Maja Kuczynska – Bigger than the Sky
Stunning routine by Maja Kuczyńska
There has been a lot of discussion lately about whether experienced jumpers should use RSLs. This discussion has actually been going on for years. Throughout my skydiving career I chose not to use an RSL. The logic for this being that if I had to cutaway and only had one parachute left I wanted to be as flat and stable as possible before deploying my reserve. For some 25+ cutaways I did just that and it worked fine. I was always under my reserve plenty high.
A couple of years ago I saw a good friend, and very competent skydiver with over 2,000 jumps, ride a gently spinning malfunction down to about 500 feet and then cutaway. She never got the reserve out. I thought long and hard about this. It occurred to me that there had been several times over the years that I ended up in freefall lower than I had intended. Fortunately those weren’t the times I had malfunctions but they just as easily could have been.
I came to the conclusion that getting a parachute over your head as quickly as possible was the most important thing to do
It’s the combinations of problems that get you in trouble. You know, those times when you break off and deploy a little lower than you planned. But you have a hard pull, then a pilot hesitation, then a snivel, then a malfunction, then it takes an extra second to get your hand on the cutaway handle, now you are down at 1,000 or lower and cutting away, then you tumble for a few seconds before getting stable and pulling your reserve.
I decided that this type of scenario was more likely, and risky, than using an RSL and cutting away from a spinning malfunction which could then possibly hinder my reserve opening. The RSL deploys the reserve so quickly that this shouldn’t be a problem. And with a SkyHook, which is even better than an RSL, you don’t even have time to get unstable before your reserve is out. I’ve had three cutaways now with a SkyHook and it is more like a canopy transfer. I didn’t for even a second have that feeling of going back into freefall. After looking at all the different scenarios I came to the conclusion that getting a parachute over your head as quickly as possible was the most important thing to do.
Everyone needs to make this decision for themselves. But as far as whether an experienced jumper should use a Skyhook and/or an RSL, I absolutely think the benefits far outweigh the risks. Both my Javelins have Skyhooks and RSLs in them. And I’m a fairly experienced skydiver.
Discussion by Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld. An explanation of the RSL and Skyhook follows, with photo and video examples
Explanation by Lesley Gale
RSL stands for Reserve Static Line, a device that uses the cutaway sequence of the main canopy to pull the reserve ripcord and begin its deployment. One version of an RSL consists of a lanyard (thin piece of webbing), about 30cm long, with a small metal ring on one end and a shackle on the other, which connects to a small ring on one of the risers (not any of the 3-rings). The lanyard lies out of the way, tucked under a reserve riser sometimes with velcro.
The small ring at the other end of the RSL goes around the reserve ripcord. In the event of a cutaway, the lanyard will pull tight as the skydiver falls away from his/her now-disconnected main canopy. The small RSL ring pulls on the reserve cable, removing the pin, and initiating deployment by releasing the reserve pilot chute. The RSL is a back-up device, not intended to replace manual action.
The Skyhook is an advanced modification of a standard RSL, where there is an extra piece of line on the RSL, attached to the reserve bridle by the Skyhook. The drag from the cutaway main canopy extracts the reserve free bag by pulling on the bridle. The departing main effectively acts as a reserve pilot chute, resulting in a faster opening and less loss of altitude before the reserve is out of the free bag. The canopy then deploys normally, so the opening should not be any harder, it just starts earlier. The Skyhook, invented by Bill Booth of United Parachute Technologies was the first Main Assisted Reserve Deployment (MARD); others are now also available.
The Skyhook itself is a hook with attachment points for the RSL (red line), the reserve bag and the reserve pilot chute. The shape of the Skyhook means that either the pilot chute or the departing main canopy will pull the bridle/bag out; whichever is fastest. In a total malfunction scenario the red line to the RSL slips out of the Skyhook with the action of the reserve pilot chute leaving.
A Skyhook set-up looks in some ways quite different under the reserve top flap than many types of RSL. The only type of RSL that may have a Skyhook also, is the kind where the RSL lanyard incorporates the reserve pin, and the reserve ripcord has a ring or loop which the reserve pin goes through. To recognize that a Skyhook is installed, the end of the red line that goes from the RSL to the Skyhook will be visible at the top of the reserve flap.
The Skyhook is used with a Collins’ lanyard, looped round the cutaway cable of the non-RSL-riser. If the RSL-riser breaks (eg, if incorrectly assembled), the Collins’ Lanyard releases the other riser before the RSL initiates reserve deployment, to avoid a main/reserve entanglement.
You can see the red line to the Skyhook disappearing under the reserve flaps and the black Collins’ Lanyard going around the yellow cutaway cable.
In the event of a malfunctioning main canopy, pulling the cutaway handle releases the main risers, the RSL pulls the reserve pin, opening the flaps…
…and the red line pulls on the Skyhook and hence reserve bridle, dragging the free bag swiftly away.
If the skydiver pulls the reserve handle (in a total malfunction), the reserve pilot chute extracts normally, as the Skyhook releases the red line of the RSL by nature of its design.
The Skyhook was the brainchild of Bill Booth, who was also the inventor of the 3-ring release system and the throwaway. Bill’s idea, 30 years ago, went through filmed test jumps by UPT with every conceivable malfunction. There are over 30,000 Skyhooks in use worldwide, with no problems reported when used as intended. There are great videos of real life examples that make interesting viewing at UPT Skyhook, scroll down page to 'Skyhook Videos by You!'
I’ve had three cutaways now with a Skyhook and it is more like a canopy transfer
Today's canopies spin violently if malfunctioning, losing altitude fast and creating problems for the pilot.
Source: RSL, A Second Look by Derek Thomas & Bill Booth
Consider USPA figures: between 1999 and 2005, the following fatalities occurred:
An RSL would have prevented most of these 24 fatalities and a Skyhook/MARD would have prevented even more. In the same time period, there were only 4 RSL-related deaths [due to entanglements], all students with fewer than 20 jumps, 2 of whom were already entangled with their main.
Source: RSL: Separating Fact from Fiction by Jim Crouch
Every skydiver should make his or her own choice about their equipment. A Skyhook or RSL may not be right for everyone; for example, cameraflyers, skysurfers, canopy formation jumpers & extreme pilots have extra factors to consider. But it's worth thinking long and hard about the benefits of a faster reserve deployment; the difference in altitude might be your life.
Some photos by Mark Harris
Skyhook diagrams and some photos courtesy of United Parachute Technologies