- Written by Mike Gruwell
(Note: The accompanying video was made when the Argus was still being produced and the m2 was not yet available for purchase. An updated video will be made in 2014.)
U.S. Skydivers today have a choice in the Automatic Activation Device (AAD) to have installed in their reserve container as a backup safety device. An AAD cuts the reserve container closing loop if the skydiver is exceeding a set speed at a set altitude. For most sport skydivers, the activation speed is the same (78 mph or greater), but activation altitudes vary from 750 to 840 feet.
Regardless of the unit, it's a "last chance" deployment for a skydiver who has become incapacitated to deploy or has lost altitude awareness. For U.S. skydivers, there are four AADs that are in the majority of sport rigs world-wide. This article will focus on the Cypres/Cypres2, m2, Vigil/Vigil II and Argus.
Each AAD manufacturer wants to prosper, and is doing everything within their means to put out a quality product that will only cut the reserve loop when needed. But keep in mind that all electronics can malfunction, and there have been technical issues and reports of misfires for all current AADs. Yet, this is uncommon.
Airtec, manufacturer of the Cypres and Cypres2 units, is today's industry standard for AADs. The Cypres units have been commercially available the longest of the three major sport skydiving AAD products. The original Cypres is no longer manufactured, but is still supported for maintenance, service and parts. The Cypres2 is the company's current product. One of the biggest selling points for the Cypres2 unit is the history of the company. Many skydivers feel the units are more reliable than others because they have been producing units for the longest period of time.
Current Cypres2 units have a lifetime of 12.5 years. The units are water resistant, have a jump counter and the activation altitude can be changed fromt the factory setting. The Cypres2 battery is designed to last 4 years and is replaced during the 4-year and 8-year maintenance checks. For the required maintenance, the units must be shipped to SSK Industries in Ohio and are tested/updated for a minimum of two weeks for $160 plus shipping costs. The Cypres2 unit is available in different modes, but the modes (Speed, Expert, Student and Tandem) can not be changed by the user. Riggers can replace the Cypres2 cutter as well as the water filter on the units. ChutingStar sells the Cypres2 unit for $1399 and you receive an $85 credit with an expired original Cypres trade-in.
Advanced Aerospace Designs
Advanced Aerospace Designs manufacturers the Vigil II AAD. The original Vigil unit was the first "multi-mode" AAD commercially available to sport skydivers. The Vigil II also has a menu screen with a variety of options, including the ability to download detailed jump information from the unit for the past 16 skydives with the Vigil IR download box (available separately) connected to a computer. The unit was met with some resistance in the industry due to being the new kid on the block as well as a management shakeup early on. The older units also had a plastic insert in the cutter that was susceptible to damage from container grommets (a stainless steel cutter without an insert is now manufactured with the current Vigil). The company has released an updated Vigil II unit.
The Vigil AAD has a lifetime of 20 years. The multi-mode unit can be switched from Pro to Student to Tandem by the user. The Vigil battery is designed to last 10 years or 1500 jumps. The Vigil II battery is good for at least 5 years or 2000 jumps. The manufacturer requires the battery to be replaced every 10 years, but recommends replacement of the battery every 5 years. There is no required maintenance on the Vigil or Vigil II AADs unless an error code is displayed during the startup. The control unit, cutter and battery are all field-replaceable. The original Vigil AAD is not waterproof, but the Vigil II AAD is waterproof. ChutingStar currently sells the Vigil II for $1320.
Aviacom manufacturered the Argus AAD, which was in production from 2005-2011. The Argus was the first to have a swoop mode that inactivates the cutter after the initial canopy deployment. It was also the first unit to have "over-the-counter" lithium batteries as its power source. The Argus is a multi-mode AAD, which allows the user to switch the unit from Swoop to Standard to Student to Tandem. The Argus is the smallest and most compact unit available. The unit had a plastic insert in its cutter for its first 200 units that were susceptible to damage from container grommets. The company replaced all those cutters free of charge and all new Argus units come with a stainless steel cutter. A service bulletin on the stainless steel cutter manufactured prior to September 2007 requires all Argus units to have the company's latest cutter manufactured September 2007 or later. The company and it's service centers still support and service the Argus for parts/service. New units from the company's last production run in 2011 have sold out so Argus units are only availabe in the used market.
The Argus has an unlimited lifetime (as long as it passes each 4-year functional test). The batteries must be replaced every 6 months, or every repack. A functional test, inspection and download of information of the unit is required every 4 years ($140) and can be sent to several different service centers throughout the U.S., including ChutingStar (click here). The unit has a menu screen with a variety of options. The unit is water resistant. The control unit, cutter, battery and water filter are field-replaceable by riggers. Users can access their jump numbers, freefall time and freefall speed on the Argus. ChutingStar currently sells used Argus units on our site when available. The Argus is currently not allowed to be used in a few rigs due to a recent issue with the cutter. Find out if your rig is affected by recent service bulletins before purchasing one. The Argus units can currently be used in the Mirage, Wings, Infinity, Basik and Next containers.
The m2 is somewhat the new kid on the block, but the Czech Republic manufacturer, MarS a.s., has been producing AADs since 2003. The current m2 AAD units have been sold since June 2011. Since this time there have been thousands of jumps with m2 as well as saves.
The m2 is available in versions of EXPERT, SPEED, STUDENT or TANDEM. The mode can be changed by the factory. Other main features of the m2 are: Lifetime of 15 years, no scheduled service, battery life of up to 15,000 jumps, stores the flight record during active use, replaceable cutter and is able to be submersed under water.
In the U.S., the m2 currently has approvals for use in the following rigs: Javelin, Vector, Wings, Icon, Infinity, Basik 7 and Mirage. But other approvals may already be completed as well. Contact your rig manufacturer for more information. ChutingStar currently sells the m2 for $999.
I get asked a lot about which AAD I recommend. I currently own 2 Cypres2 units, but I have also owned/used Vigil, Vigil II and Argus units in the past. I also own one rig without an AAD. I feel comfortable using any of the AADs, and at times, none at all. So, in the end, it's up to you. It's all up to what history, features and price you are most comfortable and happy with.