If you are a new skydiving student at Paraclete XP, it’s likely you have already met the subject of this interview. You see -Steve Rulli is a pretty prominent figure around the skydiving dropzone and indoor wind tunnel at Paraclete XP. Not only is he a passionate wind tunnel and AFF instructor, he also serves as the dropzone’s Skydiving Safety and Training Adviser. And he runs the Paraclete Student Progression Tunnel program every Wednesday night. Plus, he is the Instructor of the Development Program that meets twice monthly. Talk about having a full plate. Though, despite his busy schedule, he made time to chat with us.
Steve Rulli originally hails from the great state of Minnesota – or as he refers to it “the Miami of Canada”. He was introduced to skydiving when the US Army put him through Basic Airborne School in Fort Benning, GA, in 1997. It was there he saw the Silver Wings perform a demonstration jump. A year later, at a small drop zone outside of Mankato, MN, he made his first two civilian skydives via static line progression out of a Cessna 182. Due to certain world events (or in his words: “Thanks a lot, Bin Laden”), his civilian jumping took a small break – until 2008, when the Army put him through 25 free fall jumps. He hasn’t stopped jumping since.
And so now that we have the introductory stuff out of the way, let’s lean in and get to know Steve a bit better.
I was helping out a few days a week at the Fort Bragg Vertical Wind Tunnel and had been an AFF instructor at Raeford Parachute Center for about four years. When the Fort Bragg wind tunnel was shut down, John D’Annunzio offered me a part time job as a wind tunnel instructor for XP. When Paraclete XP purchased the skydiving operation from RPC, I was the only staff instructor that worked for both companies.
Wind tunnels DO NOT replace skydives – you still have to know how to jump out of a plane and land a parachute.
However, wind tunnels are essential in free fall training simulator. When you’re a new jumper, the sensory overload of the exit lasts about 5 seconds. The bottom of the skydive takes up more learning time, 5-10 seconds. This leaves about 35-40 seconds of learning per jump. Then you need to debrief, pre-brief, pack, and ride the plane to altitude before another 35-40 seconds of learning. That equates to about 35-40 seconds of learning per hour. The wind tunnel offers constant learning, without any sensory overload from an exit or ride to altitude. 10 minutes in a tunnel isn’t equivalent to the free fall learning of 10 skydives, but rather 15-20 skydives.
In 2014, when Paraclete XP took over the dropzone operations from RPC, Will Pesek and I sat down and took some of the best school programs from across the country and developed the Paraclete Student Progression (PSP) Program. One of the many things that makes our program unique is the incorporation of wind tunnel training throughout the student progression. Our students fly for 15 minutes and have to successfully pass five criteria prior to making jump #1. They must demonstrate stability, turns, front/back movement, fall rate control, and wave-off/pull.
Once they’ve completed that 15 minute session, their confidence is high. Questions around how they will perform during their first few skydives are answered. They perform much better in free fall than students that do not have wind tunnel training. Because of this, they learn exponentially faster and rarely have to repeat a skydive. This has led to an extremely high retention rate. Since incorporating the wind tunnel, our “first jump course to A-license” ratio has gone from 1 out of 10, to 1 out of 3. Due to the fact that we transition to single instructor jumps immediately, the cost to our students is the same or slightly less than the industry standard. This is a win for the student, a win for the staff, and a win for the dropzone.
In addition to that, our Wednesday night PSP student league is 1 hour of instructed wind tunnel time for all of our students, from FJC to A-license, every week. This, combined with our 18 jump progression, has resulted in some of strongest flying new licensed jumpers I’ve ever seen. I’m very proud of our program and the students that graduate from it.
The thing I love the most about working with new skydivers is the smile. There is a special smile that comes from taking on and accomplishing something new… something that is adventurous, that is dangerous… something that makes you nervous. [The smile happens] the exact moment that the breakthrough happens – and a new skydiver realizes they CAN do the very thing that gets their adrenaline pumping. That smile, that moment… being part of that breakthrough…that’s what has me addicted to this sport and to working with students/new skydivers.
Yes, Conextion XP-8.