The Gift of Adventure: All About Skydiving

The Gift of Adventure: All About Skydiving

Skydiving involves one or more people exiting an aircraft and slowly descending to earth with the aid of gravity and a parachute. It may require a modest amount of free-fall, wherein the skydiver does not deploy the parachute and rapidly accelerates to terminal velocity. Skydivers are people who actively participate in parachuting as a recreational activity or competitive sport. The military deploys its personnel as a means of transporting ground forces through the air. Fire fighters may also parachute into inaccessible regions, such as the case where a forest fire has surrounded all entry points. A typical jump involves one or more individuals exiting an airplane, helicopter, gondola, or balloon at an altitude ranging from 3,000 to 13,000 feet. Skydivers jumping from a lower altitude must deploy their parachute immediately; however, at higher altitudes, the jumper may free-fall for a short duration before activating the parachute to gradually descend to safer speeds.

Training

Skydivers can practice without physically jumping from a moving aircraft. Instructors teach students skydiving basics by using vertical wind tunnels, an indoor facility that allows skydivers to practice free-falling. Instructors may also use virtual reality parachute simulators to practice parachute control. Novice parachutists may learn the art of skydiving by using static line, a fixed cord attached to a skydiver’s parachute that automatically deploys after the jump. Instructor-assisted deployment involves the same principle used in static line training, except that the student's jumpmaster deploys the parachute by throwing the deployment mechanism downward and away from the exit as the student jumps from the plane. Accelerated free-fall involves a student jumping from an aircraft at very high altitudes and maintaining a downward progression before deploying the parachute. Multiple instructors usually accompany the novice parachutists when attempting accelerated free-fall jumps. Tandem skydiving training involves both the student and instructor deploying the parachute together.

Skydiving Safety

The majority of people have the misconception that skydiving poses a real danger to its participants. In the United States, approximately 21 skydivers die each year to parachute-related deaths, or one death for every 150,000 jumps. Skydivers must carry two parachutes before exiting an aircraft in most of the western world. In addition, a certified parachute rigger must inspect the reserve parachute to ensure that it works properly. Many skydivers have an automatic activation device for the reserve parachute in the event that the main canopy fails to deploy. The majority of skydivers wear visual and audible altimeters fitted to their helmets to protect their vision and hearing. Injuries and fatalities usually occur when a skydiver performs unsafe maneuvers, makes an error in judgment, or acts erratically upon descent.

Variations of Skydiving

After learning the logistics of skydiving, purchasing the equipment, and getting in-field training, the average skydiver may attempt to incorporate different variations while jumping in order to have a little fun. For instance, the skydiver may choose to “hit and rock,” a variant of accuracy landing that challenges the parachutist to land close to a chair, remove his harness, sit upright in the chair, and rock back and forth at least one time. The contestant must complete the challenge within a specific time frame. Skydivers may also participate in “tracking,” a variant where skydivers form into a certain body position to achieve a higher forward speed to separate from other jumpers. Other variations include pond swooping, cross-country, camera flying, night jumps, stuff jumps, sky surfing, free flying, formation skydiving, big-ways, wing suit flying, and BASE jumping.

Parachute Deployment & Equipment

Emerging technological and performance enhancements tend to drive the price of skydiving equipment higher than previous gear. Modern skydivers carry more equipment than those who pioneered the sport, mainly because of new safety devices that contribute toward to the cost. In fact, a brand new set of skydiving gear compares to the sticker price on a new motorcycle or economical car. The majority of skydiving enthusiasts realize that a lack of demand causes the prices of skydiving gear to remain at very high levels. Many countries around the world allow skydiving participants to purchase used equipment, a preference for most beginners who wish to try different types of parachutes and acquire all of the necessary items at a reduced cost.

Novice skydivers generally start with large and less intensive parachutes that correspond with the jumper’s body weight. As the novice skydivers gain more confidence, they can acquire more advanced parachutes. More advanced skydivers may change their canopies within an average space of a few years. The harness and peripheral equipment can last for decades if well maintained.

Drop Zones

Skydivers refer to their landing spots as drop zones (DZ). A drop zone is an area targeted for landing by skydivers, or a base station from where the parachutists take off in the aircraft and land under foot with their equipment attached to their backs. If the drop zone is the same designated target from where the aircraft departed, then it is likely located beside a small airport that shares with other general aviation. A drop zone reserved for recreational purposes may have a specific spot for parachute landings. Drop zone personnel may include a drop zone operator, pilots, instructors, coaches, camera operators, packers, riggers, manifestors, and other staff.

Follow these links to learn more about skydiving:

  • Special Investigation Report on the Safety of Parachute Jump Operations (PDF): The National Safety Transportation Board provides an extensive document that investigates the recreational sport of skydiving.
  • Skydiving Safety and Training: A series of articles by skydiving enthusiasts that share pertinent information on skydiving safety and training for novice parachutists.
  • How Safe is Skydiving?: The British Association of Skydiving describes the overall safety of skydiving, and how it unlikely results in injury or fatality if executed correctly.
  • The Skydiving Dictionary: An authoritative resource that provides a glossary of terms related to the sport of skydiving.
  • The History of Skydiving: A brief summary of the history of skydiving, and how the military used parachutes as an advantage in delivering ground troops into combat.
  • Static Line Jumping: A comprehensive resource that describes how instructors use static line jumping to train beginning skydivers.
  • Drop Zones: A definitive list of drop zones located throughout the United States listed by individual state.
  • A Consumer's Guide to Buying Gear (PDF): An extensive guide for consumer's looking to buy the appropriate skydiving gear for their air adventures.
  • Parachutes: An educational resource that describes the invention of the parachute, and how it contributed to the military and other emergency response efforts.
  • Swooping: A basic introduction that describes the skydiving variant known as pond swooping.
  • Tandem Skydiving: The Eagles Skydiving Club at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University answers frequently asked questions (FAQ) about tandem skydiving.
  • The Modern Parachute (PDF): Heartland Science explains the utility and dynamics of the modern parachute.
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