On Clouds

If you’ve spent any time at all at my site, you’ll notice that clouds feature prominently. Even the strip on my home page showing Vern and Mik performing an AFF stage 5 has clouds everywhere. But jumping through clouds is not something that is endorsed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) or the Australian Parachute Federation (APF). What’s going on here?

Well, a few things are happening.

Firstly, the operational regulations state that you need to be able to see the target prior to exit. They also state that the parachutist should not enter cloud during any part of the jump. That was the case for everything you see here. I may or may not have other images taken where that wasn’t the case: for the purpose of this exercise, that doesn’t matter.

Secondly, this particular regulation is ignored, seemingly at will, by various operators around the country. Enforcement of the law is by luck of the draw.

I’m certainly not saying I’ve never jumped through cloud. I have, and on a number of occasions I’ve done so willingly and deliberately. Once, I was punished by the DZSO of the day to the full extent of his jurisdiction. But that was a mistake on my part. More later.

I have also, at that same dropzone, been cautioned for a similar offence.

I have also, at that same dropzone, been part of a load/loads that did so deliberately without any comment being made.

At a different dropzone, I legitimately exited the plane through blanket cloud for a sixty person formation.

I later exited that same plane at a place where it was illegal, and almost all the Australian Parachute Federation staff in residence. Dozens of us jumped for hours, and again the next day, jumping and tracking through cloud, load after load after load. The APF allegedly made little comment, other than to say “we didn’t see any of that” well after the event.

When it got too wet to jump, we jumped in the rain out of a helicopter. It was fantastic. But that’s another story.

In my instructional role, I regularly show students how to perform AFF Stage 2. Part of this is the viewing of an official APF video, which I then discuss with the student(s). In this video, the student enters, then deploys in, a bloody big cloud.

Different circumstance; different people on duty. And a casual observation, backed up by evidence time and time again: money talks.

My point is, there’s next to no enforcement when it suits operations to do so; but it’s still illegal.

Why not jump through cloud?

You can’t judge how thick cloud is reliably. The incident I was punished for, I’d estimated the cloud was 1500′ thick on exit – it was nearly 4000′.

You can’t accurately triangulate a spot visually if you can’t see the ground nearby. GPS can, and very well: but the pilots need to know what they’re doing, and communications need to work. I’d never spot Mike Mullin’s King Air – he does a far better job than I could, rain or shine.The incident I was punished for, the pilot had a vague idea, but communications were poor: my manual spot had us all landing by the pit, but we were substantially deeper than I’d planned.

You can’t see other air users. I’ve seen enough casual airspace users putt-putting across the sky around deployment height to know that it’s dumb to take the chance. Skydivers can and have hit planes.It’s not healthy.

Finally, as a freefall photographer, I don’t like what all that moisture is doing to my camera equipment.



Self enforcement doesn’t work. Neither does the enforcement of the APF. Enforcement by CASA won’t work either, for the reasons detailed above. I don’t know the answer to enforcement.

I do know that protocols and procedures for jumping through cloud safely exist.

What is the problem?

People are electing to break the law regularly, and we haven’t distributed the practices for doing so safely – instead, we’re too busy mumbling about enforcement.Enforcement is so haphazard that we won’t stop people doing it.

What is the solution?

Don’t know. Maybe rapid deployment of these procedures will have miscreants doing so safely whilst we attend the bureaucratic aspects.

I think jumping through cloud will happen, legitimately and safely, if eventually. And as you can see, clouds creates fantastic visuals, and the experience of freefalling into cloud is a rare sensation. But I don’t think I’ll bother doing it deliberately again until it’s legally endorsed at the DZ I jump at.

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