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NFTO cameraflyer Simon Brentford shares a moment of shame, what he learned and how to avoid it happening to you…

NFTO team training at Skydive Algarve
Photo by Simon Brentford

The Bug Splat

I’d like to recall that time I piled into my 4-way team when videoing a few years back at a training camp at Skydive Hibaldstow. The day had started well and we had just completed our first quad of back-to-back jumps and I was feeling confident and in the zone. We’re at 10,500ft and I’m as usual hanging on the camera step, but this time, I can’t see the key. It’s that unlucky combo of Tail slot blocking the view and a weak key from the rest of them.

This put me late on my exit timing, but I also made a big mistake. As I launched, I did something I don’t normally do, I pushed off sideways and the moment it happened, I knew that instant I was going to be buying the beers!

Within a few moments, a massive ‘Nooooo!!;  in slow-motion verbalised inside my helmet as I realised I had no air and the team was rapidly approaching. Moments later, I impacted! It wasn’t particularly hard, but they all looked very surprised to see me doing a beached-whale impression!

Fortunately for me, the team (Dynamite Wolf Squadron) was built of strong stuff and my impact was akin to that of a bug hitting a windscreen. Had this been a competition jump, I would never have lived it down. I think I would have retired to Tai Chi classes on a Saturday morning.

There’s a saying in the world of camera flying, “There are those that have hit their team and there are those that will!”. For many years, I had resolutely refused to believe it could happen to me. Then it did and I realised no one is immune to cocking it up.”

NFTO exit over Skydive Hibaldstow
Photo by Simon Brentford

What Happened?

So, there’s some basic theory to the Lead and Peel exits for formation skydiving teams. The idea is everyone has their own airspace, both the performers and the camera. This airspace should be distinct and separate in 3 dimensions. The burble behind the team spreads out behind them vertically like a funnel.

If I’m honest over thousands of jumps, I’ve had a handful of incidents. But on this one, I had entered the edge of their burble zone with too hard a push off from the camera step and they had equally not presented strongly from the aircraft. Once I hit the burble, it was a certainty I would hit the team.

Once I hit the burble, it was a certainty I would hit the team

Red and Green Zones in the exit, by Simon Brentford

Red and Green Zones

Take a look at the photos of exits above and below. The green zone is where you want to be, it extends from the edge of the team to the side of the fuselage. It doesn’t really matter if there are legs or arms intruding, it’s when there are whole bodies in your way that the probability increases of hitting dead air. It’s usually rotated a bit as well.

During the first two seconds, the burble is by far its strongest. After that, its force quickly fades, but also expands in size. 

8-way – stay in the Green Zone, by Simon Brentford

Dealing With the Inevitable

If you know the worst is about to happen, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Reach both your arms downwards to the centre of the nearest rig to absorb the impact. As you strike, try to deflect them to one side. Be strong about it.
  2. The important bit is to keep your arm wings extended to gain every spare bit of wind. Your harness should feel taught when doing this.

    You’ll need it to get back above them as quickly as you can. Depending on who you are filming, will depend on what you do next. If it’s a low-experienced team, you can afford to keep your head down and increase the power of your slow fall. If it’s a high-level AAA team, you may elect to keep them in view. There’s been plenty of cases where teams have scored a point from underneath! However, this will slow the time it takes to get back on top. 
  3. Probably the most important thing to do is to look embarrassed, apologise profusely and buy a round of drinks at the end of the day!
  4. If the very worst has happened, you need to check you still have a camera helmet on and it’s recording. If you think your head was part of the collision, a quick reach up to check your cameras are still pointing in the right place is also a good idea.

Whatever happens, never tuck yourself into a ball. A foetal position is actually very dangerous here and you are not doing to fit through a gap or protect yourself. You want to dissipate as much energy as you can“.

One last thing to say is to pitch yourself forwards as well as going into slow fall, that reduces the shallowness of the angle sooner.

Flying the Gap video

Look at these two NFTO exits – notice how the whole team mimic the key and the cameraman, author Simon Brentford, stays in their zone

What Can the Team Do?

Some teams would say the cameraperson is there to catch the footage and it is their responsibility to have every grip and inter in clearly shown. Put simply, this is wrong, and it costs points regularly in any competition I’ve been to!

If your team are doing any training at all, they need to work on their sideways presentation. Teach them about the participative key where the is someone who leads the key, but the rest of the team mimic the out-in-out shake. It doesn’t matter if the key comes from the inside or outside, it creates better presentation and more space for you to fly.

Red and Green Zones by Simon Brentford

The Problem of the Peel Exit

Last up, many cameraflyers tend to compete with a peel style exit. It’s not quite as pretty, but it’s safer.

Many cameraflyers will release with their hand first and then pivot quickly on their foot. That works ok most of the time, but on occasion, you might find yourself pushing hard with that foot on the step and that’s when you invade their airspace. This is an easy fix, use your right foot and hang lower off the float rail. Then concentrate on releasing both hands and feet simultaneously.

Red and Green Zones, by Simon Brentford

And Finally

Lastly, I’ll end this article with a ‘confidence boost’ – disaster is going to happen if you stay in the game long enough, like it or not. You won’t be smiling at the time, but guaranteed, the team will never forget that special day!

I’ll sign off with some video of getting it right …

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Meet: Simon Brentford

Cameraman for team NFTO since 2015
5200 Skydives, 1000+ BASE jumps, FS & WS coach
UK National Champion 4-way 2004 (as point with Wizards), 2018, 2019, 2021 (as camera)
UK National Champion 8-way 2019 & 2021 (as camera)
UK National Champion Speed skydiving 3 times
4-way at World Cup, Saarlouis, Germany 2011
Speed Skydiving at Mondial, Dubai 2012 (came 6th)
4-way Female at World Air Games, Dubai 2015 (came 5th)
4-way Female at World Championships 2016, Chicago, USA (took Bronze)
4-way Female at World Championships 2018, Gold Coast, Oz (took Silver)
4-way Female at World Cup 2019, Eloy, USA (took Silver)

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