FORMATION SKYDIVING - BASIC TECHNIQUES
For formation skydiving, you need a good body position: one that is symmetrical, and gives you a reasonable fall rate (not too fast, not too slow) so that you both fall straight down, and can vary your fall rate to keep on a level with your partners. The 'standard' position most often used for basic Formation Skydiving is known as the 'Box' or 'Boxman'; the latest thing, and very effective it is too, is know as the 'Mantis' position, and is a variation on the box. These positions may not be exactly what you have been taught while a student: things are different now that you are undertaking more advanced training.
The Box position is as follows: Head up about 90° to your body; arms 90° at elbow; upper arms straight across your shoulders from elbow to elbow; lower back gently arched; legs about shoulder-width apart at the knees; knees bent comfortably between 45° and 90°, toes pointed.
The Mantis position includes dropping the elbows below the level of your body much as the insect known as a Praying Mantis holds it's forelegs (hence the name, of course). In this position your head is held high; your arms are lower than your shoulders; your hands are somewhere between your chin and level with your elbows; you have a slight arch from the hip; your knees are slightly above the level of your hips. The best Formation Skydiving teams use this position, as it allows them to move fast with small inputs.
These body positions do not require you to hold yourself rigid in position and you should not be arched hard any more. You need to have a relaxed, 'neutral' body position, so that both more and less arch are available when needed. Unlike student work, more advanced manoeuvering is accomplished by more use of your legs; this requires a lot of concentration and practise, as humans are generally less aware of their legs than their arms and hands.
Your Coach will use the various in-air signals while in freefall to adjust your body position. When you see a signal, you should react to it by making the change required slowly and progressively: your Coach will continue with the signal until the desired effect has been achieved. For example, if you see the 'straighten legs' signal, slowly straighten your legs until the signal is removed. Then keep your legs where they are!
Apart from body position, perhaps the most important thing you will learn will be to maintain eye-contact with, initially, your Coach, and later with the formation. Eye contact allows you to communicate with the other skydivers, and lets you reference your position in relation to the formation: are you drifting away from or towards it, are you gaining or losing altitude in relation to it, are you in the right place and orientation to take grips sucessfully. In order to do good Formation Skydiving you must maintain your position in the sky relative to the formation: you must be close to it (in your 'slot') and level with it. Using your eyes will allow you to achieve this - you must reference the formation even when your back is turned to it.
On each skydive a 'no more work' altitude will be set by your Coach. You must continue working until this altitude is reached: do not stop working early. You are wasting freefall time (and your money) if you do. After 'no more work' stay with your Coach, or at least maintain eye contact, until break-off.
Break-off altitude on early dives is 4500 feet. At this altitude, turn 180° away from the centre of the formation (your Coach on two-way dives) and track for around 3 seconds in a straight line. Then flare out into neutral position, wave-off to indicate that you are about to pull (while also checking that there is nobody above or below you), then pull. The idea is to get far enough away from all the other skydivers in order to have space for a safe parachute deployment, so a short, effective track is required. You must not track for too long - you'll go low if you do. You should not keep checking your altimeter during break-off procedures. Just turn, track, wave and pull: you know you are almost at deployment height already - that's why you are tracking off. On early dives the coach will stay put and watch you track: you must track: it is a very important survival skill.
SKILLS TO BE MASTERED
Two-way linked exits.
Importance timing & co-ordination; exit counts.
Heading and altitude awareness.
Non-contact flying, staying close; proximity.
Forward movement to dock.
Fast and Slow fall: levels. Importance of keeping formation in view.
Side-slipping, left and right.
Spotting: student spots to coach.
Importance of maintaining eye-contact and proximity.
90° in-place turns; “side-ins”.
180° in place turns; “back-ins”.
360° in-place turns.
Diving & swooping techniques.
Controlled dive to set-up point, close to dock with coach.
3 way linked exits.
Sub-terminal control of launched formation.
Cross referencing, keeping pace with the formation, anticipation of next move.
Eye-contact, levels & proximity.
Correct use of jumpsuit grips.
Minimum 4-point 4-way skydive.