Big-way Bites 11 – Breathing Oxygen

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At a large formation event going to higher altitudes, jumpers will be supplied with supplemental oxygen, to avoid hypoxia. But how do we maximize the O2 we retain in our blood?

SOS big-way exit over Skydive Perris
Photo by Gustavo Cabana

Big-way camps for belly flyers are gaining popularity. The reasons could be new rumors of a 500-way record attempt, the emergence of Total Break Sequential, and, well, they’re just fun.

One of the attractions of big-way skydiving is more freefall time. Increased exit altitude requires supplemental oxygen (O2). The use of supplemental O2 is something that most skydivers don’t get the opportunity to experience very often. 

Breathing O2 on the way to altitude at the SOS record
Photo by Gustavo Cabana


According to the Code of Federal Regulations:

§ 91.211 Supplemental oxygen

(a) General. No person may operate a civil aircraft of U.S. registry— 

  1. At cabin pressure altitudes above 12,500 feet (MSL) up to and including 14,000 feet (MSL) unless the required minimum flight crew is provided with and uses supplemental oxygen for that part of the flight at those altitudes that is of more than 30 minutes duration; 
  2. At cabin pressure altitudes above 14,000 feet (MSL) unless the required minimum flight crew is provided with and uses supplemental oxygen during the entire flight time at those altitudes; and 
  3. At cabin pressure altitudes above 15,000 feet (MSL) unless each occupant of the aircraft is provided with supplemental oxygen.

[From Title 14, Chapter 1, Subchapter F, Part 19, Subpart C.
Abbreviations: MSL = Mean Sea Level. AGL = Above Ground Level]

Author Scott Latinis exiting, photo by Gustavo Cabana

SOS Record

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on a jump plane at Skydive Perris climbing to 16,500 feet AGL (which is 18,000 feet MSL), to attempt a new Skydivers Over Sixty bigway world record. I started thinking about the most efficient way to breathe supplemental oxygen (yes, Dan BC, I was also visualizing the skydive!). I’ve been making high-altitude skydives for many years, and figured I must be doing it right, since I was still making high-altitude skydives. But maybe, just maybe, this old dog could learn a new trick.

So, I went to the new expert on the block: ChatGPT. I asked my question:

What is the best breathing technique to optimize oxygen in the bloodstream when using supplemental O2 at 15000 feet above sea level?

…and the big brain in the cloud replied…

From ChatGPT

When using supplemental oxygen at high altitudes, it is important to breathe in a way that maximizes the amount of oxygen absorbed by the body. Here is a breathing technique that can help optimize oxygen delivery when using supplemental O2 at 15,000 feet above sea level:

  1. Breathe deeply: Take slow, deep breaths to ensure that the lungs are fully expanding with each inhale. This will help maximize the amount of oxygen absorbed by the body.
  2. Exhale fully: Exhale fully to ensure that the lungs are emptying completely with each exhale. This will help create more space in the lungs for oxygen-rich air.
  3. Use pursed-lip breathing: Pursed-lip breathing involves exhaling slowly through pursed lips. This technique can help keep airways open and reduce air trapping in the lungs, allowing more oxygen to be absorbed.
  4. Use diaphragmatic breathing: Diaphragmatic breathing involves using the diaphragm to breathe deeply. This technique can help maximize the amount of oxygen absorbed by the body.
  5. Focus on breathing rhythm: Try to establish a regular breathing rhythm, inhaling for a set amount of time and exhaling for a set amount of time. This can help optimize oxygen delivery by ensuring that the body is receiving a consistent supply of oxygen
  6. Avoid smoking: Smoking can decrease the amount of oxygen in the blood, making it more difficult for the body to absorb oxygen.
  7. Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can help optimize oxygen delivery by keeping the body hydrated. Dehydration can make it harder for the body to absorb oxygen.

 It is important to consult with a medical professional before using supplemental oxygen, especially at high altitudes. They can provide guidance on the appropriate use of oxygen and breathing techniques to optimize oxygen delivery.

From a Free Diver and Skydiver

That seemed to make a lot of sense. But being just a wee bit old-school, I decided to consult someone who actually did breathe O2 (unlike ChatGPT). She not only breathes O2 as the rest of us mere mortals do, but she also has learned to maximize getting the most amount of the oxygen into the bloodstream with every breath. My friend, Oksana Golubtsova is not only a very nice lady and an accomplished skydiver, she’s also certified free diver. 

I sent her what ChatGPT recommended and asked for her thoughts. She replied:

Oksana Golubtsova
Photo by Rob Lloyd

“I think what could sum up in simple words the breathing technique I use would be to imagine that you are inhaling through a straw, deliberately slowly. When inhaling, start from filling the tummy fully with the air, then expanding upwards, to the chest and throat. When exhaling, we need to empty all the air in the reverse sequence – also, slowly. It’s acceptable to make a small pause between inhaling and exhaling. As long as we keep deep, slow and rhythmic breathing, it will saturate our tissues with OXYGEN while eliminating CO2. As a side effect, it will also keep the heartbeat rate low, naturally reducing the stress level.” 

So, there you have it. I think that both Oksana and ChatGPT agree that breathing is a good thing. And now you have some info on how to make the most of each breath. I hope this helps.

Big-way Bites Series

Large formation exit, by Gary Wainwright

Check out other articles in this series covering the essentials of large formation skydiving.

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Meet: Scott Latinis

Scott is Director of Load organizing and Event organizing for Skydive Spaceland. He started jumping in 1980 (yes, round parachutes, belly wart reserve, scared sh*tless!) and has over 14,000 jumps...so far. Scott holds 2 big-way sequential world records and 2 SOS world records - biggest formation (101) and biggest sequential (2point 95way)records. His first USPA Nationals was in 1990 and he has won 10 USPA gold medals (4way advanced, 10-way, 16-way). When asked what's next, he replied "more jumps, more fun, more friends". He believes that you don't quit skydiving because you get old, you get old because you quit skydiving...."so y'all are stuck with me for a long time!"

Scott is humbled and grateful to be sponsored by Cookie, Larsen & Brusgaard, Performance Designs, Skydive Spaceland, Sunpath/Rigging Innovations, Vertical Suits, and Vigil.

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