Training is the key to safe jump operations. And it is one of the things that is neglected in the skydiving community. We have strict training manuals for training first time jumpers. We have week-long courses in training prospective jumpmasters. Want to learn how to pack reserve parachutes? You have to take a written, oral and practical to get your Senior Rigger’s Certificate from the FAA. But there is absolutely no standardization for jump pilots.
Hopefully the pilot checking you out to fly jumpers will recognize this lack of standardization and will give you the necessary training and testing to keep you and your passengers safe in normal and abnormal procedures. If not, you’re rolling the dice when that motor pukes or you get a jumper in tow and you have damage to the aircraft. What are you going to do? When you received your commercial certificate you had to demonstrate emergency procedures. There was no comment about how to fly a dead stick when your passengers are crawling all over you trying to save their lives and screwing you in the process.
This section will have comments about training for flying jumpers. It is by no means all of the information needed to safely fly jumpers. It is a starting point. You should have a good working knowledge of Part 1,61, and 91 already. You need to read and know Part 105. It has information that can directly mess up your flying career for not knowing it.
Weight and Balance
Weight and balance can be so important in small Cessna aircraft flying jumpers. But it can also be super critical in large tailgate aircraft. But no matter what you are using to fly jumpers you can stall on jump run and what you do during the event could determine whether you live or die. It’s that simple.
Proper loading of jumpers for take off should be discussed for your aircraft. In a Cessna, there are a lot of misconceptions. Check your particular aircraft’s current empty weight and CG. If you are unsure of how to compute it, take people out to the aircraft and measure from the datum to where they are actually sitting to compute the balance. Many FAA inspectors are surprised when you demonstrate how a pilot and four jumpers have a more centered CG than having normal seats and four people including the pilot. CHECK YOUR PARTICULAR AIRCRAFT TO DETERMINE YOUR BALANCE.
Don’t take off over gross!! You are jeopardizing your career, your aircraft, your life, and the lives of your passengers. Flying over gross means that you could over stress the airframe in a sharp maneuver. Your stall speed is also higher than the book for any given configuration. Best glide speed will change. Basically, you have become a test pilot. Plus, when you do it once, everyone will think it’s ok and it’ll be harder to say no the next time.
I know, it’s hard to have any fuel and carry jumpers in a C-182. Do what you have to do to stay legal. When your jumpers see you concerned for their safety they will respect you more in the long run.
This is when everything is great. You’re cranking loads. The spots are perfect. The skies are clear. This is when complacency can creep up and bite you in the ass. When are the majority of mid-air collisions happening? It happens within 5 miles of the airport and on clear VMC day. Keep your guard up. Every load is a new flight and needs to be prepared for. Sure, certain things can be shortened like you don’t need to do a full preflight if you are loading with the engine running. But all radio calls, all traffic rules, all loading procedures need to be followed strictly every time. Deviate from protocol and you can have someone walk into a prop. You could taxi into another parked aircraft. Or you could pull onto a runway just as someone is on short final. Lot’s of “problems” on a so-called “normal day” huh? Your situational awareness is what is going to keep you safe and violation free.
There are so many causes for engine failures that I can only touch on certain topics. But does it really matter? Are you a mechanic? Can you fix it in flight? Then don’t worry about what you are going to tell the boss about what the cause was. Just be prepared to get down as safely as possible and talk about it later. During an engine failure, all bets are off for a normal jump run. It might still happen but be prepared. I always told my jumpers that if I was below a thousand feet that I wanted them to stay. They said that they could still get out at that point. But with people crawling around and the door flying open that doesn’t leave you a lot of time to concentrate on getting the aircraft and yourself down safely. Make sure there is an understanding of what exactly is going to happen at different points when the engine pukes.
Cessna 182s are notorious for having the fuel shut off by the jumper sitting back to dash. That might be something to check right away. Turbine aircraft are a little different. It’s less likely to be a jumper induced engine failure. How long is your runway? What fields lay ahead? Can the aircraft really climb on one engine? How much altitude is necessary for a return to the runway downwind? Can the jumpers really leave the aircraft below 1,000 feet and live? These are all questions that should have some sort of certain answer before rolling down the runway.
Keep your cool. Know your procedures. You’ll do no one any good if you just start throwing switches and handles in random order. Keep it simple and KNOW YOUR AIRCRAFT MANUAL!
Here are some links to articles on engine operation. It has specifics about running them at high power settings and hard descents. It even uses Skydiving Ops as examples of why we get full life out of the engines yet other weekend warriors don’t. Read them thoroughly as there is a lot of good information here. You may have to register to read the articles and make the links work but it’s free and there is a ton of good information the rest of the site.
The column is called the Pelican’s Perch:
Where Should I Run My Engine? (Part 1)
In his many columns about how to lean, whether to use full power after takeoff, oversquare operation and so on, AVweb’s John Deakin has left many of the details up to the pilot/owner. Yet many readers would just as soon have him tell them exactly how to set up and run an engine. In this month’s column he does just that, with a step-by-step guide to smarter engine operation. Fair warning: his advice may not always agree with the POH.
Where Should I Run My Engine? (Part 2 — The Climb)
Last month, AVweb’s John Deakin started a discussion of where to run an engine during a typical flight. With so much detail needed, he ended the column just as we took off! Now he’s back to talk about the climb, and as usual he has real-world data to back up his explanation.
Where Should I Run My Engine? (Part 3 — Cruise)
Cruise — Time to sit back and enjoy the flight. But wait…did you leave the mixture set where it was during the climb? Or do you just set it where it…
Where Should I Run My Engine? (Part 4 — Descent)
After a short discussion about whether running engines the factory way or the skydiving way will hurt or help engines, AVweb’s John Deakin settles in for the descent. And, yes, there are more old wives tales to be debunked, and better control settings to use.
The Importance of Knowing Best Rate of Climb: Vy
95% of your flight will be in the climb regime. So it is essential that you understand what your Pilot Operating Handbook / Approved Flight Manual says about performance in the climb. You should already understand how to find Vy from previous experiences getting your Private Pilot / Commercial Pilot licenses. But it seems some dropzones will tell you one number and that’s it. Well, that’s not it. Vy changes with varying conditions and you need to get familiar with your aircraft manual. What is Vy at Sea Level? What about what it will be at jumprun altitude? Your efficiency in the climb (the main part of your job) directly effects the bottom line of your dropzone. More time on the engine and airframe adds wear. You want to get up and down in the most efficient manner possible.
This section is not to run contrary to any manufacturer’s information. You must take the time to research information you use in your operation.
Turbocharged engines in skydiving ops:
- Go over the engine manufacturer’s guidance thoroughly. If you don’t have it CALL THEM.
- Follow the warm up and cool down guidance. In general, you want at least 2 minutes at idle after landing to let the turbocharger cool before shutdown to prevent damage. Normal taxi time from runway to parking can accomplish this. Don’t think you have to get to your parking spot and THEN start a 2 minute wait. You may very well be heating your turbo back up!
- Look to be level about 2 miles before drop so a power reduction for level flight will begin the cooling process of the turbocharger and cylinders. Close cowl flaps.
- Last jumper out, close door, ensure cowl flaps are closed, reduce to bottom of the green MP and this should keep the engine from cooling too quickly. If you observe a maximum of 380-400˚F CHT you will not “shock cool” the cylinders. You can only shock cool that which has overheated to begin with.
- Do NOT push mixture full rich on descent. This will cool your cylinders too fast. Use a slightly ROP (rich of peak) setting. Remember, richer is cooler.
- All cylinder engine monitoring system HIGHLY recommended with a CHT alarm that can be set to 400˚F while you monitor your TIT.
Read John Deakin’s articles here on turbochargers. Part 1 and 2 are how turbochargers are constructed and the theory on how they work. Part 3 begins the nuts and bolts of what to do. However, it comes with a warning to make sure you read part 1 and 2! Best power comes at about 75-100˚ rich of peak (ROP) exhaust gas temperature (EGT). John recommends to not allow your CHT to go over 380˚F (a buffer for a limit of 400˚F)
Commercial License or Not?
It’s an old question that seems to get people into trouble (or at least a letter of investigation with the FAA) constantly. Basically, if you are receiving money for the flying you are doing then you HAVE to have a Commercial Pilot’s License. But then I hear the argument “Well, if they don’t pay me then it isn’t commercial flying.” Well, yes, it very well can be. If the company, or operation, you are flying for takes money from jumpers before they get on the plane then a lot of the time that is considered a commercial operation. There are only a few (and I can’t even name them) operations called “Clubs” that are still truly clubs and are not required to have commercial pilots. So, if you want to avoid A LOT of hassle and headache then I suggest that you just go out and get a Commercial License and don’t fly jumpers until you do. If you want to walk the fine line then that’s your choice. But the Feds aren’t going along with the old “club” exemption much anymore and very, very few operations can actually qualify for the exemption. BE CAREFUL. Get the license.
Any operation should develop a training program for their specific operation. You can refer to the Training Syllabus on this website for a framework on setting up a porgram. Make sure your training is effective in the area of engine failures but I want to stress to NOT create a real emergency while training. Some DZs operating multi-engine turbine aircraft actually feather an engine in flight and have the new/transitioning pilot land for real. This is not training but a REAL emergency! You will not have that engine in case of a go around. Your training program should develop a ZERO THRUST SETTING for a simulated engine inoperative. A zero thrust simulates a feathered engine as it neither drags nor provides thrust. Your zero thrust setting may vary with differing conditions considering temperature and pressure altitude.
Also, operators of single engine turbine aircraft should have pilots not only practice landings with a windmilling prop but a zero thrust setting. If a real engine failure occurs you may find yourself in the situation where the prop feathers and your glide ratio and descent angle are improved! If this is not practiced you will risk over shooting your intended landing area/runway with no ability to go around.
Pilots should always remember to remain calm and follow the practiced procedures from training. You will revert to what you’ve trained to do. So make sure you talk about, and train, for different scenarios.
- Premature deployment
- Inadvertent stall/spin
- Engine failure
- Jumper in tow (static-line, tandem harness, solo jumper)
- Structural failure / total loss of aircraft control
A premature deployment is always a serious matter. Depending on the type of aircraft used, it can create a minor annoyance to the jumper “oh bummer that’s going to be a long canopy ride” or it can cause major structural damage and inhibit flight control operation. This can easily cause the plane to crash. A premature deployment in a tailgate aircraft (i.e. Skyvan, or Casa) while on jumprun will usually end with the jumper making a safe-but-awkward exit at altitude. Not ideal; but they usually won’t collide with the aircraft or entangle.
However, most jump aircraft have a horizontal tail aft of the jump door which creates a high risk of collision with a premature deployment. The horizontal stabilizer of the Cessna family (182, 205, 206, 208, 210), the PAC 750XL and the King Air 90 will be in direct line of collision if a canopy deploys while the jumper is in the door.
Several accidents and fatalities have occurred due to premature deployment. Often times the reserve canopy is deployed. This occurs when the reserve ripcord is pulled or the reserve pin is dislodged by mechanical manipulation (often, by rubbing on the door frame while exiting).
What to do?
If you have a premature deployment over the tail create yaw by using abrupt and full rudder to change the relative wind on the canopy away from the tail, which MIGHT help. However, full right rudder (Cessna 182, 205, 206) will increase drag. Make sure you are pushing forward on the elevator to maintain airspeed until the entanglement releases. (If you have a left exit door, obviously, the procedure is reversed.)
Jumpers have had pilot chutes deploy while on the step or in the door, which were seen by other jumpers prior to deployment. Pilots and jumpers should have prearranged signals to indicate to a jumper that their pilot chute is deploying so the jumper may contain it or jump immediately.
Inadvertent Stall / Spin
First and foremost…DON’T STALL! If you don’t stall, you can’t spin. You must know what air speed you need to maintain on jumprun. YOU MUST FLY THAT SPEED. Jump pilots must increase their scan of the instruments and jumper activity while on jumprun. As you level off, reduce power to your exit speed. As jumpers climbout there is a tendency to allow the airspeed to decay. If power is reduced too much, or if jumpers take too long to exit, a stall will occur. The pilot must maintain their scan and adjust power accordingly.
Flying skydivers is a dynamic activity in aviation. Things are always changing. The center of gravity will move as jumpers begin to exit. Drag will increase while jumpers hang on the outside of the aircraft. Along with increased drag will come some amount of decreased airflow over the elevator if it’s positioned behind the exit door (i.e. King Air 90/99, all single engine Cessnas, or PAC 750XL). You must anticipate the degree to which this will affect your aircraft’s handling characteristics. A jump pilot must anticipate that this change in airflow and CG will cause a change in heading as well as decay in airspeed. Hopefully, an experienced jump pilot in that particular aircraft will give you a thorough checkout in what to expect. Just understand that something out of the ordinary can occur and the aircraft can go out of control.
Trade altitude for airspeed if you need to. Losing 200 feet will not severely reduce the freefall time of your jumpers. However, swapping blue with brown on the attitude indicator can ruin everyone’s day. Stay ahead of the aircraft. This cannot be stressed enough. Stay ahead of the aircraft.
What to do?
- Break the stall before it gets into a spin. Of course you don’t want to throw jumpers off the aircraft or around the inside of the cabin but if you don’t respond immediately the stall can progress into a spin.
- If the stall enters into a spin you must react immediately.
- Neutral controls.
- Idle power.
- Rudder full opposite of rotation.
- Once rotation has stopped retract flaps if extended.
- THEN begin back pressure to regain level flight and add power to maintain altitude or climb.
Having an engine failure on a jump plane is never good. However: if it happens on jumprun you might not recognise it since power is greatly reduced for the exit. This is especially true of the Cessna 182 / 205 / 206. Just trade altitude for airspeed until you can deal with the failure. You’re at altitude. You have time. Do not panic. Breathe.
In a twin engine jump plane this can be more complex. If the failure is on the side of the exit door the power was reduced to near idle anyway. Again, you might not notice it right away. If the failure is on the engine that was powered up directional control can become a greater challenge.
What to do?
Again: do not panic. You’re at altitude. Breathe. Trade altitude for airspeed. Communicate with the jumpers. Fly coordinated. Step on the ball to maintain zero skid. Trade altitude for airspeed.
During the subsequent descent do not descend like a normal post-drop load. Several accidents have happened when the pilot over- or undershot the runway when the emergency started directly over the top of the intended landing runway at 10,000 feet AGL.
Relax. Breathe. You have time. Trim the aircraft for best glide speed. This will give you time to catch up to the situation. Follow the manufacturer’s guidance on engine failure. If you are in a single engine turbine aircraft you may need to feather the prop to reduce drag. Maybe a restart is possible depending on the cause of the failure. Make sure that you decide on a hard deck to discontinue restart procedures and proceed to securing the engine for a forced landing.
Do not automatically set up for the runway you departed on. Did you take off downwind? Several overshoot accidents have occurred simply because of landing with a tailwind and not being able to stop before the end of the runway or straight up missing the runway long all together.
This is one of the scariest jumprun emergencies you can have. The type of jumper-in-tow situation you have will determine how you handle it.
It used to be that the most likely jumper-in-tow emergency was from the failure of a static-line (rope connected inside the aircraft to the back of the student rig on exit) to detach. To solve the problem, the jumpmaster usually has a hook knife: a handled blade with a hook at the end that a line could be grabbed with. Just tugging on the line would cause it to rub on the blade, cutting the problem line. As static line student training has all but disappeared, not many jump pilots would be exposed to that type of training. That said, it is still possible to face a jumper-in-tow for another reason.
The phrase “booty caught” should strike fear into your heart. A “booty” is part of a jumper’s jumpsuit that goes over the toe/shoe of the jumper and helps them to fly their body in freefall. However, it can be a liability, as on a jump plane that has a step to assist in exiting, this booty can get caught on a corner.
The booty is snagged on the corner of the step and as the jumpers leave. The snagged jumper attempts to exit but remains attached to the aircraft by the snag point, dragged through the air by the aircraft. This leaves the pilot alone with a jumper in tow.
This is, of course, a very bad position to be in. You have to keep flying the aircraft, and the jumper is well outside arms length. Unless the booty tears, they will continue to tow behind the step. They will likely attempt a sit-up to free themselves. Rarely will they be successful.
What to do? DISCLAIMER DISCLAIMER DISCLAIMER DISCLAIMER
Suggestions here do NOT guarantee a positive outcome. As Pilot in Command you are the only one able to assess the situation and decide on a course of action.
Here, prevention is the best medicine. If the plane you fly has a step, it absolutely should not have any corners that a loop can catch over. To test your setup, take a shoelace and rub it over the corners of the installed step. If you can get the shoelace to snag, then the step is a hazard and should be modified before further jump operations.
You are going to be the only one to be able to assess your situation and decide on a course of action. All the options carry the risk of a bad outcome, and you need to understand this.
- Carry two large knives, one 7” “combat knife” and one large (12+” hook knife, Attempt to cut the part that is causing the hangup. Yes, this may require you to, at least partially, get out of the pilot seat while trying to fly. However, if they are not freed their the jumper could deploy their parachute on their own or it could happen due to being exposed to air forces for an extended period of time. If it doesn’t release the snag, the increased drag of the chute WILL cause a stall and subsequent crash.
- Pre-brief ALL the jumpers at your DZ that if they are in tow and conscious they should place BOTH hands behind their head to indicate they are conscious. This will be a time to decide whether to attempt freeing them or plan to land with them while still in tow.
- Land with jumper in tow. This has been done, and done successfully. Take a look at this picture, for example. Here, the pilot slowed the aircraft to just above stall with full flaps and landed in grass. The airflow had positioned the jumper in a backpack-to-ground orientation. Touchdown was on the parachute rig and they came to a stop. The aircraft was fine. The jumper actually got away with no serious injuries or broken bones.
This variation of jumper-in-tow is even more complex. It can happen if the exit of the tandem pair if awkward and the student’s harness snags the step.
This is a very difficult situation. It should be discussed with all tandem masters before flying them in your aircraft. Again, instruct them that they should place both hands behind the head to communicate that they are conscious.
Realise that the tandem master now has a very heavy, uncooperative dead weight hooked to the front of them. They will physically tire rapidly. Have a plan and an idea of where you would attempt a landing with tandem-in-tow before taking tandems up. This discussion needs to happen before flight. USING A HOOK KNIFE ON A STUDENT HARNESS IN TOW IS NOT RECOMMENDED. Remember, you have time as you are at exit altitude when this occurs. Take your time. Breathe. Do not panic and race to the ground or worse race to flying a few hundred feet off the ground or water if you think that’s a good idea. STAY AWAY FROM WATER!! Landing a tandem-in-tow in water will likely kill them and probably you too. Again, do not attempt to cut the harness. This could cause the student to fall out even if it frees the pair from the aircraft.
Structural failure / total loss of aircraft control
This can happen for a number of reasons such as premature deployment, over stressing maneuvers, or metal fatigue. Regardless of cause you are in an aircraft that is not landable. If you are flying a Cessna 180, 182, 185, 205, 206 or 210 you should be aware of the requirement (because of door STC or modification by field approval) to wear an emergency bailout rig. Typically this is supplied by the operation you are flying for. You should know how to inspect the packing data card to ensure it is packed within date (as of this writing the repack cycle is within the last 180 days). However, several other types of jump aircraft have no such requirement to wear an emergency bailout rig. Such types are Twin Otter, Cessna 208 Caravan and Beech King Air Series. It is the recommendation of this website that if a premature deployment can go over the horizontal stabilizer then serious consideration should be made for acquiring and wearing an emergency bailout rig whether required by regulation or not. Several jump pilots have joined the “Caterpillar Club” over the years. They do save lives.
What to do?
If the aircraft is out of control and recovery is not possible the last ditch possibility is using and Emergency Bailout Rig (EBR). Get your feet on the edge of the door frame. Hook your left thumb through the “D” ring and make a fist around it. If possible cover your left hand with your right hand and roll forward out the door. Push hard so you can get some distance with the aircraft and pull the handle away from your chest to full extension. The pin only needs to move about two inches to release the emergency chute. But pull that ring with all your might as your life depends on it now. EBRs work and several pilots have successfully used them to escape out of control jump planes.