How does one learn to skydive?

One looks in the telephone directory (Yellow Pages) under "Parachuting" or "Skydiving and Parachute Jumping Instructions" to find a local parachuting operation - normally referred to as a "drop zone" (DZ). A phone call will generally provide you with enough information to make arrangements to attend the First Jump Course and/or how to reach the DZ. You can also call the United States Parachute Association (USPA, 1440 Duke St., Alexandria, VA 22314) at (703)-836-3495 to get the name of an affiliated drop zone in your area. A friend or acquaintance who has jumped previously may also be able to give you a recommendation.

Most DZs will offer the First Jump Course (FJC) at least once each weekend. Some will offer it during the week or several times during the weekend. You will need to contact your local DZ to determine their scheduling. The FJC consists of about 4-6 hours of ground school followed by your jump - weather permitting.

There are several different types of training you can take: Static Line, Accelerated Freefall, or Tandem . They are described below in greater detail. However, not all drop zones offer all these options, so you should ask the DZ which type(s) of training they provide.

Some drop zones have promotional videos they will sell you (~$10) that describe the training and show you what it is all about. Almost every DZ these days uses videos for training aids and will be glad to let you view them (for free!) if you stop by. They will mail you a brochure and other detailed information upon request as well.

It is your safety at stake and your responsibility to look after it. If you have reservations about making your first jump, make the effort to visit the DZ, check it out, meet the people and staff. They will be glad to see you, and you will be much more confident and comfortable having done so, and consequently have a much better time!

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What are the age requirements?

Most Dropzones will require you to be 18 years of age to make a skydive. Some dropzones in some states will allow 16 year olds to jump with parental consent. So, if you are under 16, you will just have to wait; take up some odd jobs, and start saving your money.

On the other side, there is no maximum age. See the following question to determine if skydiving is appropriate for you. Back to the table of contents


What are the physical requirements?

In general, the prospective student should be in reasonably good physical shape, this is a sport after all. You will be required wear around 35 lbs of equipment, endure opening shock, maneuver the canopy, land, and possibly trudge great distances on foot. You will experience 30 degree swings in temperature, atmospheric pressure changes, 4 hours of lecture, and lots of beer. It's grueling (:-).

But seriously, problems may arise where a prospect is too heavy (over ~250lbs/ 110kg, see below) or if they have medical conditions which may impair them during the activity. Someone who experiences fainting spells, blackouts, or has a weak heart should not be jumping. Someone with respiratory illness may have a problem due to atmospheric changes at altitude. The better your physical condition, the more you will enjoy the experience. This being said, very few people have medical or physical conditions which actually preclude jumping.

Most dropzones will try to work with you. If you have a question, ask them, and as always, ask your doctor. You may be surprised at the relatively few physical constraints involved.

Concerning weight restrictions, there are two primay concerns. First, does the drop zone have a parachute system which you can both legally use and safely land? Second, if you are going to be at the top-end of the safe weight range for a particular parachute, are you in relatively good shape? An imperfect landing will be much less liekely to injure an athletic person. If this is unclear, consider the difference between a 5'10" linebacker who weighs 240lbs, and a 5'10" channel surfer of the same weight. If the former has a bad landing, he'll probably brush himself off and get up. The latter may very well injure himself substantially, lacking both the strength to withstand landing and coordination to do a good Parachute Landing Fall(PLF). With this in mind, use the following table as a guide.

 

< 200lbs
Almost every DZ should be willing to let you jump.
200-230lbs
The majority of DZ's should be willing to let you jump. Being being in relatively good shape is a plus. Beyond about 230lbs, most reserves canopies are no longer strictly legal for you to use.
230-250lbs
Some DZ's may take you, but will likely insist that you be in good shape, i.e. not a couch-potato. You must recognize that there is a greater chance of injury, particularly if you are not somewhat athletic.
> 250lbs
Very few DZ's will be able to let you skydive. They are likely to use converted Tandem gear. Without this type of equipment, you will need to be in excellent physical condition, and be willing to accept a greatly increased chance of injury in case of a bad landing.

Please note that this table is only a guideline. Call your local Drop Zone and discuss the matter with them. Also, there are experienced skydivers who are quite heavy -- however, they likely learned when they were lighter and had mastered landing before they gaining the additional weight.

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What does the training consist of?

The FJC teaches the student every thing they need to know to safely make their first jump. There are several different programs available for first jumpers; the one you choose will depend on your personal preferences and circumstances. The differences of each are summarized below:

Static Line (S/L)

This method has evolved over the last ~30 years from its military origins into a successful method for training sport parachutists. The student gets 4-5 hours of ground training and is then taken to an altitude of about 3000 feet for the jump. The jump itself consists of a simple "poised" exit from the strut of a small single engine Cessna aircraft. As the student falls away from the plane, the main canopy is deployed by a "static line" attached to the aircraft. The student will experience about two to three seconds of falling as the parachute opens.

Subsequent S/L jumps require about 15 minutes of preparation. After 2 good static line jumps, the student will be trained to pull their ripcord for themselves. The student then does 3 more static line jumps where they demonstrate this ability by pulling a dummy ripcord as they leave the plane (the static line is still initiating the deployment). The student is then cleared to do their first actual freefall.

The first freefall is a "clear & pull", where the student initiates the pull sequence immediately upon leaving the aircraft. Next is a 10 second delay jump. Subsequent jumps go to progressively higher altitudes with longer delays. After 20 freefalls, and meeting certain other basic requirements, the student receives their A license and is cleared off student status.

Accelerated Free Fall (AFF)

The AFF program was instituted in 1982 as an "accelerated" learning process as compared to the traditional static line progression. The AFF program will give you a true taste of modern sport skydiving.

The ground training is a bit more extensive than S/L (~5 hours) because the student will be doing a 50 second freefall (that's right!) on his/her very first jump. The student will exit the aircraft at 10,000-12,000 feet along with two AFF Jumpmasters (JM) who will assist the student during freefall. The jumpmasters maintain grips on the student from the moment they leave the aircraft until opening, assisting the student as necessary to fall stable, perform practice ripcord pulls, monitor altitude, etc. The student then pulls his/her own ripcord at about 4000 ft.

The AFF program is a 7 level program. Levels 1, 2, & 3 require two freefall Jumpmasters to accompany the student. These dives concentrate on teaching basic safety skills such as altitude awareness, body position, stability during freefall and during the pull sequence, and most importantly- successful ripcord pull. On level 3, the JMs will release the student in freefall for the first time, to fly completely on their own.

Levels 4, 5, 6, & 7 require only one freefall JM (less $$) and teach the student air skills such as turns, forward movement and docking on other people, frontloops, backloops, "superman" exits from the plane, etc.

Each AFF level is designed to take one jump, and requires about 45 minutes of training. After successfully performing the objectives of each level, the student moves on to the next level.

After graduating Level 7, the student enters a more free format stage called "Level 8" where they practice and hone their skills by themselves and in small groups until they obtain 20 freefalls and qualify for their A license.

Tandem jumps.

Tandem jumps are meant to offer an introduction to the sport. They allow the neophyte to "take a ride" with an experienced jumper. A tandem jump requires from 15 to 45 minutes of ground preparation (it is not a First Jump Course). It consists of an experienced jumper called a "tandemmaster" and the passenger. The passenger and tandem master each wear a harness, however only the master wears the parachutes. The passengers's harness attaches to the front of the master's harness and the two of them freefall together for 30 seconds, open together, and land together under one Really_BIG_Parachute.

Tandem jumping provides an obvious advantage for the adventurous spirit who cannot adequately meet the physical or proficiency requirements for the S/L or AFF jumps. By relying on Tandem Master's skills, they will still be able to experience the thrill of skydiving.

Because the tandem training is not a First Jump Course, if you decide to pursue the sport, you will still have to attend a FJC in either the AFF or Static Line curriculum.

It should be noted that, in the United States, tandem jumping is still classed by the Federal Aviation Administration as an "experimental" form of Parachuting, and us such operates under waiver to certain Federal Aviation Regulations regarding required equipment. Currently the USPA (see below) is not involved in the certification or training of tandem Masters or in the setting of minimum tandem safety standards. These functions are performed solely by, and at the discretion of, the manufacturers of the tandem equipment. Among many experienced jumpers, tandem jumping remains a very controversial subject as to its safety and utility for novice training.

In all of these training methods, students are taught normal and emergency procedures for all aspects of the jump - climb to altitude, exit, opening, canopy control, and landing. They are also shown the equipment and go over it so that they understand how it works.

Nearly all student training centers now utilize sport skydiving gear. No more military surplus stuff. Students have light-weight harness/container systems in aesthetic colors, high performance canopies designed for students. No more paraboots -- students use their own tennis shoes. No more heavy motorcycle helmets -- students use lightweight sporting helmets. Ground-to-air radio for canopy control assistance, air-to-air video, on and on...

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What if your parachute doesn't open?

Clearly, this is the most Frequently-Asked-Question posed by all prospective jumpers.

By law (FAA regulations), all intentional parachute jumps must be made with a single harness, dual parachute system with both a main canopy AND a reserve canopy. In other words, you have a second (or spare) canopy in case the first one fails to open properly.

However, it must be noted that the technology utilized in today's sport parachuting equipment is light years ahead of the old military surplus gear used in the '60s and '70s. The canopies are drastically different from the classic G.I. Joe round parachutes. The materials are stronger, lighter and last longer, the packing procedures are simpler, the deployment sequence is much more refined, etc.

The reserve canopies are even more carefully designed and packed. The reserve parachute must be inspected and repacked every 120 days by an FAA rated parachute Rigger - even if it has not been used during that time.

The student's main canopy is always packed either by a rigger or under a rigger's direct supervision by experienced packers.

There are also additional safety features employed to ensure canopy deployment such as Automatic Activation Devices (AAD) and Reserve Static Lines (RSL) which add still more layers of safety.

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How fast do you fall?

When you leave the aircraft, you are moving horizontally at the same speed as the aircraft, typically 90-110MPH. During the first 10 seconds, a skydiver accelerates up to about 115-130MPH straight down. (A tandem pair uses a drouge chute to keep them from falling much faster than this). It is possible to change your body position to vary your rate of fall. In a standard face-to-earth position, you can change your fall rate up or down a few (10-20) miles per hour. However, by diving or "standing up" in freefall, any experienced skydiver can learn to reach speeds of over 160-180MPH. Speeds of over 200MPH require significant practice to achieve. The record freefall speed, done without any special equipment, is 321MPH. Obviously, it is desirable to slow back down to 110MPH before parachute opening.

Once under parachute, decent rates of 1000ft./min. are typical. A lighter student with a bigger canopy may come down much more slowly, and, obviously, a heavier person may have a somewhat faster decent. Experienced jumper's can canopies descend (in normal glide) at up to 1500ft./min. During radical turns, the decent rate can go well over 2000ft./min.

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How hard is the landing?

The canopies used today bear little resemblance to the classic round canopies of years gone by. Today, nearly all jumpers and jump schools use "square" canopies for parachuting. These canopies are actually rectangular in shape, and when open, act like an airplane wing (or an airfoil). They are more like gliders than umbrellas.

The aerodynamics of the square canopy provide it with exceptional maneuverability, allowing the jumpers to land almost anywhere they wish. This wing shape also provides tippy-toe soft landings for even the novice jumper. The days of landing like a sack of flour are history. Most students land standing up on their first jump.

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How much does it cost?

Prices vary from DZ to DZ. Typically, the S/L course runs ~$120-$150, AFF from $250-$300, and the tandem from ~$140-$200. Some DZs can provide a freefall videoman to tape your skydive for an additional $50-75. These prices include the ground school and the first jump.

After completing their first jump, skydiving tradition allows each student to express their appreciation and admiration for their newfound skydiving friends for their assistance in successfully achieving this milestone in their life by purchasing (from a local establishment) and presenting to them a case of beer. This case, customarily a fine imported beer, is ceremoniously iced down for consumption at the end of the day. The cost generally runs $15-20.

(It should be noted that while jumpers have a reputation for major no-holds- barred parties, the use of drugs and/or alcohol on the DZ premises is strictly prohibited during jump operations for what should be obvious reasons. This rule is observed and enforced by both jumpers and management.)

After the first jump, the cost of each successive jump decreases in stages as less supervision is required. Once off student status, and owning your own gear, jumps will cost about $15-22 to 13,000' (about 65 seconds of freefall). Many drop zones have discount programs as well that can further decrease the cost of jumps. A file containing prices for experienced jumpers is available via WWW at http://www-leland.stanford.edu/~eap/prices.html, at the FTP site described below, and via E-mail from eap@phase.stanford.edu (Subject: SEND DZ PRICE LIST). To add your DZ to the list, see information contained therein. The list includes locations, prices, planes, phone number, Internet contact, and web page locations.

Equipment can run from $1000 to $3500 depending on what you want to spend. There is a used equipment market (much like the used car market) which can SAVE you loads of money, or you can custom order everything brand-spankin-new with your own personalized colors and sizes, which will COST you loads of money (:-). You can buy it all at once or a piece at a time as finances allow. Generally, you shouldn't worry about buying gear until you are off student status or close to your A license.

Of course, all prices are in US dollars (as opposed to dinars or rubles :-).

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"How do you breathe in freefall?"

and other Whuffo Questions.

 

"How do you breath in freefall?"
Through genetically developed gills.

This falls into the realm of urban folklore. One CAN breathe in freefall - if it were necessary. However, due to the high speed of terminal freefall (and much higher speeds in vertical freefall dives), the jumper's body is exposed to O2 molecules at a much higher rate than someone walking around on the ground. The body is able to absorb the necessary O2 through the skin. This is why jumpers flap their cheeks in freefall, it presents a larger surface area to the airstream for oxygen osmosis. Once under canopy, the jumper resumes breathing normally.

This is also why jumpers do not jump on cloudy days or when they might risk going through clouds. The moisture in the clouds can condense on their exposed skin surfaces preventing the absorption of the necessary oxygen resulting in suffocation. AADs are recommended for jumpers in climates where weather is a factor.

Other Whuffo Questions

 

"Don't your ears pop on the way down?"
"Yes, we're not ignoring you, we're deaf."
"What if you have to go the bathroom in the plane?"
"Go ahead!"
"Can you steer your parachute?"
"No, one time I landed in Jamacia."
"Does it hurt?"
"Yes, that's why we jump all the time! Masochism!"
"What if your parachute doesn't open?"
"Gee, I never thought of that..."
"Why do you jump?"
"Why do _you_ breathe?"
"Where do you jump?"
"O'Hare, Midway, LAX, Dulles, where ever I happen to be." (:-)

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Movie Myths

 

Myth #1: Freefall conversation.
Talking in Freefall is virtually impossible. The wind is too loud.
Myth #2: 4 minute freefalls.
Without taking Oxygen on the plane with you, freefall time is limited to about 80 seconds on a single jump.
Myth #3: First-jump freefall acrobatics
Learning to fall stable and to fly while in freefall takes practice -- it's not realistic to do this on your first jump.
Myth #4: Low-pull contests
This virtually never happens. Everyone tends to deploy around 2000-2500. Skydivers fall at about 5.5 sec/thousand feet.
Myth #5: Diving out and catching someone without a parachute
Stunts similar to this have been done, however, it almost impossible to hold onto someone during the opening shock of the parachute when at terminal velocity.

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This information was taken from www.afn.org

© 2005 Free Fallers Skydiving Club @ CU.