How are your AFF instructors selected and trained?
An Accelerated Free Fall Instructor (AFFI) on the BPA System has to have (currently) a minimum of 1000 jumps, 10 hours in freefall and the endorsement of her/his Chief Instructor just to get onto the instructor course. They also usually have to have a rating as a Category System Instructor, although there are a few who decide to come in ‘direct’ and do the Basic Instructor course first and then do the AFF course.
On the AFFI course, they have to achieve a minimum of 12 points on five jumps. Any less than that is a fail. Any safety violation at all is an immediate fail on the Instructor course. As well as having to demonstrate that they can teach students on the ground, check their equipment (examiners are pretty sneaky about the things they do here, and rightly so). They also have to show that they can teach a student in-air, ensure the safety of the student, and give them excellent value for money throughout the whole process. Safety is rule 1. Learning is rule 2. Value and fun are rule 3.
In the air, they are really put through their paces by BPA Examiners who will do some of the most extreme things that students have done in the past. Instructor candidates are expected to keep the student safe (rule 1) and also keep the students learning (rule 2). For example, if the instructor thinks the examiner (acting as a student) is going to go off into a flat spin as soon as he is released on a level four or five, there is a big tendency to just ‘hold-on’ to them all the way until pull time. Of course, then they wouldn’t get a chance to learn, and so they may well get just one point for a dive like this. Do this on five jumps and you get five points – that’s a fail.
This is a tough course, make no mistake. Pass rate is less than 10% of applicants.
How to get the best out of your instructor
The ideal is to allocate one-student to one instructor. You get comfortable with the same instructor and they also get to know you and your own strengths and weaknesses. You’ll progress faster working with the same person and it’s not just about chemistry.
So, I hear you ask “Why can’t I have the same instructor all the time?” Well, that’s the ideal situation and we try to make it work out that way wherever possible. So, you’ve done your ground school and AFF level one went well. You now need to tell your instructor that you are coming next weekend. Why? Because she has a life too and maybe she’s in a skydiving competition (topping up her skills and having fun too) maybe his wife is having a baby, maybe she has some study work to do for her masters. But there will be other instructors at the DZ and you will be allocated to one of them, who will just as qualified, and maybe more so. All your jumps will have been documented in a fairly specific notation, so that instructors can take over and hand-over students as necessary, that’s just the realities weather, life and general. In fact it may even be a good thing to try a different perspective to teaching, and instructors do actively work together and sometimes will pass a student between them to see if a different approach will help someone to move past a small ‘block’ and so progress faster. This is a matter, not of content but usually of presentation, personal style or perhaps even chemistry. There have been times when I’ve wondered to myself why I always end up getting allocated the small, light girls who are lacking in confidence (when they arrive). So I thought about it and realised it’s probably I have the most patience and perhaps I’m held in high esteem by my peers. Later, someone suggested that perhaps the other instructors wanted to get more jumps in and they perceived that the turnaround would be slower with ‘the chick’ or with the ‘slow guy’. This is all meant to point to the fact that while the big macho military-style instructor may seem outwardly interesting and charismatic, you also need to be assured of their patience and that they are more interested in working with you, and in helping you to graduate, rather than just getting as many (paid) jumps as they can in a day. The ideal (for an instructor) is to get both and the balance needs to be right.
Many AFF graduates become great friends with their AFF Instructors, treating them as lifelong mentors and friends. The Instructors live up to this and feel very honoured to be able to be remain at the top of their game. After the AFF course, whenever you want a little independent and impartial advice on any skydiving matters then AFF instructors are always available. I recently met one of my ex-AFF students who told me that the biggest thing he ever wanted to achieve was to become an AFF Instructor. He did this late last year and he did it completely through his own personal abilities, teaching ability and determination to succeed. I felt great that he'd seen a positive enough view to want to take on the responsibility and I felt honoured to have been some part of his development.
When I started out jumping (before AFF was developed) the rule was ‘buy your instructor lots of beer and they’ll take care of you’. The accelerated free fall system forgets that old-school military approach and builds its paradigm from the opposite perspective – the instructor is here to serve the student, and not the other way around. This is the way it should be.
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