Over the past weekend I spent two days in Chicago to take a workshop by Brett Copes from Fight or Flight Entertainment. When booking, my goals were to better understand aerial rigging so I could assess off site locations for performance like the Christmas Show. When I had decided I wanted to begin Hammock, Hoop and Silks I spent a lot of time reading and studying. In retrospect, I wish I had just gone to Brett’s workshop!
The problem with Aerial Rigging is the second you tell an engineer or production company that you want to hang a person they freak out about liability and either refuse to help you or want to charge you the moon. Both are not helpful. For example, when I was looking to offer aerial I paid a structural engineer $500 to come to my studio, look at my space, and tell me if wasn’t possible to do aerial. Really. That was what I got for $500. Obviously they were wrong and there was a way! So I went to someone else. The steel structure in the Aerial Studio was designed by a different structural Engineer. They did a great job. And it is so over engineered that we could hang a car of every attachment point. Now this occurred because at the time I didn’t know what my maximum forces were going to be, everything I read said 1000-2000 pounds, so I went with the high end of 2000 pounds per point. Then the engineer added a safety factor of 10, so 20,000 pounds per point. Umm, none of my girls are going to come close to generating that kind of force, I knew this. But I didn’t have any better concrete documentation so I went with it and the result is the strongest aerial structure ever built. So I wanted to aim myself with as much knowledge as possible so in the future I could better understand the forces and rigging.
At the workshop with Brett we actually did load testing with people on silks and lyra. A 130 pound person climbing silks generated 200 pounds of force. I was fascinated to learn through actual load testing that 500-750 pounds is the actual force the aerial arts generate and is the magic number to use when designing, so then put in a safety factor the 5-8, 10 if you want to go overboard, and you have a much more reasonable number!  This bit of information alone made the workshop worth attending.
Brett was awesome. I brought along our studio Engineer, Dan, (he’s mechanical, not structural) who is good with math and physics and we both learned a lot. Brett did a great job breaking down the strength and anchor point factors. Now I confidently feel i could test a possible anchor point, assess it, do risk assessment, proof test it and rig from it. This is HUGE. What does this mean? It means now have an actual method for assessing rigging points. A method that makes sense and I can execute. It’s so liberating to learn more about my sport and know that with this knowledge I can rig to things I wouldn’t have known I could. I told a fellow aerialist this morning and she was like “you’d rig your own point? That is liability I wouldn’t take on. Hiring someone is safer.” No. It isn’t. I’m a LOT more interested in my head (and the necks of those I teach) than anyone I hire. So knowing how to take care of myself is a HUGE benefit to how I feel when I’m in the air.
Highlights of the workshop for me were the load testing and anchor point assessment. I also really appreciated learning the “proper” language for equipment in both the rescue/recreation and industrial lift worlds since we use both. Understanding bridals and proof loading will be extremely useful going forward, as well as sling placements and how different set-ups affect the strength. Day two we learned knot tying, not sure if I’ll ever need it but turns out I’m actually good at it! We also learned a lot about pulley systems which aren’t applicable to me at the moment….but you never know when I’ll want to expand next…
A lot of people in the aerial arts talk about rigging in a way that scares you. Like “don’t ever rig from a tree” or “only a structural engineer can assess that”. I get why, it is dangerous! But how many kids have been on a tire swing? And how useless was the first structural engineer I paid? There are ways to mitigate that danger, do due diligence, and FLY! Thanks Brett for empowering me!