United States Parachute Association > Experienced Skydivers > SIM > Section 6-6

6-6: Canopy Formations

A. What is canopy relative work?

  1. Canopy Formation (CF) is the name of the competition discipline for the skydiving activity commonly called canopy relative work (CRW) or “crew.”
  2. Canopy formations are built by the intentional maneuvering of two or more open parachute canopies in close proximity to or in contact with one another during flight.
  3. The most basic canopy formation is the joining of two canopies vertically during flight as a stack or plane (compressed stack).
  4. Canopy formations, both day and night, may be accomplished by experienced canopy formation specialists leading the dives.

B. General

  1. This section recommends procedures considered by canopy formation specialists to be the safest and most predictable, as well as productive.
  2. The concept of canopy relative work is that of smooth flow and grace between two or more jumpers and their canopies in flight.
  3. Jumper-to jumper collisions or hard docks that result in deflated canopies or entanglements can result in serious injury or death.

C. Qualifications and initial training

  1. Before engaging in canopy formations, a jumper should have:
    1. thorough knowledge of canopy flight characteristics, to include riser maneuvers and an understanding of the relative compatibility of various canopies
    2. demonstrated accuracy capability of consistently landing within 16 feet of a target
  2. For the first few jumps, begin with stacks and planes, as offset formations are less stable.
  3. Initial training should be conducted with two jumpers—the beginner and a canopy formation specialist—and include lessons in basic docking, break-off procedures, and emergency procedures.

D. Equipment

  1. The following items are essential for safely building canopy formations:
    1. hook knife—necessary for resolving entanglements
    2. ankle protection
      1. Adequate socks prevent abrasion from canopy lines.
      2. If boots are used, cover any exposed metal hooks.
    3. gloves for hand protection
    4. Self-retracting or removable pilot chute bridle systems are recommended.
    5. cross connectors
      1. A secure foothold at the top of the risers is essential for building planes, which can develop greater tension as they grow larger.
      2. Cross connectors should be attached between the front and rear risers only, not from side to side.
      3. Side-to-side cross connectors can snag on the reserve container during deployment and cause a dangerous entanglement.
  2. The following items are strongly recommended for safely building canopy formations:
    1. altimeter—provides altitude information for dock, abort, and entanglement decisions
    2. protective headgear—should allow adequate hearing capability for voice commands in addition to collision protection
    3. long pants and sleeves for protection from line abrasions
    4. extended or enlarged toggles that can be easily grasped
    5. cascades—recommended to be removed from the two center A lines, which should be marked in red

E. Rules of engagement

  1. Weather considerations:
    1. Avoid jumping in turbulent air or gusty wind conditions.
    2. Early morning and early evening jumps are recommended in areas subject to thermal turbulence and other unstable air conditions.
    3. Avoid passing near clouds, which are associated with unpredictable air conditions.
    4. Use caution in flying formations over plowed fields, paved surfaces, or other areas where thermal conditions often exist.
    5. When encountering bumpy or unexpected turbulent air, it is recommended that all efforts be made to fly the formation directly into the wind.
  2. Factors that must be considered in every pre-jump briefing include:
    1. exit order
    2. time between exits
    3. length of freefall
    4. designation of base-pin
    5. canopy wing loading and trim
    6. order of entry
    7. direction of flight and techniques of rendezvous
    8. approach and breakoff traffic patterns
    9. docking procedures
    10. formation flight procedures
    11. one-word verbal commands
    12. breakoff and landing procedures
    13. emergency procedures
  3. Exit and opening procedures:
    1. Spotting procedures should allow for upper-wind velocity and direction.
    2. The aircraft pilot should be advised that a canopy formation group is exiting and opening high.
    3. Exits should be made at one- to three-second intervals.
    4. Any opening delay should be adequate to assure clearance from the aircraft, jumper separation, and stable body position at opening.
    5. Each jumper must be prepared to avoid a collision at any time upon leaving the aircraft.
  4. Docking procedures:
    1. base-pin
      1. This position requires the most expertise of all; however, these skills are used in all slots.
      2. Discuss the methods to be used to dock before boarding the aircraft.
    2. Formation flight course: It is important that the formation pilot maintain a constant direction of flight along a predetermined course.
    3. Traffic patterns: Establish an orderly flight pattern for canopies attempting to dock.
      1. An orderly pattern will enable approaches to be made without interference and lessen the possibility of canopy collisions.
      2. No canopies should ever pass in front of a formation; the wake turbulence created will disturb the formation’s stability and could lead to a very dangerous situation.
    4. Approaches:
      1. For smoothness and safety, each person entering the formation after base-pin should enter from behind and below, never crossing from one side of the formation to the other.
      2. Moderate angles of approach are recommended.
    5. Docking:
      1. Only the center section of a docking canopy should be grasped when the canopy closes third or later in a stack formation.
      2. To complete the stack dock, the top jumper places both feet between both A lines of the center cell of the lower jumper and hooks one by each instep.
      3. A center cell dock is preferred for beginners.
    6. Collapses:
      1. Improper docks are the most common cause of collapsed canopies.
      2. Collapsed canopies should be released to allow reinflation only if it will not make the situation worse.
      3. To prevent dropping an entangled jumper into a potential collision, make sure the area behind and below is clear.
      4. Experienced participants may be able to reinflate a collapsed canopy by continuing to plane down the lines.
      5. The jumper with the collapsed canopy can try using brakes or rear risers to back the canopy off and reinflate it.
      6. The term “drop me” should be used by a jumper wishing to be released from the formation.
        1. This command is to be obeyed immediately, unless it will drop the jumper into a worse situation.
        2. The jumper issuing the command should be sure to check behind for other canopies on approach before asking to be dropped.
  5. Formation flight procedures:
    1. Verbal commands should be concise and direct.
    2. There should be no non-essential conversation.
    3. The pilot should fly the formation with limited control movements to minimize oscillations and facilitate docking.
    4. The formation pilot should never use deep brakes in the formation.
    5. Oscillations
      1. Oscillations are a primary concern in canopy formations, because they can result in collapsed canopies and entanglements.
      2. To reduce their effect and frequency, jumpers in the formation can—
        1. when on the bottom of the formation, sit still in the harness and cross their legs
        2. maintain an arch
        3. if on the bottom, apply the appropriate control to reduce or increase tension
        4. manipulate a lower jumper’s lines to dampen the oscillation
        5. drop the bottom jumper before the oscillation develops into something worse
  6. Diamonds and offsets
    1. Diamonds and offsets require different flying techniques from vertical formations.
    2. It is imperative to get properly trained before attempting them.
  7. Breakoff and landing procedures:
    1. Approaches and docking should stop no lower than 2,500 feet AGL.
    2. Formation pilots should avoid all obstacles, including suspected areas of thermal activity, such as paved surfaces, plowed fields, buildings, etc.
    3. The landing of canopy formations should be attempted by only those with a high level of CRW proficiency.
    4. Breakoff for landing should take place no lower than 2,500 feet AGL because of the danger of entanglement at breakoff time.
    5. Jumpers should not attempt to land formations in high or gusty winds, high density altitudes, or high field elevations.
    6. CRW groups landing off the airport should try to land together.

F. Emergency procedures:

  1. Entanglements are the greatest hazards when building canopy formations.
  2. Jumpers should know their altitude at all times, because altitude will often dictate the course of action.
  3. If a collision is imminent:
    1. The jumpers should spread one arm and both legs as wide as possible to reduce the possibility of penetrating the suspension lines, provided the suspension lines are made from larger diameter Dacron©.
    2. The other hand is used to protect the reserve ripcord.
    3. Canopies with small diameter suspension line, such as Spectra or HMA, can lead to more serious injuries during a collision than canopies using larger diameter suspension lines made from Dacron©.
      1. Jumpers should tuck in arms, legs and head if the collision involves canopies with small diameter suspension lines.
      2. Avoid hitting the suspension lines or other jumper, if at all possible.
  4. Jumpers should be specific in discussing their intentions.
  5. If altitude allows, emergency procedures should proceed only after acknowledgment by other jumper(s).
  6. In the event of multiple cutaways and if altitude allows, jumpers should stagger reserve openings to avoid possible canopy collisions.
  7. Respond to the given situation.
    1. When entanglements occur, jumpers must be prepared to react quickly and creatively.
    2. In many cases, the emergency is one that can’t be prepared for in advance; it may even be a problem no one imagined could happen.
  8. If the entanglement occurs with sufficient altitude, the jumpers should attempt to clear the entanglement by following lines out before initiating emergency procedures.
  9. Jumpers should try to land together following a canopy relative work emergency.

G. Night canopy formations

See "SIM Section 6-4, “Night Jump Recommendations,” for guidance.