As a canopy manufacturer, we’re all about getting the most out of your canopy. Amazingly enough, we aren’t just about swooping. There is plenty of different ways to enjoy flying around the sky under that life-saving device. Canopy flocking is one of them. We asked our JYRO (Previously NZ Aerosports) Athlete (and rising star) Zack Rosser and his teammate Niall Saunders to answer a bunch of questions about flocking. Zack’s Canopy Course is one of the most sort-after canopy courses in Aussie at the moment. Read on to find out things about canopy flocking. And possibly some other things. But mostly canopy flocking. Flock on!
What is canopy flocking?
In my opinion, canopy flocking is flying your sports canopy in group relative non contact flight, whilst flying in a specified slot.
Non contact canopy relative work, either flying static (holding slot for entirety of jump) or dynamic (moving slots through-out jump).
What experience would you recommend for beginners wanting to get into canopy flocking?
I’d recommend doing a couple 1-on-1 high pulls with an experienced instructor or coach. Go through all your canopy inputs and how they react flying relative to another person. During this you should learn about spotting, your inputs, approaches and most importantly about canopy wraps & entanglements.
Getting into flocking as early as you can is a great way to start unlocking your canopy’s full potential. If you don’t meet the course requirements then speak to a canopy coach and start doing some one-on-one jumps. This is a great way to get practising for when you do make the course requirements.
Is there an ideal wingload or doesn’t it matter for canopy flocking?
I wouldn’t say there’s an ideal wingloading for flocking. However, there’s definitely only so much range your wing has to be able to fly with other people. For instance, if you’re at 1.0 wingloading you’re going to struggle to fly with people on a wingloading of 2.0+. For our camps we have the following bracket which we’ve found works well for those groups. 1.2-1.5 1.6-2.1.
If you’re looking at doing some intro flocks, try matching the wingloading as best as you can rather than matching the same size canopy.
It’s more about being compatible with the other pilots you are flying with, that’s why there are wing loading brackets for the flocking camps.
Try our handy wingload calculator to find out your wingloading on our canopies
What’s the best canopy for flocking?
Obviously JYRO wings! For the advance camps, I’ll fly my JFX2 84 loaded at 1.9 (I’m a little boy, alright). It gives me the ability to comfortably fly with people on a Katana 135 down to a JFX2 72 and still have plenty of range. Im very excited for my new Leia 74 to arrive to take the camps up a couple levels!
However, for the intro camp, I’ll fly a demo Crossfire 3 109 or 99. Again, I’ll have canopies such as Safire 2 190’s down to Crossfire 3 129s and all flying relative in a nice formation with plenty of range too.
Anything JYRO (previously NZ Aerosports) makes 😉
What advice would you give to beginners, intermediate and advanced canopy pilots that want to progress their canopy flocking skills?
Don’t skip any steps, start off with small simple jumps. We’ve made mistakes of progressing too quickly and jumps haven’t gone to plan. On our camps where we stick to a progression plan without skipping the essential steps, people progress at a much higher rate. Which makes everything a lot more enjoyable!
My favourite jumps have been 2 ways. It takes away the stress of having lots of canopies around to try out complex jumps or I’ve found 6 ways to be the perfect number for dynamic jumps.
It doesn’t matter where you are in your canopy piloting journey, coming on a flocking camp will improve your canopy skills!
Have a read of our blog ’10 Examples of Skydiving Mistakes‘ where jumps haven’t gone to plan
What are the top do’s and don’ts of canopy flocking?
Small simple jumps are more frothy than bigger technical jumps, don’t wrap someone, what Niall said.
Fly within your limits, cater for the least experienced, have fun, F%*k knows.
Do you need any special equipment for canopy flocking? What gear do you use for your jumps?
For all our flocking jumps, both leaders have a Garmin GPS. This allows us to know which bearing we’re heading towards and then a distance from a set target. I’ll generally use this to gauge how far past we’ve gone from the DZ as well as how far we have to go. I can then decide whether to add another drill in or rather just relax and keep flying towards the DZ.
Hook knives are a must as with any canopy relative flight as well as preparing your gear such as disconnecting RSL’s. For me personally, I wear 2 hook knives, disconnect RSL prior to emplaning and keep my chest strap done up. I also fly a range of crossfire 3’s and it still amazes me the range of canopies I can fly with!
What advice would you give to those who are outside of the ‘usual’ wingloading? For instance, those who are lightly loaded may struggle to fly with others.
Unfortunately, as much as we try, sometimes people fall outside of the requirements for our camps. Don’t let that hold you back though! Seek out guidance from a canopy coach to create a progression plan to work towards up-skilling yourself to meet the requirements.
If you’re too heavily loaded for our camps, we’re working on up-skilling ourselves so we can keep progressing our camps to a higher level. Be patient, we’re on our way!
Speak to local canopy coaches and do some one-on-one jumps. This will allow you to fly your canopy relative to someone else and prepare you for when you do make the course requirements.
Is it best to do a specific canopy flocking course or can you get together with your mates and start?
I’d strongly recommend if you haven’t done any flocking before, try to seek an experienced instructor or canopy coach to do some 1-on-1s. Then after that find out where our next flocking camps are being held and come sign up! You’ll learn everything you need on the camps to be able to go home to your local DZ and execute flocking jumps safely.
I always suggest coming on a flocking course before you start doing jumps by yourself. Flocking can be very dangerous, but can be done safely with the right training.
For those who have signed up to a course, is there any tips you can give to get the best out of their day?
Come into the course with a fresh mindset of being a blank slate and eager to learn something new.
Turn up on-time, ready to go, be a sponge and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve with your canopy.
Alethia Austin gave some great advice on how to ‘manage your energy levels in skydiving‘
Zack’s common mistakes to avoid when canopy flocking
Common Mistake 1
The first mistake I often see is participants copying the body position and flight mode the base flyer is in. This can result in participants reaching the formation, relaxing by mimicking the base flyer’s flight mode and then falling behind. Usually, the base flyer will try to set a neutral speed which is in 1/4 to 1/2 brakes. Then when they get to the ground, they’ll either ask what they did wrong or state “the formation was flying too fast, I couldn’t keep up”. The solution is to use less brakes or transfer to rears and actively fly their wing.
Common Mistake 2
To put it bluntly, the second mistake I see would be ego. Typically someone who lets their ego get in the way will either have a lot more jumps than some on the camp or they’ve done a couple flocking jumps previously so they “know what they’re doing”. From jump one they expect to be flying their slot, tight and relative to the base. They’ll usually have an idea in their mind of what they need to do so won’t listen to new advice or techniques. Then when they struggle, there’s always a reason as to why they’re struggling other than them refusing to learn or listen at the start.
Imagine jumping into any discipline for the first time, is that your automatic expectation to be good from the get go? Or are you expecting to struggle for a while until you’ve learnt the lessons needed to be learned? No one aces their first angle jumps chasing the formation, it’s just the way things go! Just because we fly a canopy every jump we do and have X number of jumps under a wing that doesn’t mean we’ve had the same number of jumps utilising all our canopy’s potential. Usually, we’re just flying it safely down to the ground.
More often than not, trap one and trap two link up together and are routinely the same person. I’ve found the least experienced people are consistently progressing at a faster rate because they’re aware of their lack of knowledge and far more willing to learn. The more experienced flyer who thinks they know but really doesn’t know and so has not only more to learn, but needs to unlearn bad habits. Leave those egos behind!
My advice (and I guess applies to all aspects of skydiving) is go into learning something new as a student, be a sponge and absorb new information. If you’re one of the more experienced people on the camp don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are struggling. Learning something new is meant to be fun. Enjoy the process.
What’s next for Zack’s Canopy Course?
From 2019 to now I cannot believe how much ‘Zack’s Canopy Course’ has grown as a brand. The places it’s taken me, the people I’ve met and the stories made so far are incredible. I’m so grateful for all the help and guidance along the way!
So what’s next? Excellent question! I’m running my first international event next year (2023) over in New Zealand, the homeland for JYRO (Previously NZ Aerosports)! I am so F@#$EN excited and it’s hopefully a small step into the international market for the brand!
Both flocking camps (What the Flock!? & Lets Flock Sh!t Up!) will continue around Australia which is a step in our plan for growth. Whilst growing the discipline of flocking in Australia and creating some flocking good canopy pilots, it’s all working towards an event I’ve been planning and working towards for 2024. It’s still in the works and being refined so we can go bigger and better! Small hint would be we tested it out on a smaller scale at our What the Flock event at SA Skydiving, watch the event edit and see if you can work it out 😉
All photo credit goes to Cameron Puttee who is Zack’s Canopy Course official videographer. He’s also an JYRO (Previously NZ Aerosports) Athlete & a badass flyer. Check out his socials. You won’t regret it.
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