Bombs Away: A Guide to Skydiving

Formation Flying

If you want to increase your skydiving skills—and thrills—but don't feel quite ready for BASE jumping or skysurfing, formation flying may be for you. This style of skydiving brings together two or more jumpers in the air, flying relative to one another to create different formations.

Freefall formation flying is performed in the same belly-to-earth position taught to students. As jumpers become more skilled in this style, they learn to alter their individual fall rates to match those of other sky divers. The jumpers exit the airplane as a group and maneuver themselves into position. Holding on to each other's wrists or to the fabric "grips" that are sewn onto their jumpsuits, the group creates a pattern in the sky, such as a star. In competitive formation skydiving, the goal is to build as many formations as possible, one after the other, within a set time limit.
A variation on this theme is canopy formation skydiving, which differs from the free-fall form in two distinct ways: The sky divers in the formation are under open canopies from the start, and the formations are typically built vertically rather than horizontally.

The sky divers leave the aircraft one at a time in quick succession, and immediately open their parachutes. Once everyone is out, the jumpers build formations by flying relative to one another and connecting at points on the parachute itself, on other jumpers' suits, or on the parachute lines. In competition or just for fun, jumpers can try to build a succession of different formations, see how fast they can build a single pattern, rotate jumpers within formations, or see how many people they can get into one large formation.

For information on all forms of parachuting, contact the U.S. Parachuting Association (1440 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. 703.836.3495. You can also pick up a copy of Dan Poynter's classic book, Parachuting: The Skydiver's Handbook. ESPN's website boasts skysurfing content, including air-to-video clips from recent X Games and profiles of the competitors. Go to, then search for "skysurfing."

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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