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Hand Held Main Canopy Deployment

This page is a chapter in 'BASE Wiki Jumping Techniques'

Hand Held Main Canopy Deployment (WAD): As I became aware of this, the beautiful simplicity of the WAD concept consumed my thoughts. What could be simpler? I interviewed "some guy named Mark Hewitt" (and everyone else I could find) over a period of a few years to learn as much as possible regarding packing (folding), line routing, and exit/freefall techniques for a hand held main jump. Not many folks have done it, and it turned out that Mark was the only one I've talked to so far with direct experience in the matter. He's fun to talk to about gear. The technique looks like a big ugly wad when you end up ready to jump it, but it is really a BASE or reserve fold job before the container. The joke is that WAD stands for "Wild Assed Deployment", because the heading is not very reliable and the free routed lines "get busy" at higher speeds. He commented that throwing the WAD is bad, and results in a squirrelly opening. It should simply be released to allow for line stretch straight above the jumper.

The idea was to speed up the deployment for use on lower objects. This guy Mark said he jumped it about 10 times from a 160 ft bridge over water w/ free routed lines on nine of the ten jumps. He said it was opened consistently about half way down. On one of the ten jumps he used a tail pocket. He said that jump opened going into the water, or something to that effect. This may have been due to lack of tension in the system with the pilot chute absent. So much for line management. All ten of his jumps were without slider & had delays in the two second range. He also remembered watching a four second delay slider up using the WAD which worked fine. I wouldn't be needing the new tail pocket on my Pursuit 230, and I wasn't too keen on a free bundle of lines near me in freefall. Upon conferring with Mr. Hewitt the night before my jump, we agreed on placing one rubber band stow on each articulated ring of my Sorcerer rig leg straps. This made me feel better, but I don't think I'll do it again..

Since I made my first (case-o-beer!) WAD jump I've been very surprised at the number of other BASE jumpers that have commented on the lunacy of the idea. I expect this from the average BASE fearing skydiver, but coming from a BASE jumper such a comment is truly amusing. That attitude completely lacks any perspective of the big picture. Don't these people think about how the activity has evolved? Do they really trust the synthetic & unnatural pilot chute and container more than their own naturally evolved human hand, one of the most versatile tools in our universe (short of the brain, perhaps)? Haven't they ever thoroughly considered the fastest possible way get a canopy out and open?

They should find their roots and make a WAD jump. They should hold a "ram-air pilot chute" big enough to land under, and then step from the edge with it. They should open their fingers and see it unfold BEFORE THEIR EYES. They should hang in the void for eternity while the chaotic blob of life expands slowly next to them. This is how to find fixed object heritage. This is how to see the beauty and simplicity of BASE. This is how to really REALLY scare yourself.

CONTAINERS are for LIGHTWEIGHTS! PILOT CHUTES ARE FOR WUSSIES! OK, ok.

The sermon is over. Enough rantings from a one jump wonder, a WAD-boy wanna-be. It's obviously not a technique for everyone. And it surly does have loads of disadvantages. Stability, the freely routed line bundle, access to the exit area, proper folding and holding, the correct release, and many other variables are all critical. Now back to the details.

The canopy is stacked on the open nose as usual. The top of the center cell leading edge (L.E.) is then pulled down to the bottom of the center cell L.E. The cleanly flaked canopy is then folded into thirds, leaving some of the line bundle within the WAD and some outside it. The outer edges of the center cell mouth are wrapped around the equator of the WAD and pinched together with one hand to hold it for launch. If a method to wrap the WAD for transport is used care must be taken to wrap it very tightly to prevent shifting of the fold job. Also, the line bundle must be secure. Be advised that this single paragraph is not a sufficient explanation of the technique, nor is it meant to be. Also remember, no packing is allowed at the center of the bridge.

What is the ultimate parachute system? If the concept of the WAD seems crazy or hard to understand, consider the evolution of fixed object gear. It has gone from all of the complexity of the two shot skydiving configuration toward the simplicity of the single shot rig. The slider has gone away. The pin has gone away1. All unnecessary elements have gone away. The fewer number of elements in any "machine" the lower the probability of failure. All of the remaining components are closely scrutinized to increase chances of success. How big are the gaps in the mesh at the base of the pilot chute? Does the bridle go through the shrivel flap at an angle or straight through? Thousands of questions regarding just as many details.

Taking the "simpler is better" concept even farther, why not use the HUMAN HAND TO CONTAIN THE CANOPY? Certainly this results in a lower probability of "container lock". Also, this type container may be used to release the main canopy directly into the relative wind. So as a bonus, we may also do away with the pilot chute for hand deployed main jumps. The fabric type of the pilot chute, the mesh size, the center line trim length, the handle type (if any), the bridle length, and all other variables of the ever crucial pilot chute vanish from our list of concerns. Just remember, a 42" diameter pilot chute and a 9' bridle are the minimums required at Bridge Day! Is 230 square feet big enough? What about 16 bridles, each of them 15 feet long or so? While we're at it, who needs a container anyway? All we really need is a harness with a couple of riser attach points..

I think the stow bands add chaos to the line group. As they release, the stows "twang" the lines. This added "wave" in the lines could add more chance for tension knots and such. Also, with no pilot chute pulling from the top of the canopy, inhibiting features such as stows may slow the deployment or upset inflation upon uneven unstow. If I try the WAD again from a tall object such as The Bridge, (or out of a balloon?) I'm thinking the best way might just be to place more of the line group into the WAD itself. Also, I'm wondering if lightweight paper cuffs around the exposed part of the line group may help reduce "flutter" in the lines, as well as helping to organize the lines during launch point preparation. This may be a bad idea for slider up, but slider down would surely blow paper out of the way in an instant.

At The Bridge I wanted to do a cut away if I got open w/ lotsa height left. I also had to be ready to cut it away if the WAD copped an attitude. "Some woman named Marta Empinotti" looked over the reserve lanyard and reserve pilot chute stowage while I was hooking the WAD into the "Sorcerer" rig at the end of the span after my first jump of the day (sleeved Dragon 253, slider up). Without her help at that moment I would have been far more reluctant to cut it away. I had to be ready to do so, however, just in case Mr. WAD had a bad day. After Marta's preflight I sinched the WAD into the container and tied it in w/ a pull up cord through the top and bottom flaps. I had a special "belt" around it since folding it the night before. The belt worked kind of like a "packing Weasel", only it was the "WAD Weasel". Now THAT'S comedy.

I had to walk about a mile from the car to the exit point with the line bundle stowed on each leg strap ring. I got my better half Sharon to keep an eye on my back. I kept my hands out to the sides like I was learning to roller skate. I was terrified that someone would brush into me and dislodge my tenuous rigging job. This walk seemed to take longer than ever before. I was worn out just getting to center span. In the exit area, one of the "Spiders From Mars" (Gregg Ballou) helped me stage the WAD from inside my container to my hand. He had a great expression when I asked him for help and turned to show him what was on my back. I guess he did a good job(!), although I couldn't see the line routing behind me. It felt OK to my left hand. He was just another in the series of people who made my WAD jump possible.

After it was in my hand and ready to go, Sharon jumped and I waited for her to land and gather her gear. A few jumpers went between us, and I waited at the back of the ramp, nervously checking my gear about every ten seconds (not TOO paranoid). The Pursuit has red center lines on the nose for CReW, so it's a bundle of grey-white lines w/ two red ones mixed in. I kept looking over my sholder at the line group to be sure no one disturbed the set up. At one point I panicked because an electrical cord on the flatbed behind me had a red side that looked just like a single center line of the Pursuit. "What's up with my lines!?! Oh. OK. Every thing's just fine. There's no pressure."

I walked forward on the ramp and waited for a canopy that was loitering beneath the exit area, all the while with my main in hand and a big ugly line bundle hanging out in space. Some one to my right (a jumper no doubt) hollered and when I looked, folks were pointing at me. I raised my arms and hollered, "THE WAD!" At that point the place got loud with people screaming and waiving their arms. The surreal exit point feeling was amplified beyond description. After 13 years at Bridge Day, that was a place I had never been before. WAD time had arrived. I felt an almost calm happiness, unlike any of my previous jumps. My knees weren't even shaking like they normally do.

I had to compose myself w/ some slow, deep breathing while I closed my eyes to help relax. I remember "some guy named John Vincent" once told me that one must be relaxed, focused, and confident before any BASE jump. Looking at the exposed line group, I wondered if Mr. Vincent had this in mind. I tried to clear my mind of all thoughts. I looked at my Sorcerer handles and the exposed part of the line bundle once more. Suddenly there were no more excuses. I ran forward with my friend Mr. WAD. At that moment people may have been noisy around the exit area, but I was moving into a clean, quiet universe of "the void." I wanted to do 2 seconds. The lines next to me got busy quick, so I let it go with a bit of a pilot chute pitch by accident. Watching Will Forshay's video review that night revealed what looked like a "fat" 1.7 seconds or so. (It was really more like a "solid"1.5 sec)

One of the most difficult things I found on my first attempt jumping the WAD was just letting it go instead of pitching it. The habit from pilot chutes is to get it away from your body. The immediate reaction upon gaining a little speed with the WAD line bundle hanging out in the breeze is to GET RID OF IT NOW! This is bad. It must simply be released, not thrown. I think I remember Mr. Hewitt saying a simple release gives the best chance of an on heading opening. I was thinking that throwing the WAD up would decrease the time until line stretch. This is a very dangerous thing to do however, with free routed lines. If the canopy rotates at all, excited by the slightest uneven element of the toss, it could be very bad. There is no pilot chute to pull everything straight and keep the canopy above the lines. WAD-o-canopy may turn into WAD-o-trash. Chop chop.

Next comes the really strange part. The WAD is nearly as dense as your body while still hand held. Once released, it takes a moment to unfold enough to grab air and depart the jumper's proximity. The ugly mess just hangs next to you once released! For a seemingly unending moment that is typical of BASE jumping adrenaline levels, there is a mass of fabric and lines hanging in space right next to you. It is very unnerving and causes further contemplation: WHY DID I DO THIS!?! At about the same time the brain has realized "bad idea", so too has the canopy sprung open and the wind taken hold. It seeks the space above you in a familiar and comforting way that we have grown used to in our friend the parachute. That hanging blob is quite weird and seems to last WAY TOO LONG, but in fact it is gone right away.

I remember looking up the lines and seeing the opening go left. There was no sky to the left of the slider up blob. Just lots of black shadows and brown girders. I tugged the right rear riser and Mr. Pursuit was flying nicely up-stream after a fairly smooth ride. A photo enlargement of line stretch at the first line stow clearly shows the line group in contact with (i.e. underneath) the right riser cover (YIKES!). This happened because I stayed fairly head-high and pushed the WAD forward, but it could have been avoided with no stows. Sue Murray took the photo series.

Thanks Sue! (I owe you a WAD T-shirt) After a brief pause to contemplate my place in the universe, the cut away also went as planned, with excellent heading.

The WAD opening wasn't much less behaved then the average free packed opening. With slider up to save my lower back and a 1.5 second delay, it still opened much faster than the "clunky old pilot chute and container" method. I want to try some short delay WAD jumps without the slider when I get another chance. And some "long" delay slider up WAD jumps. MORE WAD JUMPS! A balloon jump might actually be the easiest and safest way to do this, even with the propane burner and the basket climb-out. One problem at the bridge is clearing the structure in case of bad heading: without a slider it would take at least 2 second of free fall to guarantee that a 180 misses the steel. More like 2 and a half.

A WAD jump really is a different world. It's a beautifully simple concept to hold a canopy in your hand and jump from a high place. It's almost as simple as the "bat-suit" ideas of centuries past. But there are at least as many ways as with a "regular" BASE jump that this technique could spank you hard. A major factor to consider with WAD jumps is starting out with and keeping a good fold job until release. The WAD must be handled with care not to disturb its highly prepared state. This gets more difficult with a larger canopy. I wonder about a two handed grip for small hands and/or a huge canopy. Might this also aid to the symmetry of body position and release? A "calm" release is also important, and goes against the typical habit of pitching the pilot chute. Then there's always the stability issue.!

-Tim Harris, "Fall" 98

Actually, the pin can take less mechanical work (force x distance) to extract, and therefore potentially less time & altitude, then do the thousands of hooks-&-loops in a Velcro closure. This depends on closing loop tension, how old/new the Velcro is, and the exact configuration of either system, along with some other variables, no doubt. There is something comforting about the concept of Velcro that makes it seem a less permanent form of closure & less likely to "lock" a container closed. It's interesting that some modern BASE rig designs for higher speed freefalls are using pins once again as the method of choice for container closure.


Please read Unpacked as well. It talks about more unpacked techniques.


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