Bombs Away: A Guide to Skydiving

Diving into the world of sport parachuting
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This is it. The real thing. Jumping out of an airplane with only a few ounces of nylon between you and the great beyond and the ground below. For many of us, skydiving represents the danger line that cannot be crossed. But surprisingly, modern training methods and closely supervised instruction have made the sport of parachuting far safer than you might imagine.

Currently, in the United States, more than 300,000 jumpers make more than 3.25 million jumps each year, with about three dozen fatalities. Over the last five years, only one jump in 95,000 has resulted in death, and only 14 percent of fatalities are students. Statistically, you're safer skydiving than driving to work in many parts of the country. Jump schools are better than ever before, equipment is safer and easier to use, and new techniques such as tandem jumping and Accelerated Freefall (AFF) have made it possible for novice jumpers to enjoy the most exciting aspects of the sport. Today, on a tandem jump, even a first-timer can enjoy the thrill of freefall in the secure grasp of two expert jumpmasters.

Selecting a Jump School
Sport parachuting is carefully regulated by the United States Parachuting Association (USPA). Most USPA jump schools are reputable and maintain high professional standards. However, there are differences between schools, so you want to choose a training program carefully. The most important factors to consider when selecting a jump school are: safety record, quality of instruction, aircraft, equipment, and scheduling convenience.

Safety: Ask about the number and seriousness of any mishaps associated with the training program. High-quality jump centers will have logged thousands of training jumps without serious injury. Programs using static lines tend to have more minor injuries such as twisted ankles.

Instruction Quality: It's best to go with a well-established jump school with full-time professional jumpmasters/instructors. The most qualified instructors will have logged a thousand jumps or more. Tandem and AFF instruction should be done only by jumpmasters specifically certified in these disciplines.

Aircraft: Two engines are better than one. Turbocharged or multi-engined planes can take you higher, in less time, than can small, normally-aspirated Cessnas or similar aircraft. With larger aircraft, you typically jump from higher altitudes (12,500 feet versus 9,000 feet), allowing more freefall time. And, as big planes climb faster, it takes less time to get to your jumping elevation.

Equipment: Don't enroll in a school that uses old-style round canopies. In fact, the USPA now requires the softer-landing "squares" and easy-to-manage piggyback chute packs for all its group member schools. Square parachutes fly better, and land more easily. Select a jump school that keeps its equipment (chutes, harnesses, jumpsuits) in top condition—your life depends on it.

Scheduling: Many smaller schools are part-time operations that may run only a few days a month. This can be inconvenient, and will slow down your progress as a jumper. Major jump centers such as AFF, Inc. in the east, or Perris Valley Skydiving in the west, operate six or seven days a week, and always have jumpmasters and aircraft ready to go.


Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 8 Oct 2001 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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