A skydive is the name given to the act of leaving an aircraft at altitude and falling for a short while before opening a parachute and returning to earth. That falling or "freefall" as it's known is what defines a skydive. Skydiving is a popular sport enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. A qualified skydiver can develop their skills to skydive with other people for fun, or competitively using a number of different flying techniques. Skydiving is not a stunt, it's a skilled sport that offers almost an almost unlimited progression path for those that want it, it's highly sociable sport with a wide range of different participants. Many people liken the experience of skydiving to that of flying without wings.
The terms skydive, parachute jump and just 'jump' are often used interchangeably with each other although there are some subtle differences between some of the terms. Skydives are by definition parachute jumps, that is because at the end of each skydive a parachute is used to land back on earth. However, where someone leaves an aircraft and immediately deploys their parachute without any freefall, it's debatable whether that is technically a skydive but it's definately a parachute jump. In any case, there is no need to get strung up over terminology everyone at a dropzone (what skydivers call a skydiving centre) will understand what you mean if you use either term.
There are hundreds of reasons why people choose to skydive and whilst certain parts of the sport probably appeal universally to its participants, for example the basic feeling of freefall, but ultimately the reason why skydivers skydive tends to be quite personal. Skydivers see things that regular people just do not see - the view of the earth from 2 miles up and the sensation of what feels like flying. Skydiving is visually stunning. Flying in formation with friends you've formed an hour before, the plane disappearing above you, the thrill of the parachute ride, the smile that just stepping out of a plane puts across your face - all are reasons why people skydive. The "scene" is extremely friendly, it is an incredibly social sport and a great way to meet interesting people. For some the perception of risk is a buzz in itself. Many people sum it up by saying "its the best fun you can have with your clothes on". Ultimately there is something magical about skydiving. Skydiving is a sport with a number of different progression paths from the moment you are qualified, you can be assured that there will always be something to keep you interested in the sport and new skills to learn.
People skydive for a number of different reasons but by and large most skydivers are just regular people. Skydivers come from a wide variety of different backgrounds and have a number of different 'day jobs'. Many skydivers are professional people with highly responsible vocations, many are parents and grandparents. Although there is a risk associatiated with any sport like skydiving that risk is often a lot less than the public believes it to be. Many skydivers make thousands of jumps without so much as a twisted ankle, because of training and equipment. Skydivers are people who by definition are comfortable actively manage risks through knowledge and careful equipment decisions. If skydivers were all inherently risk takers they wouldn't wear sophisticated parachute equipment and undergo extensive training. Skydiving is a beautiful exhilarating sport for people who want to experience something that most people do not, who feel comfortable managing risks and taking charge of their own destiny.
Most skydivers liken the sensation of freefall to how they imagine flying or floating on a cushion of air. There is no sensation of "falling" as most people imagine and there is no "roller-coaster" sensation! It feels how you might imagine flying to feel. It is however quite noisy and naturally very windy as the air comes past you at great speed. Freefall is a really magical feeling that most people enjoy immensely and many people find highly addictive. Ever seen Superman flying across the sky in the movies? Well, freefall is probably the closest you are going to get. The average skydive from 14,000 feet gives you about 65 seconds of freefall!
Learning to skydive is extremely rewarding - many people will tell you it's one of the most rewarding experiences of their entire life. It's an amazing sport, with amazing people. However, learning can be very emotionally demanding, stressful and for many people even a little bit scary - but for most people it's not actually "that difficult" in a technical sense. There are a lot of things you will need to learn and learn well. You will need to be alert and switched on and have common sense, but you certainly don't need to be a rocket scientist! There are skydivers from every walk of life, from all sorts of different professions and with a wide range of academic ability. Learning to skydive isn't difficult - but it requires an element of "steel", alertness and common sense.
The more you skydive the less scary it becomes and in fact after a few jumps what started off as fear, will probably become nervous apprehension and then nervous excitement! There is no doubt that some people find learning to skydive stressful. In fact most people, especially on their first few jumps find that they are scared to some extent and this is completely and absolutely normal. However, most students find that their fears quickly subside after a few jumps and that instead of being scary - it becomes exciting, addictive and appealing on many different levels. With skydiving the old saying 'there is nothing to fear but fear itself' has some merit. The fact is people wouldn't continue to skydive and take it up as their main pastime and hobby if it was that scary.
It's perfectly normal to feel apprehensive about skydiving even if you are considering learning. You will almost certainly have not been exposed to anything like it in your life and like anything completely new, the idea will of course feel strange. It's normal to be scared or to have apprehension of something so completely alien to you, but don't worry, you will probably get used to skydiving very quickly! Many people become so used to skydiving that leaving the plane feels completely normal to them. If you feel nervous, practically everyone you speak to in skydiving will know what you're going through and sympathise with you.
Anyone between the ages of 16 and 65 can learn to skydive in the UK, so long as you are fit, healthy and alert. Note that if you are under 18 years old you will need to get parental consent and if you are over 50 years of age you are required to get a certificate from the doctor. There are approximately 5,000 active skydivers in the UK from a wide range of social backgrounds, there is a hugely rich social scene associated with the sport, which presents its participants with many opportunities to make friends and travel. If you have any medical conditions you must declare them to us and discuss them with our instructors.
Most of our skydives are made from a minimum of 12,000 feet above ground level or higher - normally 13,500 feet. If you wish to make a static line parachute jump, this is normally made from 3,500 to 4,000 feet. If you wish to make more static line jumps you can progress on to higher and higher altitudes.
On tandem skydives and AFF skydives your parachute is deployed between 5,000 feet and 6,000 feet. This gives you about 45 seconds of freefall. This deployment altitude is higher than most qualified skydivers would normally deploy and gives plenty of time for a beautiful and enjoyable parachute ride back down to earth. When you are a qualified skydiver you can choose to deploy your parachute at any altitude above about 2,500 feet - although most skydivers deploy at between 3,000 and 3,500 feet.
The average skydiver falls at somewhere between 110 and 130 miles per hour in the "standard" face to earth position.
It takes very roughly 10 seconds to fall the first 1,000 feet and then about 5 seconds for every subsequent 1,000 feet - so if an experienced skydiver falls for about 10,000 feet before deploying their parachute they will have had roughly 60 seconds of freefall. Different people fall at slightly different rates because different sizes and shapes of people create more or less air-resistance. As you fall through the air you create air-resistance and have air passing around your body at high speeds. This is referred to in the sport as the "relative wind". Essentially you feel a great deal of wind as you fall through the air at high speed. A less air-resistant - more aero dynamic shape (such as small person with a pot belly) will generally fall faster than someone with a similar mass - but who is tall with long arms and legs. As you become a more experienced skydiver you will learn how to alter your fall rate by making changes to your body position. By altering your body position you effect your air resistance and subsequently the rate at which you fall. It is a common MYTH that all objects fall at the same rate, this rule only applies in an absolute vacuum, where there is no resistance - here on earth we have air!
There is always something new to learn in skydiving. Amongst many other things your AFF course will teach you to fall "face to earth" in a stable position and perform turns (rotating your body), but you can refine these skills to enable to to fly very close to other skydivers, around them, towards them, over them and under them - with phenomenal control and precision! There are hundreds of freefall disciplines to develop and wide range of canopy skills to learn and refine.
Many skydivers with thousands of skydives will say there's still lots of new "stuff" for them to learn and this, in part is why skydiving is such an addictive amazing sport. The best in the sport often choose to compete in their chosen discipline against other at any of the hundreds of events around the world each year. Once you have become a fully fledged licensed skydiver and have gone on to buy your own equipment you can skydive in the UK for around £18 a jump.
Although skydiving is a high risk sport when compared to say, snooker or football - and like any fast adventure sport it is of course possible to twist an ankle, hurt yourself in some other way or yes - you could in theory even die, it's not anywhere near as risky as many people would believe. You can sustain exactly the same injuries in an accident walking across the street, driving to work, horse riding - in fact doing just about anything! Lots of other adventure sports are just as or even more dangerous than skydiving and modern parachute systems and teaching methods are extremely reliable. Recent research shows there is on average only 1 fatality per 100,000 skydives or thereabouts. That's only ONE in ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND SKYDIVES. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world skydive because they the enjoyment they get from it far exceeds the risks associated with the sport.
First and foremost, modern sport parachutes are extremely reliable and its extremely rare that a parachute "doesn't open". Long gone are the days are high-malfuction rates, modern parachutes are incredibly well designed and tested. However, in the rare event of a malfunction all skydivers have a secondary reserve parachute that they can deploy and fly to the ground in exactly the same way as their main parachute. It is mandatory in most countries that all skydivers wear a reserve parachute. In addition to the reserve parachute most skydivers have an Automatic Activation Device installed on their equipment. This automatically deploys the reserve parachute in the event the skydiver is still in freefall at low altitude, i.e. doesn't deploy their own parachute. Modern skydiving equipment is very advanced.
Modern parachutes are highly maneuverable, you can steer and fly them in whatever direction you like. With a bit of practice you will be able to land your parachute with a great deal of accuracy. This allows you to choose a good, flat place to land which is clear of obstacles. At landing time itself you can momentary slow the descent of the parachute using a manoeuvre called a flare to give you an easy, soft stand-up landing. You will be taught how to steer and land your parachute on your AFF course.
Once you are a qualified skydiver - that is you have completed your AFF course and done your compulsory 10 consolidation jumps to get your Cat 8 certificate ("A licence") you can skydive at a number of dropzones in the UK for around £18 a jump if you have your own parachute equipment. If you do not have your own equipment you can rent everything you need for around £10 a jump. Most new skydivers buy used equipment from other more experienced skydiver who's needs within the sport have changed with a gain in their experience.
A quality complete used "rig" (this is the term generally a parachute pack - a harness, container, main and reserve parachutes) suitable for a new skydiver can be bought for about £1500 - additionally you will need an altimeter and helmet, both these could be bought used for less than £100. It's certainly not a cheap hobby, but it's certainly not expensive either. Once you have all the right gear you can make a skydive for just £18! You will need to maintain membership of the British Parachute Association ("BPA") each year for £118.60 per annum or the current prevailing membership price. Unless otherwise stated all our AFF course prices include first year membership of the BPA.
Generally speaking the weather conditions have to be pretty good - especially when you are a student skydiver going through your AFF course. This means only little cloud - because it's important you can see the ground beneath you so that you know where you are in the sky - and light winds so that your parachute can be maneuvered easily. Qualified, more experienced skydivers can jump in marginally windy conditions. You can technically skydive in light rain - but it is unpleasant to do so and also when it's raining it tends to be cloudy! British summers are normally better than people give them credit for and it's a great place to learn to skydive.
You can breath perfectly normally in freefall. It is a myth that the high wind conditions of freefall make it difficult to breath. To breath you simply open your mouth and inhale! A few seconds later - exhale! Sound familiar? You breath exactly as you do on the ground.
No, this is a movie myth. You cannot hear other people talk in freefall because the sound of air rushing past you is too loud. Communication in freefall is make by hand and face gestures.