This is a pejorative term used by some pilots to describe skydivers. In free fall they are impossible to see and at terminal velocity, a descriptive term, may reach speeds of about 120 miles per hour. We have ample evidence of what a nine pound bird can do to an aircraft, so it takes little imagination to envision what devastation a much larger human can wreak. Years ago, a free fall jumper suffered a broken foot while removing the stabilator of a passing Cherokee resulting in four fatalities in the aircraft.
Under canopy, after the chute has opened, theoretically the target should be much easier to spot, and the impact will be less. However, you will not like the results! An accident in Florida earlier this week illustrates the point spectacularly as captured by photographer, Tim Telford.
The few details we know are this—subject to change: The skydiver was about to land on the runway when the aircraft arrived at the same time. Pilot and parachutist saw each other seconds before the collision, but inertia has a way of carrying things to a logical and frightening conclusion. The pilot pulled up to evade and hooked the shrouds of the chute pulling the diver behind the aircraft and whipping the aircraft nose first into the ground.
The NTSB and FAA will investigate, but a few thoughts for your consideration. I am wary of skydivers, not personally you understand, although many of us wonder about the wisdom of leaving a perfectly good airplane. In flight however, their trajectories will largely be forward and down with some constrained ability to maneuver. You won’t see them easily if at all. At airports where jumps are in progress monitor the CTAF and stay clear until sure that gravity has reclaimed everyone. In a recent drop zone arrival, I heard the call of “jumpers away” and decided that a little VFR holding practice might be just the thing. We landed a few minutes after the last jumper was down, and everybody got to fly again the same day.
En route, monitor CTAFs or get VFR flight following where available. Also, refresh your knowledge about parachute ops with ASI’s “Know Before You Go: Navigating Today’s Airspace,” which includes a chapter on Parachute Jumping Areas. This is an encounter to avoid and it’s easy to do so! Sharing the airspace carefully, aloft and at the airport is not only neighborly, it’s life-prolonging.
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