to gently continue the diving action into the Head-down Position.

Number 3: From rear rear float with only the left foot in the corner of the door (for door on left side with no hardware outside of the door) and the hands holding on to the aft edge of the door, you can leave presenting your chest to the relative wind with a very slow left flat turn gently diving into the Basic Head-down Position. For some individuals, this can be a very natural transition to the Basic Head-down Position especially after practicing the series of exit drills for learning the Basic Head-down Position.

Number 4: This exit is more difficult. Exit from a float position into the Basic Head-down Position with the chest facing the ground. During your set-up, position yourself with your weight completely on the right leg (for door on left side with no hardware outside of the door) with the left leg free and trailing behind. You should be leaning into the airflow. If you are using an inside floater bar, grasp it with an underhand grip. (An overhand grip positions the hand between the top of the door and the bar; thus the hands can get trapped and injured while exiting.) Face your chest toward the front of the aircraft. Look down at your feet, hunching the shoulders forward and bending at the waist/hips. Once you have your shoulders hunched, you can raise your head to look forward (as this will be necessary to make appropriate eye contact when jumping with others). To make the launch, you literally throw your feet behind you by raising the left foot and pushing the lower body from under yourself with the right foot. Your head and upper body should be straight into the windflow at the launch. Perform the flyaway in the Basic Head-down Position. At first (assuming that your head is pointing in the same direction as the aircraft), you will see the ground before you and then the horizon as you proceed through exit transition.

Number 5: Try exit number 4 from inside the door. During your set-up, get your C.G. as close to the door as possible (without using "death" grips on the floater bar or edge of the door) with the toes of the right foot over the door sill (if possible) and the left foot farther back from the door sill.

Number 6: Sideways Exit for a Twin Otter style door. Position yourself sideways in the door with your head towards the front of the aircraft and your belly facing outward. Grab the floater bar (a floater bar inside the aircraft or alternative hand hold must be available inside the aircraft) with the left hand and place the right hand on the floor next to the front edge of the door. Next, place the right foot in the aft lower corner of the door and then the left foot in the aft high corner of the door. In the door, get your body and C.G. forward, almost over the edge of the door frame, i.e., your seat should not be sagging backwards into the aircraft. Roll out the door and ride the exit transition into the Basic Head-down Position. For another variation on this exit, you can establish your set-up position in the door with your back facing outward.

Number 7: Tumble Exit--Tumble out the door and regain your stability straight into the Basic Head-down Position. (Try this exit after you have mastered the first series of solo freefall exercises.) With this exit, you test and train your ability to quickly recover an unstable exit as quickly as possible into a position in which you can control your relativity. For another variation of this exit, pop out the door without taking or using a carefully thought out set-up position in the door and concentration to help you achieve your flying stance on the launch. After just popping out the door, immediately position yourself in a position in which you can control your relativity. When launching from the doorway of a Cessna, start from a position with at least one foot on the step to guard against the possibility of hitting the step.

First Series of Solo Freefall Drills:

Solo Freefall Drill 1: Practice the no-lift dive with slow and quick diving entry. Be aware of how your head position effects the position of your body. Practice both the arched variation and flat variation of the no-lift dive and notice the difference in sensation.

Solo Freefall Drill 2: Starting from a position facing the relative wind or a position with your back to the relative wind, practice the pendulum action. Starting from face-down, bring your arms to your sides and dive the head toward the ground bending in the waist/hips in a manner similar for starting a frontloop. When you get to your back, bring the arms next to the sides of your body and arch, looking backwards for the ground with your head. Insure that your knees are straight when you arch backwards to flip back over onto your face. Continue this "swinging" type action. Play with reducing the swing action so that you stay more head-down instead of coming completely onto your back or face.

Solo Freefall Drill 3: Practice assuming the Basic Head-down Position using a half frontloop, backloop or half cartwheel movement from an upright position. While holding the Basic Head-down Position, practice your balance on the loop axis. It make take you several dives to get a feel for balancing this position. As you start to get the feel for holding the position, pay attention to the feeling of the air on your body. If you feel air on your chest, you know you are backsliding. If you feel air on the back of your legs, you're leaning too much onto your back. Use the motion that you learned in the pendulum swing to correct your orientation, i.e., if you have air on your chest, bend forward at the hips and if you have air on the back of your legs, arch at your hips to get your legs over you.

Solo Freefall Drill 4: Assume the Basic Head-down Position and practice pirouetting while maintaining a perfectly vertical orientation (without going into a spiraling motion). A spiraling action will start if your torso is not straight into the windflow. If you spiral when you attempt the pirouettes, this is your clue that your torso is not directed straight into the windflow and you're horizontally sliding. (By pointing the fingers of one hand backward and pressing them into the windflow, you can make a pirouette in the direction of the hand that you are using.) A spiraling action when you attempt pirouettes is your clue indicating that you may need to spend more dives practicing Solo Freefall Drill 3. Solo Freefall Drills 3 and 4 can be practiced in association with one another to improve your awareness and learning.

Solo Freefall Drill 5: Practice transitioning from the Basic Standing Position into the Basic Head-down Position and vice versa. Transitions can take place by half or multiple front/back loops and cartwheel rotations. Vary the size of your tucking on all transitions. You can spend a number of dives to practice these ideas. Pick one or two new ideas for any one dive. For example, you can concentrate only on trying half front and back flips to the Basic Head-down Position from the Basic Standing Position. Then, you could repeat this same dive with half tucked flips into the Basic Head-down Position, etc.

Solo Freefall Drill 6: Practice the Head-down Position with one leg positioned forward and the other leg backward. Explore and experiment with your balance on the loop axis by pushing more or less with each leg. Be sure that you always return to the neutral position with the torso and head pointed straight into the windflow. Again, performing a clean pirouette without a spiraling action will help you confirm that your torso is oriented straight into the windflow. Repeat this exercise on another dive and explore placing the arms in different positions. Be sure to practice this Head-down Daffy-like leg position with both the right and left leg. It is desirable to avoid having a preference on which leg you like to have forward.

Second Series of Solo Freefall Drills:

Solo Freefall Drill 1: While holding the Basic Head-down Position, practice your sense of balance on the loop axis. Tilt your body forward and recover. Tilt your body backward and recover to a completely vertical position. Notice the feeling of the airflow across your body.

Solo Freefall Drill 2: (optional) Assume the Basic Head-down Position and practice looking about with the head. First, look from one side to the other while maintaining your balance and then try looking topward and bottomwards while maintaining your body position and balance. Ask yourself: "Did I maintain a perfectly vertical position?"

Third Series of Solo Freefall Drills:

Solo Freefall Drill 1: Assume the Basic Head-down Position, practice smooth transitions from a slower to faster fallrate (by moving the legs more together) and from a faster to slower fallrate (by spreading the legs more laterally). While moving the legs together and apart, maintain firm air pressure on both the knees and the ankles. This may mean keeping the knees nearly straight. Notice the feeling of the air. Notice the sound of the airspeed. Did you manage to maintain your balance on the loop axis and stay perfectly vertical or did you feel air on your chest for the entire freefall? If you felt air on your chest, you most likely were backsliding.

Solo Freefall Drill 2: Assume the Basic Head-down Position and practice looking about with the head with different fallrates.

Solo Freefall Drill 3: It's time to relax in the Basic Head-down Position! While head-down, stretch and move your body more and be less rigid. Tilt the head sideways and make your neck mobile and less stiff. Then, move your legs more--straighten the knees and bend the knees, wiggle the legs. Try something with the arms. For example, practice balancing in the Basic Head-down Position while positioning your arms overhead. Ask yourself: "Was I able to maintain my torso in the vertical orientation during all of my actions?"

Cloud Dancer
© Copyright 1995. Tamara Koyn. All Rights Reserved.