Flat Tracking: Fun + Survival

Flat Tracking: Fun + Survival

Jul 17
Flat tracking

Photo by Cory Kossan

There is often confusion regarding tracking dives, because different kinds of dives are called tracking dives. Is the rabbit (track dive leader) planning to maintain a steep track orientation, angle flying to keep a fast-falling group hauling butt across the sky? Or is the goal to flat track, covering as much ground horizontally as you can in a slow-falling body position? The former may be better for keeping a group together, while the latter hones the survival skills necessary to gain maximum separation from others given minimum time and altitude.

These days, many tracking dives tend towards the angle flying type. But the flat track is a better body position for gaining maximum separation and safety from other jumpers at pull time, especially on a big-way, so that’s the focus of this article.

First, the Myth

Only tall, thin people can flat track well, right? Very wrong. Tall, thin people have the physical shape to track well by deflecting a lot of air for their body weight, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t track as well. In fact, broader body types can often track quite well because their width allows them to cup a lot of air, especially if they have wide shoulders. And no matter what your body type is, you can flat track well with proper technique.

Step by Step

Let’s start at the beginning. Do you dirt dive your breakoff from the formation as much as the skydive? Probably not, unless it’s a big-way–not many people do! But spend a few minutes to think about it, because having a maximally efficient plan for getting away from your friends is your best strategy for survival. Remember: Below breakoff altitude, you have no friends! Think that everyone is trying to kill you, and you’ll be in the right mind set.

At breakoff, will you turn right or left? It depends on the formation you are leaving… the shortest turn to 180 from the center of the formation is best.

How do you turn? Have you ever thought about this? Many skydivers don’t. But envision this: The difference between turning at the same fall rate as the formation, then diving down into a track, compared to cupping air as you turn and maintaining that altitude as you begin your track, can be huge. The skydiver diving down may cover a decent amount of ground horizontally, but he/she will reach pull altitude and have to stop tracking sooner than a flat tracker, usually resulting in less total distance from the center of the formation.

Another benefit of grabbing air and staying high as you leave is that you have visuals on everyone diving down below you and can adjust your track as needed to avoid them. If you’re diving as you track, you know people could be above you and you might not find them all, so you hit your pull altitude, wave off in a big way, and hope the people near you notice.

How do you track? Many skydivers never significantly modify the delta track they learned as students. Why should you? It is solid and effective, but not as effective at achieving separation as a max flat track. Consider how you learned to track: Likely your instructor told you to turn 180° from your instructor, straighten your legs, point your toes, and sweep your arms back within a foot or so of your sides. In doing so, you felt a forward speed you never thought possible! How could it get better?

Answer: By doing only one thing: De-arching your butt off and bringing your hands and arms closer to your body.

Think of keeping your legs straight and parallel to the ground, and pulling your upper body down so that you are cupping air in front of your pelvis. Your head will be lower than your lower body, but don’t think of this as head-down flying! You’ll feel this in your abs if you track a long way. If you’ve done gymnastics or diving, think of this as a partial pike position. Also, roll your shoulders forward and pull your hands level with your thighs/knees so you are cupping air with your chest and arms as much as possible.

I think of hanging my upper body from my shins when I track, and it usually puts me above other trackers so I can see everyone’s flight paths and adjust my radial as needed to avoid others’ flight paths. I watch the rest of the formation behind me by putting my head and toes down, my butt up, and watching them below my toes.

Even if others are closer than I like, I can often just track further obliquely/past those who dive more as they track, because I have the altitude to do so. Please note than in organized staged-breakoff big-ways, tracking past outer breakoff rings is not the plan! But in smaller ways, if the outer skydivers aren’t tracking well, that you don’t have to stay within/behind their ring if you have the time and altitude to pass them safely. And if you need to change heading, all you have to do to change your heading is hang one hand out there a little further than the other–left hand to catch lift and turn you to the right, or vice versa.

This is a less stable body position than a delta track, so it takes a little practice to pop into that body position quickly. Learn it with a slow transition from the track you know to this more de-arched position, and accelerate the transition as you become more comfortable in this new position.

Leaving Before Tracking

Altitude and separation are your friends. From the moment you choose to break off until you deploy, everything you do should increase your separation from your group as much as possible. Pitch your body slightly to move away from the group even as you turn away. For example, if you are in-facing, you might start by backsliding as you begin to turn away, transitioning to a sideslide as you reach the halfway point of your turn, then hitting your tracking position once you’re out-facing. If you’re side-on, you’ll sideslide as you turn away. If you’re out-facing at breakoff, lucky you! Hit your max track right off the bat and watch everyone fall away as they turn. Regardless of which way you’re facing, think about grabbing air to slow your fall rate as you turn to leave the group. This will give you altitude relative to your group that you never thought possible, and thereby more time to get further and further away.

Often when people on the ground watch a big-way breaking off and deploying, they may be looking for someone in particular who they think is a good tracker. Often they will say they saw some other person pull, then another, and then oh! Finally they saw the person they were looking for, who tracked past the others and deployed later and farther away. They deployed later because they reached their pull altitude later because they conserved altitude, not because they pulled lower. What more could you want? Altitude plus separation!

Flat tracking sometimes seems to be a lost art, but it doesn’t have to be. Beat it out of the center of every skydive like it was a 300-way, and you’ll greatly increase your safety at pull time. Pass it on!

By Christy West

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