Frequently Asked Questions
About Sky Diving

Last year thousands of people of all ages and professions ventured forth into the world of sport parachuting. Many have since embraced it as their favorite sport. Some will go on to professional competitors and instructors. Others simply found it is a terrific way to spend a weekend. Newcomers to the sport have a lot of questions. Here are some every jumper asks:

Is skydiving safe?

Skydiving is a high-speed aerial sport that exposes its participants to the real risk of injury and death. Each year in the U.S. about 35 people die while making approximately 2 million parachute jumps. Other skydivers are sometimes killed while riding aboard jump aircraft.

Analysis of skydiving accidents show that most are caused by jumpers who make mistakes of procedure or judgment. Contrary to popular belief, very few skydiving accidents or injuries are caused by random or unexpected equipment failure.

Those skydivers who are trained well, who stay current and who take a conservative approach to the sport are involved in very few accidents and suffer few -- if any -- injuries.

Some people prefer not to expose themselves to significant risks, while others accept the risk in exchange for the enjoyment the activity offers.

Most parachute centers require that each customer sign a legally binding assumption-of-risk agreement. The document makes it clear that the sport has its risks and that the jumper is electing to jump in spite of those risks.

What are the age requirements?

As far as the government is concerned, there is no minimum age for skydiving in the U.S. But most parachute centers require their customers be at least the "age of legal majority" in their state -- typically 18 years of age.

There is no upper limit. There are many active skydivers who are in the 60s and older.

What are the physical requirements?

Although skydiving is not a strenuous sport, people who are in reasonably good shape enjoy it more and are less likely to suffer an injury. Certain conditions -- epilepsy, obesity, heart problems and others -- might preclude someone from jumping.

Anyone who thinks he has a medical condition that would interfere with his safe enjoyment of flying and skydiving should check with his physician before jumping.

Where can I make my first jump?

There are about 400 skydiving centers scattered across the U.S. Most are located on smaller outlying airports. Some are large commercial centers and others are small private clubs. Many are opened year around, while those in the northern states are usually closed in the winter. Some operate only on weekends, but others are open during the week, too.

Most drop zones advertise in the yellow pages of telephone directories under "parachuting" and "skydiving."

Another option is to call 1-800-SKY-DIVE. This toll-free number will automatically connect you with a parachute center in your area. (As of early this year the network didn't yet cover the entire U.S., but it did cover much of it.)

The Web offers plenty of resources. Here are some links that are useful:

Skydiving Magazine's classified ads. Includes many of the country's better parachute centers, as well as some in other countries, too.

Skydiving Magazine's advertisers. Links to parachute centers, equipment manufacturers, dealers and others.

What training methods are used?

There are more than one way to learn to jump. Over the years three ways have proven to be effective:

Tandem Training: Tandem jumping allows first-time jumpers to experience the thrill and excitement of the sport without the preparation and knowledge required for a solo jump. The instructor controls the jump from exit to opening and landing, so training for a tandem jump is minimal -- usually under one hour.

The student wears a harness which attaches to the instructor's parachute system. The pair exits the aircraft for a controlled freefall of up to 45 seconds. The instructor deploys the parachute approximately 4,000 feet above the ground and guides you to a safe, soft landing under an extra-large "ram-air" parachute. The parachute ride lasts about five minutes.

Static Line Training: This conventional method is often used by the military but is also used in sport parachuting as the first step in skydiving training. A first static line jump course lasts from four to six hours.

Most static line jumps are made approximately 3,000 feet above the ground. A line attached from the parachute to the aircraft opens the parachute as the student falls away. It takes about 300 feet before the parachute inflates completely. The parachute ride will take about three minutes, during which the student is guided to the ground by either radio contact or ground signals.

Accelerated Free Fall (AFF) Training: This method of instruction was designed as a safe and effective way to progress students through freefall training rapidly. It is often used by those seriously interested in becoming a trained skydiver. The program typically requires a full day of training before the first jump. Most AFF courses are taught privately or in small groups, with personal attention given to each student.

Using this method, two instructors securely hold on to you while you leave the aircraft together at 10,000 feet or above. The instructors hold on through the entire freefall of 40-50 seconds, supervising the student as he or she performs what was practiced on the ground. The student opens his own parachute at 4,500 feet and follows ground or radio signals to the landing zone. The parachute ride lasts about four minutes.

A few other programs have been developed using variations of these methods. Most centers offer one or all of these training methods.

The more a student knows about the sport, the better he or she will perform and the more enjoyable skydiving becomes. New jumpers are encouraged to take advantage of resources available on the Web, in bookstores and in video catalogs.

What does skydiving cost?

This question is most often asked, but hardest to answer. For a variety of reasons, different centers will quote different prices. It also depends on which training method used.

Generally speaking, you can expect to pay anywhere from $85 to $125 for your first static line jump and $100 to $200 for a tandem jump. The AFF program is sometimes sold as a complete package of seven to 10 jumps, costing around $1,500. The first AFF jump normally runs about $250. These prices include all equipment, instruction and the ride to altitude.

First-timers should consider other factors besides just price. Different centers have different facilities. Some are open only on weekends and others more often. Some are close to home and some are quite distant.

It make sense to visit a parachute center before deciding to jump there. Pick a day when the weather is good so you'll be able to see the facility in action. Ask questions.

Experienced jumpers buy their own gear. A complete set of state-of-the-art equipment costs about $5000 and will last for thousands of jumps if given reasonable care. Less expensive gear is also available. It's every bit as safe as the high-tech stuff, but it doesn't provide the excitement.

Many new jumpers, like many new skiers, purchased used gear. It's less expensive and serves the jumper well while he or she gains experience.

What does freefall feel like?

Freefall is not the "roller coaster drop" feeling most people expect it would be. It is a comfortable sensation of floating and support, with a slight pressure of air against your body.

Freefall is the closest thing to human flight, especially when falling "relative" with other skydivers. In relation to other skydivers in the air, a jumper can move forward, backwards, up, down and all around in the sky. He or she can dive vertically over 200 mph or achieve horizontal movement over the ground up to 60 mph. The constant air flow allows aerial maneuvers with precision and control.

If you want to experience many of the same sensations of freefall without making a parachute jump, visit a vertical wind tunnel or "skydiving simulator." There are only a few available around the world, including about five in the U.S. Here is a link to a directory of these facilities: Wind tunnels.

What is opening and flying the parachute like?

The opening "shock" of the parachute is much like jumping feet-first into a pool of water. The opening takes about two to five seconds and is not uncomfortable.

Square parachutes are simple to maneuver and steer to the ground. Steering lines are attached to the rear right and left side of the parachute. By taking the controls in each hand, one steers the parachute by pulling on one control. To turn left, simply pull down the left control. To stop the turn, simply return the control to its original position.

What is landing like?

With the new, modern square parachutes, a proper parachute landing is now just like stepping off the curb. Parachutes used by beginners are typically much larger and more docile than an experienced jumper's parachute. Thus, landings are generally soft in most conditions. This doesn't mean jumpers don't get hurt while landing; they sometimes do, just like participants in other active sports get occasionally injured.

How is parachuting regulated?

In the U.S., parachuting is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration by Part 105 of the Federal Aviation Regulations.

The FAA allows sport parachuting to monitor itself in training and operational requirements. After all, it is a sport just like SCUBA diving or rock climbing. The U.S. Parachute Association has developed standards called "Basic Safety Requirements" which all USPA affiliates pledge to follow. BSRs represent the commonly accepted standards for a high level of safety. They cover equipment, training, DZ requirements, wind limits, and so forth.

After my first jump, what's next?

Basic parachute training consists of a series of jumps made under the direct supervision of an instructor. Each jump is preceded by a session on the ground followed by a jump. It takes from about 10 to 15 jumps until the student is competent enough to be cleared to jump without instructor supervision. Since most students are weekend skydivers who make two or three jumps a day, the typical student takes about a month to graduate.

After graduation, the new jumper practices his skills and learns new ones. He or she becomes eligible to earn licenses that attest to the jumper's competency.

From there the sky is the limit. The new skydiver has the freedom of the sky to share with others who enjoy the exciting sport of skydiving.