What the flock!?

Written by Zack Rosser & Photos by Cameron Puttee

Location // SA Skydiving, Langhorne Creek   Date // May 6 - 8 2022

With flocking starting to emerge as its own discipline, our camps starting to become more popular and with skydivers showing interest across Australia, we decided to create a second camp structure aimed at the lightly loaded larger canopies. With this ‘What the Flock!?’ was created.


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Our aim with the ‘What the Flock!?’ camp was to take skydivers with generally a lower experience level (who had no idea what the flock was going on) and introduce them into group relative flight. Starting off with the basics of approaches, how the inputs of your canopy react flying relative to others and working towards merging both groups to create some bigger formations.

 

It only seemed fitting to test out the event on home soil at SA Skydiving who have supported my journey and the growth of flocking too. It allowed us to have access to two Cessna 206’s (as SA does not have access to caravans) so we could have the option of doing formation loads and getting 12 canopies in the sky. Massive thanks to Bryce for all the behind the scenes work he does to make sure the dream of formation loads was kept alive. I'm very much appreciative of your efforts. Xx

 

The last piece to the puzzle in order to keep the quality of the event identical to our advanced camp was someone to fly camera. So we scraped down to the bottom of the barrel and fished out Mr Cameron Puttee. Honestly we are stoked to lock him in for all our camps across Australia as his work speaks for itself. INSANE!  We’re stoked to have you part of the team!

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Like all previous events we started things off with an informative safety briefing which was compulsory for all participants to attend for obvious reasons. Like Jesse Warren always says. “Don't go behind the formation”. Repeat till necessary. All participants found the safety brief very beneficial and gave them confidence / reassurance in what we were about to do.

 

Friday presented itself with some challenging conditions of low stormy clouds meaning we couldn't get in the air until later in the day. Keeping us grounded gave us the opportunity to present flocking footage from previous camps of some good approaches, mistakes & traps others found themselves in and how they recovered. Giving everyone a really good visual idea of some do’s & don'ts. The weather started to open up meaning we were able to get in the sky and smash out some jumps for each group. This gave the participants a chance to practise flying in smaller groups and gain some confidence flying relative to other canopies. 

 

I think Niall & I were pretty shocked at how well each person flew on Day 1. Every person was flying safely and flying their slot within the formation, which in honesty we didn't expect to happen on Day 1, but this gave us the confidence to bring both groups together, which we were excited for!

 

It surprises me every time how fast people progress in just one jump whilst flocking. It literally is the tunnel equivalent for canopy piloting! We literally have 10 minutes of canopy time vs 30-45 seconds of freefall to make mistakes, but then learn from them and have another handful of times at practising the same drill.

Saturday morning presented itself and we were ready to go! We’d told the crew that we will be merging both groups, briefed them on the new formation which held more slots and on how we were going to approach the whole thing with having 2 planes flying in formation. We were excited, participants were excited, everyone was excited!!!

 

We managed to get in a couple formation loads before a front appeared to be coming in. 50% chance of going around us or 50% chance of it coming for us. 50% of people reckon we were going to be fine and it'll pass whilst we’re climbing and then 50% were on the edge. One second we were going, then we weren’t and we did that a few times. After taking a step back and processing what we were doing I didn't like the general vibe and all the indecisiveness that had become present. If there’s any doubt then there’s no doubt. So I made the decision to stay on the ground just as I could see everyone starting to not be focused on the job in hand and everyone's mental game was off. It was going to be easier to chill out, reset mentally then re-assess the conditions. It turned out to be completely fine and the weather passed around us but what would've happened if it didn't? 

 

Weather was showing signs of clearing so we rallied together for a sunset load, also Kristina’s 1000th jump! What an achievement, you should be proud of yourself and thanks for sharing the jump with us! As we’re climbing the cloud started settling in but the old classic of, she’ll be alright! We all got out and for reference and to make it super clear Niall, I repeat NIALL, led us the wrong way, he was 100& solely responsible for navigation, excellent work Niall. Overall everyone was pretty stoked with the excitement of landing off and who else would also be even more excited? THE FKN WINGSUITERS who all rallied together to laugh and throw shame at us as they retrieved us all! What a classic!

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Sunday was the day, not one breath of wind present! We decided to start wearing GPS’s and what a game changer that presented to us. Ask Niall about the GPS, he hates talking about them. We started on the same jump we ended on Saturday as you can always do the jump tighter and better. Which is our general rule for our camps.

 

Once participants were able to demonstrate safe approaches and flying in specific slots we dabbled with some dynamic movement which excited everyone! All we were looking for is people that can fly safely and follow a plan, which is what everyone proved to us other the previous 2 days. 

 

 

We formed a plan, decided on slots and briefed the group on how we would be setting up to do some grouped fly bys. First jump went well with some slightly off level vertically which was fine as long as no one crossed the centre line. So we did the jump again and it was probably the best everyone flew all camp! Every person on level in their slots and adapting to fall rate changes and turns all whilst having the other group flying at the other! I couldn't believe how well everyone was flying, for the jump numbers people had like Sam with 115 was insane!

 

Last jump of the camp we decided to wind things down and end on a static V formation at sunset and boy did mother nature reward us with the perfect sunset sky! 360 degrees of pastel tones *chefs kiss* Well I hope you can all imagine how well it looked as Cam had a camera mal and got not one single photo. Apparently the memory is more important though? It's fine. I'm definitely not mad about it or wish there were epic sunset photos, it's fine…

Overall both Niall & I believe the camp was a success on the whole and can only imagine what we could have achieved (or how good those sunset photos would've been) if we didn't have some weather! 

 

Massive thanks to SA Skydiving for their support on hosting our first edition of this camp. We’ll be running this camp edition at Jurien Bay & Far North Freefall later this year too!

 

We were super appreciative to have the SA Sport Parachute Club be a major funding body for this event and we can't thank them enough for their support along with the SAPC & APF Fi Fund.

 

Continued thanks go to NZ Aerosports for lending us some canopies so we can upsize to cater for people on these events, LB Altimeters for sending me a replacement to my damaged alti (fast tracked) and Manufactory Apparel for the MX Pants with custom RDS pocket which really helped with the colder weather!

 

Finally the biggest (and final thanks I promise) goes to the team we are slowly building for these events. Cam is an absolute weapon behind the lens and you can all expect to see him on all future camps! To Em (my partner) & Amy (Nialls partner) you ladies crushed it with the ground filming and I’m super thankful for you both helping out! Lastly Niall thanks for all the assistance and honestly couldn't do these camps without you. Here's to wherever the flock flocking is going, but I bet it's going to be a wild journey nonetheless!