The role of the jumpmaster (JM) is to organise and take care of the skydivers on board the aircraft. This job starts on the ground by making sure everybody has been checked on the flightline, and spans all the way to ensuring that everyone exits from the correct spot, with several other elements along the way. There are many aspects involved in being JM and often if you watch an experienced jumper you may not even notice some of the jobs that they complete.
Usually the JM will be the most experienced jumper on the lift. However anyone with their British Skydiving B licence will have their JM1, so could be the nominated JM.
Whether you’re working towards your B licence or just want to refresh your knowledge this article aims to explore the roles and responsibilities of being a jumpmaster.
For the full breakdown of the responsibilities of the jump master, read section 3 of the Operations Manual.
The British Skydiving operations manual specifies that the JM is responsible for ensuring that all skydivers below B licence have been checked. Often a dropzone may go further and require the JM to ensure all skydivers on the lift have been checked. This would be specified in their SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures).
Remember, students (including AFF consolidation jump students) must be checked by an instructor.
Whilst ensuring that everyone has been checked it is also important to get everyone to the correct plane, especially if the dropzone is busy and has several aircraft operating!
It can get busy around dropzone control so make sure you know how many people should be on your lift and get them all to the right emplaning point. Work with the DZ control operation and you can help make everyone’s jobs that bit easier.
Briefing those on board
Briefing the Pilot
The JM needs to communicate to the pilot how many passes they need, at what height and how many people will exit on each pass. The process to do this may be different at different dropzones. At Langar this is the time to use your outside voice! As JM you are most likely going to be sat by the door, the furthest place from the pilot, and you need them to hear you over the noise of the engine and the other skydivers on board. Making eye contact with the pilot will help with this communication.
Briefing the Jumpers
The British Skydiving operations manual says that part of the JM’s role is to ensure those below C licence have been fully briefed. This means that they need to have been briefed for the type of skydive they are doing, such as tracking or freeflying, they should have also been familiarised with the aircraft and plan for the lift, including exit order and separation time between groups.
Even though the Operations manual specifies this for those below C licence, it is worth ensuring that everyone on the lift is happy with the plan. Consider whether you have people on the lift that have not jumped at your dropzone or possibly the type of aircraft before, so may be unfamiliar with the aircraft procedures. If you want to be super helpful you could even point out the DZ to visiting jumpers on the way up to altitude.
Organising the Load
The JM is in charge of organising the order that the skydivers exit the aircraft. This is a really important part of being JM as it helps avoid collisions in the air and can also minimise traffic under canopy.
Dropzones tend to have a standard way of ordering a lift. For example, at Langar we will usually put freeflyers out before belly flyers. It is worth noting though that this can be flexible and many drop zones do things differently. When organising the load it is important to consider several elements:
- Freefall drift– Most of the time the aircraft will fly into wind on run in, just like how we face into wind for landing. This wind can cause skydivers to be pushed during freefall, the size of the groups and the speed at which they fall will affect how much they drift.
- Time in freefall – Different disciplines fall at different speeds. This affects how long they have in freefall. For example, a freeflyer tends to fall faster than a bellyflyer. This affects two things; first of all it will affect how much drift they experience during freefall (more time = more drift). Secondly, it also affects the speed at which they reach opening height which in turn affects how quickly they will fly away from the line of flight, and also the landing order.
- Opening heights and canopy size – Some people may be pulling high in order to practice some canopy drills, it is important to avoid people freefalling past them whilst they are under canopy, so it is wise to put them further back in the order. Considering the size of everyone’s canopy will also help to create a nice order for flying back to the landing area, helping to minimise any traffic
- Other disciplines – Tracking and canopy formations should turn away from the line of flight a few seconds after exit, creating their own separation from the other groups. As they are flying away from the perfect spot they need to consider the wind conditions and so may prefer to go first, last or somewhere in the middle of order, so that they can fly back to the landing area safely. It is important to discuss this with these groups to see what they would prefer, but ultimately as the JM you should decide where in the order they exit.
In the plane
Whilst in the aircraft is it the job of the JM to ensure the skydivers on board are safe. This means making sure that everyone has their seatbelt and helmet on for take off. At Langar these need to remain on until 1000ft. You don’t necessarily have to ask everyone individually but being observant and having a look around the aircraft will help you to spot anyone that may have forgotten.
Asking people to sit still and be aware of each other’s pins and equipment in general will help reduce the risk of any premature openings in the aircraft. If this event were to occur it is important to have a plan; consider if the door is open or closed and how that might affect your plan.
Checking the spot
Checking the spot involves making sure that where everyone exits the aircraft will allow them to safely fly back to the landing area. The wind plays a huge part in deciding the correct spot as it affects how much distance across the ground we can cover under canopy. If it is windy we may exit the aircraft further upwind of the landing area (deeper) as we can use the wind to fly back. If it is very light winds we may ask the first group to get out a little bit down wind of the landing area (short) so that the last group does not end up too far away to get back
Remember that at Langar, most of the time the plane will fly into the wind on run in, but this may vary if you visit other dropzones. Check the local procedures.
In the event of an aircraft emergency the JM is still responsible for the skydivers on board.
The first thing to do during an aircraft emergency is to try to communicate with the pilot in order to gather information on what’s happening. Bear in mind, the pilot may be preoccupied with keeping the aircraft flying, so talking to you will not be top of their priority list.
You need to make a decision on whether it is safer to exit, or to stay in and land with the aircraft. Several things might help shape this decision; the altitude, the severity of the emergency (has a wing fallen off, or is there an issue with the engine but the pilot can glide the plane so it’s over the DZ?), the location of the plane are just some factors.
If you decide to land with the aircraft it may be necessary to adopt the brace position (leaning backwards towards the pilot) and put seatbelts back on.
Other bits and bobs
If the nominated JM exits before the final pass, another JM must be nominated for subsequent passes. This may be because the first JM is dispatching students and follows one out on a lower pass. The second JM should be agreed upon on the ground before the jump, and noted on the manifest sheet
We all know how quickly the weather can change in the UK. The JM is ultimately responsible for only allowing skydivers to exit if the conditions are suitable. You may have taken off whilst there were plenty of gaps in the cloud but by the time you are at altitude the conditions may have changed, and as JM you need to decide whether to allow people to exit. Section 8 of the Operations Manual defines the limitations – “Skydivers may not leave the aircraft if, at the point of exit, the ground between the opening point and the intended landing area is not visible.” Don’t be afraid to bring the plane down when conditions are poor.
Even though you get your JM1 for your B license it may be a while until you are the nominated JM as it is often the most experienced jumper on board. Even when you are not JM, you should think about what you would do if you were JM so that when the day arrives that your name is at the top of the manifest sheet you can be confident that you know what to do.