Bombs Away: A Guide to Skydiving

Your First Jump
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All training programs, whether traditional static line or AFF, begin with ground school. You will spend approximately five hours learning the principles of skydiving, basic safety techniques, rigging, and landing skills. In most modern training centers, gone are the days of jumping off 10-foot concrete walls to practice a hard-impact landing and ground roll that you used to see in films of WWII paratroopers. With square parachutes, you descend slowly enough to land easily on your feet.

After completing ground school, you have three choices for your first actual jump: tandem, AFF, or static line. Static line jumping is the simplest—you are physically attached to your aircraft by a tether which opens your chute as soon as you are clear of the plane. Because this allows for no freefall time, however, most jump centers are phasing out static line jumping and concentrating instead on tandem and AFF training.

Static Line Jumping
During conventional static line training, your parachute is opened by a tether attached to the aircraft. You will make a minimum of five solo jumps with the automatic static line, leaving the aircraft at about 3,000 feet. After a half-dozen or so static line jumps, you will make your first free jump from about 4,000 feet, experiencing about 10 seconds of freefall. You then jump from progressively higher altitudes, working up to 9,000 feet+ and 45 seconds of freefall. It typically takes about 15 jumps before you complete your training and are certified to jump without supervision. The entire 15-jump static line training program costs about $1,500 at most jump schools.

Tandem Jumping
Tandem jumping is a reassuring way to make your very first jump. With this recently devised method of skydiving, a person with absolutely no prior jumping experience can enjoy the thrill of freefall without worrying about making a mistake in the air. His or her instructor makes all the critical decisions, and deploys the canopy after the freefall. After an introductory ground session, the tandem instructor and the student board the plane together. While airborne over the drop zone, the two will physically link their jumping harnesses, front to back. High-strength metal carabiners secure the student's harness webbing to the instructor's rig. The jumpmaster/instructor carries an extra-large, two-person parachute designed expressly for tandem jumps. At the instructor's command, teacher and student jump from the aircraft, like Siamese twins, with the student in front. The two will freefall for 30 to 60 seconds before the instructor pulls the ripcord. Before touching down, the tandem team will fly for about four minutes under the deployed canopy as the instructor demonstrates how to steer the parachute.

Tandem jumping is ideal for those who feel they'd never have the nerve to leap out of a plane on their own. Using the tandem method, people of all ages and walks of life have been able to experience skydiving's excitement.

While not all jump centers offer tandem jumping yet, it is becoming increasingly popular. Some schools now even require a tandem jump as a prerequisite to a student's first freefall jump. Over 15,000 tandem jumps were made last year, with a remarkable safety record. If you're looking for the best way to sample skydiving for a minimal investment, tandem jumping is for you. An introductory class session and one tandem jump will cost between $100-$175, including all equipment and basic insurance.

Accelerated Freefall
After you've tried a tandem jump, the next step for most students is an Accelerated Freefall jump. This technique has eclipsed the conventional static line training method in North America's top jump schools. By utilizing AFF, a novice has a chance to enjoy freefall right away—the most exciting aspect of the skydiving experience.

During initial AFF training, you will jump with two specially certified jumpmasters from about 9,000 feet. All three of you exit the plane at once, with your instructors holding on to your arms and/or harness during the freefall. When you have reached minimum altitude, the jumpmasters will tell you to pull your ripcord. If you have problems, your instructors will pull the ripcord for you. As a final safety measure, all students (whether AFF or otherwise) must use an automatic back-up ripcord device that activates the ripcord at minimum altitude, in the event the student becomes distracted.

After three to four jumps with two instructors, you will shift to one-on-one AFF. Typically, after about 10 one-instructor AFF jumps (about 12 total AFF jumps), you will be approved to jump solo. At this point you are off student status and can jump without any air-to-air supervision. You will still carry your back-up ripcord safety device however.

Obtaining a License
The next stage in your training is obtaining your Class A parachute license. Most beginners require about 20 jumps, including the initial AFF jumps, to reach this level. The Class A license is your ticket to fly. It will permit you to pack your own chute and make unsupervised jumps at USPA jump centers throughout the country. You will also be eligible for USPA liability insurance as a Class A licensee.

Initial AFF jumps, including ground school, cost about $250. Additional jumps average $130 with two jumpmasters, $90 with one jumpmaster. Typically, it will cost between $1,300 and $1,800 to complete the dozen or so AFF jumps you must make before you are allowed to solo jump. By contrast, traditional static line training costs $100-$150 for the first jump, and about $25-$30 for additional jumps, plus $90 or so per hour for the jumpmaster.


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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