They have all of these videos online of people riding roller coasters that demonstrate airtime. What the riders do is just as the coaster is hitting the peak of a big hill, but before they actually start going down the other side, they release a ping-pong ball or something and you can see it just hanging there next to them suspended as if by magic. It usually lasts a second or less before they have to grab the ball (or gravity kicks in and the thing flies off). Do an online search sometime and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
What this little science experiment has to do with cheerleading (and stunting in particular) is that pretty much every stunt that goes above a high stand involves some degree of Air Time. Additionally, any stunt that includes some kind of elite transition pretty much requires it.
The most basic use of Air Time can be seen in an Elevator (or Half, Prep, etc.). When the flyer loads into the stunt, the bases have their hands with their fingers facing forward (try saying that 3 times real fast), wrapping around the inside of the flyers foot. When the stunt goes up, the flyer should pass just beyond shoulder level to about eye level with the bases. At the very top of the elevation, the flyer’s momentum will run out and she will hang there for a split second. Some people note that this is “when the flyers pony tail goes up.” I’m not 100% sure what that means, but it makes sense to enough people that I wanted to throw it in here. Anyway, at that exact moment or weightlessness, the bases should take the opportunity to switch their grips on the flyer’s feet, rotating their hands so that their fingers wrap around the bases heel and toes. Then, gravity does its thing and the bases control the flyer to a resting position at shoulder level.
The same sort of thing happens in elite skills such as Full Ups. A Full Up starts off with a similar load as an Elevator, only the main base has an adjusted grip with her “toe” hand to allow the flyer to pivot on her toe (there will be a whole article on Full Ups later, so don’t worry). The bases work together to drive the stunt up. When the flyer feels she is fully accelerated, she will start to rotate. At that point, the side base releases her foot so she can complete the Full Up. The main base releases the heel hand and is only in contact with the flyer with her toe hand. The flyer is still on the way up and is essentially in a reverse free fall. If executed correctly, the flyer will finish her rotation at the highest point of the pop, while she is weightless and experiencing Air Time. Before gravity kicks back in and starts to pull her down, she needs to be completely turned around to the front, hollowed out, with feet together (or in her liberty or other 1-legged body position). Also, during the Air Time, the side base should regain contact with either the flyer’s left foot (for a Cupie or Extension) or in an assisting position on the flyer’s right foot (for 1-legged stunts). When timed correctly, the bases are locked out and directly under the flyer before the Air Time weightlessness expires, so they never actually have to bear the brunt of the weight with their muscles.
The effect of Air Time is the most pronounced in Basket Tosses. In single skill Tosses (such as Toe Touches), the trick should be executed at the very top of the toss during the Air Time. Again, this is where the flyer should feel her pony tail coming up behind her. Multiple trick Tosses sometimes require the flyer to start a skill on the way up or to finish a skill on the way down. The higher the Toss, the more Air Time the flyer will have. Ideally, the Toss should be high enough for the flyer to have enough Air Time to perform the bulk of the skills involved while they are weightless. Not only does this simply look a whole lot better, it also gives the bases a better view of the flyer’s landing position and allows for a safer cradle.
So Air Time is pretty important for a lot of different reasons in stunts. In order to generate Air Time, it is important that everyone uses proper technique. Most importantly, the bases should be lifting and driving with their legs and not their backs (because your legs are stronger!). Also, everyone needs to perform with confidence and aggressiveness. Being timid in your stunts will just barely get them up and that’s when you’ll see bases struggling to fix their grips or flyers not finishing rotating on Full Ups.