First – what is a pattern and why do we have them?
The primary reason for a pattern is so that everyone in the pattern knows what everyone else is doing. If you see someone flying opposite landing direction, they are flying downwind, and will soon be turning base. You can fly above them or downwind of them without risk of collision. If they are on final, you know they are not going to turn again, and can safely plan a landing near to them. With rules like these, it’s easy to plan a landing without getting too close to anyone else. I’ve seen two record attempts where 300+ people all landed using these rules, and there were no significant traffic problems.
We have a responsibility in a landing pattern to fly a pattern. That means if you’re flying a left hand pattern, make only left turns, and stick to the downwind-base-final setup. If you want to do a 270, you are not only looking away from your airspace, you are screwing the guy who is below you and behind you. That’s a reasonable place for him to be if you are only going to do left turns, but if you slam a right turn you may just take him out. This is why swoopers are given a separate landing area. This is also why “S-turns” are discouraged at a busy drop zone because the person who may coming in behind you now sees you turning right, then left, then right then left and now they no longer consider you predictable.
How do we know the wind direction to know our landing pattern?
Well – we should always be looking at the windsocks before we take off. Bearing in mind that the wind can, and often do, change while we are in the air – but at least we have some direction in mind before take off. As we are under canopy – you can get wind direction several ways and one easy way is to look at the ground straight down between your feet. If you’re going fast across the ground, you’re with the wind. Turn and check again. If you going slower across the ground, you’re against the wind.
Also. Ground winds may be coming from a different direction. At this stage of the game, if you are a newer jumper, checking what experienced jumpers are doing is a good thing also.
Also, depending on where you jump, see any fires burning on the ground? Any smokestacks? Any large flagpoles? Ripple patterns across a lake? These are other indicators
Also, follow the pattern set before you leave the ground or follow the pattern set by the first-down – depending on your DZ’s preference. Our DZ is that the first man down sets the pattern (bearing in mind – do NOT count swoopers into this mix as they sometimes land downwind intentionally)
Sometimes you have to land out with no windsock. To check wind direction, after opening, watch your speed relative to the ground. Are you being pushed sideways? Turn 90 degrees and do the same. Turn 90 degrees back to where you came. You will move faster traveling with the wind and slower against it. It doesn’t take long to get pretty good at judging the wind speed/direction this way.
The wind direction can be blowing different directions and speeds at different altitudes, so pay attention all the way through your pattern.
Now, lets take it back to student days – The standard flight pattern for a ram air parachute involves a downwind leg (which we start at 1000 feet), a cross wind leg (or base leg – which we start at 600 feet), and an into-the wind leg (final – which we start at 300 feet). This pattern is defined by three distinct turn points, “A” (Base to Final), “B” (Downwind to Base), and “C” (pattern entry point). The trouble with the standard pattern is that there is a good deal of guesswork when it comes to the length of the Base leg. Depending on the glide ratio of the parachute, the location of the turn to Base leg will vary widely, but this would be a more in-depth discussion to be had during a canopy course – so for now, for the basis of this post – let’s just stick to the 1000/600/300 points.
We know from our student days and from the previous blog post (no fly zone) that our “holding area” is upwind of our target landing spot. That should make sense right? We don’t want to be downwind with the winds pushing us away from where we want to be. We want to be upwind facing into the wind “holding” there. This is where we can play and learn our canopy – always keeping our heads on a swivel and watching where everyone else is. Remember, just because you see other canopies – don’t just assume they see you too. Always keep your eyes peeled.
Anyway …..I’ve tried to draw out the scenarios of the winds coming from the N-S-E-W and where your holding area should be. Don’t forget to keep in mind “the no-fly-zone” when in your pattern. Think of the lines as a “hang man” drawing. If you went up and the winds were out of the north but now under canopy you see everyone else landing west – don’t panic – just mentally adjust the hangman drawing to accommodate this….see below.
Also, notice on the east and west that you can “crab” along the grass before turning in. You do not have to cross over the taxi way or runway on east/west wind days. In fact – remember your first jump course? Never cross over the runway below 1k feet and never be over something you don’t want to land on below 1k feet.
If you are ever confused or concerned or have any questions about a pattern, how your canopy handles certain things, where to hold, when to start your pattern, etc. – come and talk to an instructor. Everyone wants you to be safe, so they will be more than happy to take a moment and explain it to you – perhaps looking at an aerial view.
Always better to be safe than sorry.