Parachuting, or skydiving, is a recreational activity,
competitive sport and method of deployment of military
personnel (and occasionally, firefighters). It involves
the breaking of a free fall from a height through the
use of a parachute.
Typically, a trained sky diver (or jumper) and a group
of associates meet at an isolated airport. A fixed base
operator at that airport usually operates one or more
light cargo aircraft, and takes groups of skydivers up
for a fee. In the earlier days of the sport, an individual
jumper would go up in a Piper Cub aircraft for reasons
A jump involves individuals jumping out of aircraft (usually
an airplane, but sometimes a helicopter or even the gondola
of a balloon), usually travelling at approximately 4000
metres (around 12,000 feet) altitude, and free-falling
for a period of time before activating a parachute to
slow the landing down to safe speeds.
Once the parachute is opened, the jumper can control his
or her direction and speed with cords called "steering
lines," with hand grips called "toggles" that are attached
to the parachute, and so he or she can aim for the landing
site and come to a relatively gentle stop in a safe landing
environment. Most modern sport parachutes are self-inflating
"ram-air" wings that provide control of speed and direction
similar to the related paragliders. (Purists in either
sport would note that paragliders have much greater lift
and range, but that parachutes are designed to absorb
the stresses of deployment at terminal velocity.)
4-way formation skydiveSkydivers skydive because it is
the closest one can get to the dream of flying. Experienced
skydivers will tell you that in freefall, one can do anything
a bird can do, except go back up. But skydiving is the
only aerial activity where the body is the flying instrument
instead of a machine, however simple. Some jumpers explain
the attraction to skydiving by adrenaline addiction. Others
suggest a suicidal disposition, but these people are usually
Most skydivers make their first jump with an experienced
and trained instructor (this type of skydive may be in
the form of a "tandem skydive"). During the tandem jump
the jumpmaster is responsible for the stable exit, maintaining
a proper stable freefall position, and activating and
controlling the parachute. With training and experience,
the fear of the first few jumps is supplanted by the tact
of controlling fear so that one may come to experience
the satisfaction of mastering aerial skills and performing
increasingly complicated maneuvers in the sky with friends.
Other training methods include static line, IAD (Instructor
Assisted Deployment), and AFF (Advanced Freefall). See
Parachuting has complex skills that can take thousands
of jumps to master but the basics are often fully understood
and useful during the first few jumps. There are four
basic areas of skill: basic safety, free fall maneuvers,
parachute operation, and landing.
Basic safety includes knowing how and when to: do a gear
check, exit normally, react in an emergency, deploy a
parachute, handle common malfunctions, pick a landing
area, and set up and execute a landing. Most national
sport organizations certify instructors, most operators
who fly skydivers retain an instructor, and all certified
instructors can teach the basics well enough for a student
to be licensed by the national sport organization.
In freefall most skydivers start by learning to maintain
a stable belly to earth "box" position. In this position
the average fallrate is around 125 mph. Learning a stable
box position is a basic skill essential for a reliable
parachute deployment. Next, jumpers learn to move or turn
in any direction while remaining belly to earth. Using
these skills a group of jumpers can create sequences of
formations on a single jump, a discipline known as relative
work (RW). In the late 1980s more experienced jumpers
started experimenting with freeflying, falling in any
orientation other than belly to earth. Today many jumpers
start freeflying soon after they earn their license, bypassing
the RW stepping stone.
Choosing when to deploy the parachute is a matter of safety.
A parachute should be deployed high enough to give the
parachutist time to handle a malfunction should one occur.
Two thousand feet is the practical minimum for advanced
skydivers. In freefall, skydivers monitor their altitude
meters to decide when to break off from the formation
(if applicable) and when to open their parachutes. Many
skydivers open higher to practice flying their parachute.
On a "hop-and-pop," a jump in which the parachute is immediately
deployed upon exiting the aircraft, it is not uncommon
for a skydiver to be under canopy as high as 4000 or 5000
Flying the parachute has two basic challenges: to land
where planned, often on a target; and to avoid injury.
On a more advanced note, some skydivers enjoy performing
aerobatic maneuvers with parachutes.
White sand circular target at a drop zoneA modern parachute
or canopy "wing" can glide substantial distances. Elliptical
canopies go faster and farther, and some small, highly
loaded canopies glide faster than a man can run, which
can make them very challenging to land. A highly experienced
skydiver using a very small canopy can achieve over 60
mph horizontal speeds in landing.
A good landing will not have any discomfort at all, and
will land the skydiver within a few feet of his intended
location. Champion accuracy skydivers routinely land less
than two inches from the center of a target even in competitions.
Nowadays, most of the skydiving related injuries happen
under a fully opened and functioning parachute, the most
common reasons for these injuries are badly-executed,
radical maneuvers near to the ground, like quick turns,
or too-low or too-high landing flares.