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Published: May 30, 2013
This is a very important topic - so I'd like to break it down into pieces - and then tie it all in together again in the end. It is an extremely important topic in this sport - yet one that is often done incorrectly and/or neglected, yet has so many moving parts to it - that it warrants a long, in-depth discussion
What exactly is tracking? To move fast horizontally in freefall often to achieve separation from other jumpers.
Now - while the above is the important part - there are also "track dives" which are meant to be more "fun" and "challenging". I'll try and cover all of them.
Tracking comes in a variety of forms - there is a flat track, a steep/diving track (delta track) and now lately the new thing is angle tracking (or sometimes called tracing) and I'm sure a ton more acronyms all meaning some form of tracking.
Let's start with track dives. Why do we do them? Well, they are fun and good way to learn the various body positions for various methods of tracking. For instance, flat tracking & delta have not only different body positions - but different goals and purposes as well.
Let's break down some of the various forms of tracking
Delta track. A delta is used to fly to a point below and in front of you. Flat tracking is most valuable at the bottom end of a skydive where the goal is to gain the maximum horizontal separation in the few seconds between break-off and deployment altitudes.
A Delta (steep track) is indeed plenty useful when the objective is to cover more vertical distance than horizontal. A track from a group or other jumpers should always be "flat" and with as much movement along a horizontal axis as possible.
In a Delta track - you will not get as much horizontal separation - but you will get vertical separation. As mentioned, this can be a good track to use when trying to get down to a formation; however, it is not the most beneficial method of separation from a group or other jumpers. If you set a break-off altitude of 5k feet - and your pull altitude is 3500 feet - if you do a delta track away - you will be at 3500 feet quickly without having made much horizontal separation. However, if you flat track away - you will have achieved much more horizontal separation before reaching your pull altitude. Make sense?
See the three photos here (#1, #2 + #3)- notice the arms are to the side - yet pushed back past the body....head is straight - and legs are straight-together with toes pointed.
This is a standard body position for DELTA TRACKING
Photo Courtesy of NiklasDaniel.com
Photo Courtesy of NiklasDaniel.com
A proper "Flat Track," (#4) which should be used when trying to gain separation from a formation, involves minimizing vertical speed. A good tracker can reduce their vertical speed to 80 or 85 MPH. This reduction in vertical speed allows for more time to track and hence more horizontal separation.
When departing from a formation or a dive with other jumpers - you want to get as far away from them as possible (horizontally) before deploying - so as not to be near one another under canopy. Someone once said that they prefer delta believing that vertical separation was sufficient. That is incorrect. What if you were below someone now and they had a cutaway? We need to make sure there is HORIZONTAL separate from one another.
To achieve the best flat track position, roll those shoulders forward, bend slightly at the waist. But not to the point that your diving.
If going for distance, track with your legs at about shoulder-width with pointed toes.
Notice here on the flat track (#4)- arms are to the side - palms can be either facing up or down - but you roll the shoulders forward and de-arch to form a flat surface - point toes. Squeezing your butt cheeks also helps to keep the body flat.
Now - you can alter this a bit - pitching your body "just slightly" - arms a bit more to the side, etc. These are things that you will need to practice with someone in the air with you to feel out which helps you get the most stable yet most horizontal separation from others in the sky.
Now - tracking with booties will be more powerful - and will also take some getting used to. For instance, if they are catching a lot of air while you're tracking away, the leverage may tip your legs up, thus resulting in an angle. These will take some getting used to and again, flying with another person will really help you see the impact of how you are flying.
"Iron Cross Track" or T-Position"
Some tend to Iron Cross Track (#7) if, for example, a lightweight freefall student has opened the distance between them and they have to close on them (horizontally) while maintaining a slow fall rate. An Iron Cross Track covers ground slower than a full-blown track - but has a very slow fall rate. Iron Cross Track is used to cover horizontal distance with minimum altitude loss (e.g. you found yourself level with a formation, but a long way off to the side)
Back Tracking -
Back tracking can be tricky since you are not facing the ground below you - therefore, your sense of direction is challenged and your visual altitude reference of the ground is challenged. Back tracking takes a lot of skill and practice. All to often, back trackers will either be tracking in a circle, or up and down jump run, or totally away from their intended direction - without ever even knowing it. Also - since the body is being pushed "upwards" from the wind below you - you often wind up in a de-arched body position - which is not a flat back track and therefore, makes you sink faster - and without the visual reference to the ground - can be troublesome. When learning to backtrack it is best to have someone with you on their belly, as a reference, who can point a direction to you if you are going off course. Looking at a point ahead of you, if looking past your toes, can also help you to keep a heading. It is difficult for beginners to hold the flat position, as the body wants to be pushed up due to the 125 mph wind below you. Pushing the feet down and squeezing your butt cheeks can help hold the position without having your butt sink down which would have you falling down a tune fast, rather than actually tracking.
Again, when learning to back track, it is important to have someone with you to help point a direction for you if you are going off course, which is very easy to happen when you are starting out. You don't want to be in a situation where you are tracking up jump run or in the path of jumpers before you or after you.
This type of track (#6 + #7) is sort of a cross between Delta and Flat Track. There has been much confusion about where this type of flyer exits the airplane since they are not flat and not head down - but somewhere in between. Due to the angled body position coupled with the speed, our drop zone and every DZ that I've ever visited, all have angle flyers exiting first out of the plane - since there is a great level of horizontal AND vertical separation. This is a link to an interview on skydive radio with Luis Prinetto, Scott Plamer and Fred Nimmo - who are world-known teachers of this skydiving discipline, who talk a bit more in detail about this type of flying which you may find interesting (the interview is 28 minutes into the audio file though 54.28 minutes).
For The Video Click Here.
Now let's think about some of these in the context of actual jumps.
When turning from a group or other jumpers (see above - #8-#9) - your first move on break off is to cup air (T position or Iron Cross Track). While cupping air, you start to turn away from the center of the formation. Once pointed away from the formation, you extend your legs, roll your shoulders forward and track out of the area (#4). This technique (#8-#9) puts you above and outboard of everyone else in the group. Your height advantage may be less than a second, but every second counts near deployment altitude and it makes it easier for you to see other jumpers below you. (in this pic (#8-#9) - pay attention to the men above in the pic - in large group formations they track in a sequence - so notice the outside group was angled a bit - but the inside folks are cupping air for a moment before beginning their track)
A lot of people forget to turn slowly while grabbing air. If you turn fast and immediately go to a track position, you will loose a bunch of altitude before the track becomes effective.
To recap: when Delta Tracking - think of it as what you would use to dive down to a formation, legs out, arms back and out to the sides, but above your body and you keep some kind of an arch. A flat track is legs out, arms back to the sides but pushing slightly lower than the body, and a flat or slightly de-arched body and is meant to clear away from a formation prior to deployment.
Delta is a stepping-stone, you learn that before you learn how to fully track, since a full on track is reasonably unstable and you have to learn how to fly the position before you can really fly it stable and comfortably, thus delta.
Many people have not fully mastered a correct flat track position. Lie on your back on the ground, hands by your sides, palms up. Now, keeping your legs straight, lift your legs up about 1 foot and hold it there. roll the shoulders. Feel that strain (stomach)? That's how it should feel in the air when maxing out your flat track.
When breaking off from a dive, the goal is to get as much separation as possible in the remaining altitude before the pull. That calls for a flat, and usually fast, track. Most people don't track as well as they could. In fact - more people fail in this discipline, which is very unfortunate since a good track away from other jumpers can save lives.
Now some mention that they look around with they track, but sometimes it's not as easy to see other skydivers below you. People for whatever reason, don't always pull at the altitude they say they are going to and/or sadly - do a poor track and are right on top of you-alongside you- or even worse - under you. You always have to be prepared to react.
As for looking down, you have to be able to see the ground; it's your only reliable altimeter. And people below you do have the right to pull first, it's your obligation - and a very smart thing to do - to get off their backs as fast as you can. Because even the careful ones who actually bother to look and wave off might not see you. There are blind spots over your back you simply can't see. YOU need to see who's down there.
All this being said, can you see the importance here and why this can be dangerous if not done properly by ALL parties involved?
I've heard people say "do a barrel roll before you pull" - well, that could be ok - but what about the newer jumper who suddenly becomes unstable during the barrel roll? Or the person who does a quick turn - did you really slow down enough to stop and look above you to see if anyone is there? There are a lot of things going on here and all the while, you are still losing altitude.
The first thing we teach students is to have heading control away from another jumper or formation while minimizing vertical acceleration. This means adopting a "T" body position, extending legs (thighs first, then shins, and sweeping arms back to a stable 90 degree position). After they are comfortable with this position, we can "tweak" it in with arms further back, cupping the chest and shoulders, and extending from toes to head and refine their ability to minimize vertical fall rate while maximizing horizontal speed.
-First, basic forward movement focusing on heading.
-Then the "T" position for stability reasons. The focus is on the stability and heading...nice straight line.
-Then, a Delta with arms at a 45-degree sweep. Again focusing on stability and heading.
Cleared for self-supervision:
-After gaining a good line in the Delta, then we go for speed with the full track.
-Then, finally, work them on distance with the flat track.
One thing to keep in mind with tracking is that you must stop tracking before deployment. If a student (or anyone) deploys while in this T position, then it's not a big deal. If they are full out tracking, the student will probably be slightly head low and potentially hauling @ss, which we all know could cause a fatally hard opening. We train to wave-off before pulling, which also brings an end to the tracking.
THINGS TO PAY ATTENTION TO WHILE TRACKING
Sadly - I've seen people all track in the same direction, track over people, under people, side by side of people etc. No one is looking. The things that will kill you, ground, open canopies, etc. are down below you. Looking at the horizon is unsafe because you won't see the jumper waving off below you or the ground coming up. Besides, no one has ever impacted with the horizon. While the horizon is a good indication to make sure you are going in one direction and not what I call "spinning down the toilet" - you need to keep an eye below. You can keep track of your heading by watching the ground and you can look around you in your peripheral vision, but when looking at the horizon you're not watching where you're going, the first rule of going fast safely. You do need to scan all around, especially to the sides for converging traffic and glance ahead for stopped bodies in freefall, but I still feel the main focus should be where you're going. The horizon is one of the last places to look for hazards. Looking over a shoulder or two at wave off is also a good idea.
Sadly, most skydivers are not good trackers; they really delta away from formations. I think this is a major area of improvement for all skydivers.
So, let's talk about how to handle certain situations - since I have seen these situations too many times the past year or two and really want to make sure people react correctly for everyone's safety.
Situation 1 - you are with a group of say 5 jumpers. It is time to track away and one turns 180 and tracks and the other 4 are all tracking in the same direction. What could one do to make sure this doesn't happen? Well, for one - when you are turning and doing your T cross - scan your area and see where everyone else is going......if you see 3 other people going north, alter your direction to another direction. If you are not scanning, but rather, are just aimlessly tracking away - you are missing the key element here of knowing your air space and knowing where everyone else is to make your deployment safe as well as those around you
Situation 2 - same situation above - you are tracking and don't realize that there are 3 other people around you UNTIL you see canopies deploy....what do you do? Well, you can perhaps pull a little lower to get below them.....if you feel comfortable with that AND there is separation enough to do so.....or if they are lower than you - pull higher. They key point here is to NOT have 4 canopies all next to each other to avoid a canopy collision. Now, having said that - what do you do it you open & see another canopy heading towards you? If you haven't unstowed your toggles yet, quickly grab your risers and turn to the RIGHT. This is a basic rule at Drop Zones - each person if they turn RIGHT should turn you both out of harms way.
Situation 3 - you did a jump with 5-6 people, and one went low, one is high, one is backsliding into another zip code and you wind up having a fun jump with 2 other people. Now it is time to track.....it is YOUR responsibility to look for the person who went low and not track in their direction and ALSO pay attention to the 2 people you were close to, to ensure you don't track in the same direction. The person who was high - it is THEIR responsibility to pay attention to everyone below them and not track over them. The person who was backsliding - it is THEIR responsibility to track "away" from everyone - as well as keep an eye on the person who went low, etc. But like driving a car, you can do everything right - but it doesn't mean everyone else on the jump will....so where does that leave you? In a very scary situation because you can't assume that everyone on that jump will be handling their responsibility. So, now you have to do a massive scan and flat track as FAR as possible - to try and put yourself outside of the danger zone. Track - looking down, scanning past your toes (to see behind you), to your left and to your right - if you see anyone near your - depending on how close they are, either alter your direction (continuously scanning) or check above you by doing two good "over your shoulder" checks and pull higher or roll your shoulders hard - and put on the jet packs and track as fast/far as you can to get separation. This is not a good situation to be in and why it is important for people to pick and choose wisely on who they jump with. If you are a low-jump-number skydiver, sticking to small groups (2-3 people) will help alleviate problems - until you get better at your skills and tracking. No one wants to boot you off of jumps - however, knowing your air space and having people near you in the air is the best recipe for a good track away from everyone at break off time. Having to play Where's Waldo while tracking is not the most ideal recipe for a successful jump.
HERE ARE SOME POSITIONS I'VE SEEN THIS SUMMER
IN TERMS OF PEOPLE TRACKING AWAY
I have seen people so-called "tracking" yet their body position is the neutral body position. This is NOT tracking - this is totally falling
This is perfect - a little bit of a Delta position which is fine - their body position is good - you see that are 90 degrees away from the other person - perfect
This pic - they are just tracking - which is fine - a bit of a Delta position - now IF they were getting ready for breakoff - he would turn 90 degrees and FLAT TRACK away
I've seen this position countless times at breakoff. This is fine IF you are with a LARGE group and want to cup air for a moment before picking a direction and tracking away - this is NOT the best body position to track for gaining the farthest horizontal separation.
This is fine for a track dive - but if you are tracking for separation - he would need to bring his legs in closer (either together or shoulder width apart)
BEAUTIFUL body position for tracking away for separation
Photo Courtesy of NiklasDaniel.com
AGAIN - I've seen this so many times - this is NOT tracking. His legs are up, his arms are out - he is doing almost nothing to gain horizontal separation
Now here - his arms are not in tracking position - he is in "forward movement position" - he would need to bring his arms back to his side, roll his shoulders and push his legs out strong
Blue Skies Everyone!
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