What is CF? Your guide to Canopy Formation

Skydive LangarExperienced Skydivers

canopy formation jump by max holmes

Skydive Langar is proud to be hosting the British National Canopy Formation Championships for 2022. To mark the occasion, the aim of this post is to tell you all you need to know about CF (also known as CRW, or Canopy Relative Work) and how CF jumpers compete.

By Max Holmes

What is Canopy Formation and who can do it?

Canopy Formation, or CF, is the discipline of building ‘shapes’ in the sky using parachutes. You may have seen the incredibly impressive photos of anything from 2 to 100 canopy pilots or more, getting together in the sky and using different ‘docks’ to build ‘stacks’.

The skills required to perform CF well are difficult to attain and the people who do it well put in years of practice. But at the lower end, it is easy to pick up some of the more simple moves and there are many people who suggest an investment in building CF skills is also a valuable investment in learning more about canopy flight in general.

If you’d like to learn CF or develop your skills therein, you’ll need the following – all of which is taken from the British Skydiving CF Coach Manual:

Before starting CF1 (basic CF)

  • British Skydiving B Licence or above
  • A minimum of 100 jumps, with at least 5 made in the last 2 months
  • Have received a ‘Safety Briefing 1: Canopy Formation Basics’ brief from a CF coach

Before starting CF2 (advanced CF)

  • CF1
  • Have received ‘Safety Briefing 2: Considerations for Larger Canopy Formations’ brief from a CF coach

To achieve CF1, you must:

  • Safely approach, and fly in close proximity to, a target canopy
  • Control 3D movement relative to another canopy using appropriate inputs
  • Dock safely on one other person having exited the aircraft after them
  • Receive a centre dock and pilot a 2-stack / 2-way plane
  • Receive and make a wing dock
  • Brief the Pilot and spot for a 2-way CF jump from at least 8,000ft AGL
  • Land safely within 50m radius of a pre-declared target and show good altitude, heading and airspace awareness throughout each qualifying jump
  • Pack CF-specific equipment of the type(s) they are using (to be added to the student’s packing certificate or logbook)

To achieve CF2, you must:

  • Safely approach, and fly in close proximity to, a target formation
  • Control 3D movement relative to at least 3 other canopies using appropriate inputs
  • Safely approach a 2-way stack or planed formation and dock 3rd
  • Safely approach a 3-way stack or planed formation and dock 4th
  • Receive a dock as 2nd or 3rd in a stack
  • Pilot a formation of 4 or more canopies in a stacked or planed formation
  • Brief and complete a 4-way CF jump (a 4-way plane is recommend), which includes briefing the Pilot appropriately
  • Spot for a 4-way CF jump from at least 8,000ft AGL
  • Land safely within 50m radius of a pre-declared target and show good altitude, heading and airspace awareness throughout each qualifying jump

People with CF1 can jump in CF groups no larger than 2 with other CF1 or CF2 qualified jumpers. Those with CF2 can fly in much larger formations.

By Max Holmes

How does CF work?

Every CF jump starts with the group exiting the aircraft. This in itself can seem a little complicated as the requirements of the ‘spot’ for CF can differ from those of regular freefall skydivers.

Simply put, the CF jumpers need to be dropped in a location that will allow them to fly their canopies for an extended amount of time while still being able to make it back to the intended landing area. For this reason, you may see CF jumpers requesting a ‘short’ spot – meaning that they will be dropped further downwind than other jumpers and can therefore fly into wind the whole way without worry of being blown off course. Or, in windier conditions, they may get out ‘deep’ and hold into wind, knowing they will get blown back toward the intended landing area.

In many cases, CF jumpers will use communication devices (cool kids call them ‘comms’!) in order to communicate in the sky. While the formations are dirt dived and prepared in advance, the comms allow the jumpers to stay in constant communication and adjust their canopies accordingly to achieve their goals.

By Max Holmes

To build their formations, the CF jumpers will use a range of different ‘docks’ (ways of holding on) which often involve taking hold of one another’s lines or harnesses. There are many styles of dock to facilitate different shapes, allowing the canopies to fly together and often creating a ‘pilot’ who controls the direction of the whole stack.

There is a risk with CF that the canopies don’t fly well together and this can lead to a ‘wrap’ or cause an issue with a canopy that leads to the use of emergency procedures. However, because these risks are known, they are well managed, allowing CF jumpers to remain safe as the discipline continues to grow in popularity.

How does a CF competition work?

The British CF National Championships are taking place at Skydive Langar in 2022 and we look forward to welcoming CF jumpers from across the country to compete across a number of disciplines:

  • 4 way sequential; a mixture of randoms and blocks (basically different formations built using the canopies)
  • 4 way rotations; jumpers build a stack and each person rotates from top to bottom as many time as they can in 90 seconds
  • 2 way (split into rookie, intermediate and advanced); jumpers have 60-120 seconds to perform a routine after leaving the aircraft

With the number of people getting into CF growing all the time, and thanks to various roadshows in the UK and events around the globe, we’re expecting there to be a good turnout of CF jumpers at the Nationals this weekend. It should be an exciting competition!

By Max Holmes

You can follow all the scores from the weekend over on InTime.

Thank you to the following people for their help with this post: Kayleigh Garbett, Gary Wainwright, Marcus Muir-Smith, Max Holmes, Charlie Wakeham.