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Skydiving is a type of parachuting done for recreational purposes, also called sport parachuting.

Andre-Jacques Garnerin made successful parachute jumps from a hot-air balloon in 1797. The military developed parachuting technology first as a way to save air crews from emergencies aboard balloons and aircraft in flight, later as a way of delivering soldiers to the battlefield. Early competitions date back to the 1930s, and it became an international sport in 1951.

Formerly, most parachuting was performed by the military forces of the world. Today, most parachuting is performed by skydivers as a recreational activity and a competitive sport, but it can still be used for the deployment of military personnel and occasionally forest firefighters.

Skydiving is performed by individuals and teams; the U.S. Army's Golden Knights perform skydiving all over the country and world. It is a sport that is exciting for both jumper and spectator.

Sport of parachuting history

In 1797, a Frenchman by the name of Andre Jacques Ganerin made the first known parachute drop. It was done by using an open parachute made of silk.

The first known limp parachute jump was done by an American by the name of Tom Baldwin a hundred years later, in 1897.

Kathe Paulus from Germany was one of the first women in the sport as she jumped professionally around Germany at the start of the century.

However, the jump that revolutionized the sport was done by Leslie Irvin near Dayton, Ohio, in 1919, as he completed the first ever free-fall jump using his own hand-operated chute.

The sport had a hard time taking off when it picked up steam in the 1930s because the Federation Aeronautique Internationale would not accept it as a sport. The FAI later recognized it as a aeronautical sport in the 1950s.

The term "skydiver" was invented by Raymond Young in the mid 1950s, as the first skydiver centers opened commercially. In 1957, the first commercial skydiver school was opened, and the start of skydiving was born.

Steps to skydiving

The complete rig

Parachute System The system is set up in a backup-like harness container system that contains the parachutes. It is an FAA regulation that each parachute system carry a main parachute and an emergency one as well. Some of the emergency chutes come with an automatic activation device in case of an emergency in the air. These devices work by sensing the jumpers altitude and vertical speed, and are used as backup equipment only.

Jumpsuit Jumpsuits can consist of a personally fit suit or just coveralls from a basic hardware store. They are used to protect jumpers during the landing from dirt and grass stains. While many schools give the person the choice, it is recommended to protect against cool air and to protect against abrasions.

Helmets The helmet's purpose is to protect against bumps or abrasions in the airplane or while landing, and can also keep the jumper warm during the jump. It also keeps the wind out during the jump and makes the ride quieter and avoids putting pressure on the ears.

Goggles Goggles for skydiving are designed to let a small amount of air in behind the lens to prevent fogging. While some let a new jumper use their sunglasses, most recommend using clear goggles or glasses so the instructor and beginner can maintain eye contact.

Altimeter and other instruments The altimeter helps skydivers know how far above the ground they are. They work like barometers for the weather, and most altimeters are analog and divers wear them on the wrist.

Sometimes jumpers use an audible altitude warning device in the helmet region to help keep track of freefall air pressure and will beep at different altitudes.


At the start of skydiving, the most popular types of planes used were the Beech 18 or the Douglas DC-3 due to the economy.

Today, most still use small aircrafts because they have a low purchase cost, and it is easier to complete maintenance on the aircraft. Original interiors are removed in skydiving airplanes to save weight and allow for more people to be carried at once. Special doors are also installed that can be opened easily, and most planes also have handrails or steps outside these doors. Everyone person in the plane, according to the FAA, must be wearing a seat belt when the airplane is in motion.

The jump

When jumping out of the airplane, a skydiver starts to accelerate downward for 12 seconds until they reach a speed of 120 Miles per hour. Once one reaches this speed, they have reached nominal terminal velocity, or the speed at which one's wind resistance equals the pull of gravity. The feeling occurred here is usually described as laying on a bed. After experiencing the effects of the nominal terminal velocity, the skydiver waits for his altimeter to read 3,500 feet and then pulls the parachute.

Canopy ride, landing

When the parachute is pulled, the skydiver endures a two to three minute ride and at rate of around 16 feet per second until the landing.

Once the parachute is opened (usually the parachute will be fully inflated by 2,500 ft), 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, so he or she can aim for the landing site and come to a relatively gentle stop in a safe landing environment.

When actually trying to land, the forward momentum of the wind and the canopy lead to some heavy feet.

Other details

Most skydivers make their first jump with an experienced and trained instructor (this type of skydive may be in the form of a tandem dive). During the tandem jump, the jump master is responsible for the stable exit, maintaining a proper stable free fall 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 (Accelerated Free-Fall), also known as Progressive Free-Fall (PFF), in Canada.

At larger drop zones, mostly in the Sun Belt region of the United States, training in the sport is often conducted by full-time instructors and coaches at commercial establishments. Commercial centers often provide year-round availability, larger aircraft, and staff who are current in both their sport and their instructional skills.

In the other latitudes, where winter (or monsoons) gets in the way of year-round operation, commercial skydiving centers are less prevalent and much of the parachuting activity is carried on by clubs. These clubs tend to support smaller aircraft. Training may be offered (by instructors who are tested and certified in exactly the same way as their commercial counterparts) in occasional classes or as demand warrants. These clubs tend to be weekend only operations as the majority of the staff have full-time jobs during the week. Club members will often visit larger centers for holidays, events, and for some concentrated exposure to the latest techniques.


Despite the perception of danger, fatalities are rare. However, each year a number of people are hurt or killed parachuting world-wide.[1] About 30 skydivers are killed each year in the U.S.; roughly one death for every 100,000 jumps.[2]

In the U.S. and in most of the western world, skydivers are required to carry a second reserve parachute which has been inspected and packed by a certificated parachute rigger (in the U.S., an FAA certificated parachute rigger). Many skydivers use an automatic activation device (AAD) that opens the reserve parachute at a safe altitude in the event of failing to activate the main canopy themselves. Most skydivers wear a visual altimeter, but some go as far as using audible altimeters as well.

In recent years, one of the most common sources of injury is a low turn under a high-performance canopy and while swooping. Swooping is the advanced discipline of gliding parallel to the ground during landing.

A military Parachutist about to jump above Dakar, Senegal

Changing wind conditions are another risk factor. In conditions of strong winds and turbulence during hot days, the parachutist can be caught in down drafts close to the ground. Shifting winds can cause a crosswind or downwind landing which have a higher potential for injury due to the wind speed adding to the landing speed.

Equipment failure rarely causes fatalities and injuries. While approximately one in 600 jumps results in a main parachute malfunction, reserve canopies are packed by an FAA licensed rigger and are designed to be highly reliable.

Parachuting disciplines, such as BASE jumping, or those that involve equipment, such as wing suit flying and sky surfing, have a higher risk factor due to the lower mobility of the jumper and the greater risk of entanglement. For this reason, these disciplines are generally practiced by experienced jumpers.

In many countries, either the local regulations or the liability-conscious prudence of the drop zone owners require that parachutists must have attained the age of majority before engaging in the sport.


There are several different disciplines to embrace within parachuting. Each of these is enjoyed by both the recreational (weekend) and the competitive participants. There is even a small group of professionals who earn their living with parachuting. They win competitions that have cash prizes or are employed or sponsored by skydiving related manufacturers.

Parachutists can participate both in competitive and in purely recreational skydiving events. World championships are held regularly in locations offering flat terrain and clear skies. An exception is Paraski, where winter weather and ski-hill terrain are required.

Types of parachuting include:

  • Accuracy landing—Landing as close as possible to a target.
  • BASE jumping—From buildings, antennas, bridges (spans) and cliffs (earth).
  • Blade running—A kind of slalom with parachute.
  • Big-ways—Formation skydiving with many people.
  • Canopy formation—Making formations with other parachutists while under canopies. (Known also as canopy relative work or simply CRW)
  • Canopy piloting—Also known as "swooping."
  • Formation skydiving—Making formations during free fall. (Known also as relative work or simply RW)
  • Free fall style
  • Free flying
  • Freestyle skydiving
  • Military Parachuting
    • Tree jumping
  • Para-ski
  • Sky surfing—Skydiving with a board strapped to one's feet.
  • Vertical Formation Skydiving—A subset of Formation skydiving that uses high-speed free flying body positions instead of belly flying. (Known also as VRW)
  • Wing suit flying—Skydiving with a suit which provides extra lift.


Tandem Skydiving

There are ways to practice different aspects of skydiving, without actually jumping. Vertical wind tunnels can be used to practice skills for free fall ("indoor skydiving" or "body flight"), while virtual reality parachute simulators can be used to practice parachute control.

Beginning skydivers seeking training have a few different options available to them:

  • Tandem skydiving
  • Static line
  • Instructor Assisted Deployment
  • Accelerated Free fall

A unique program where students accomplish their very first jump as a solo free fall is offered at the United States Air Force Academy. The program is called AM490, one in a series of airmanship courses at the school. While typically open only to cadets, Winfield W. Scott Jr., the school's superintendent, went through this program when he was nearly 60 years old.


Hit and rock

One example of this is "Hit and Rock," which is a variant of Accuracy landing devised to let people of varying skill-levels "compete" for fun, while spoofing the age and abilities of some participants. "Hit and Rock" is originally from POPS (Parachutists Over Phorty Society).

The object now becomes: To land as close as possible to the chair, doff the parachute harness, sprint to the chair, sit fully in the chair and rock back and forth at least one time. The contestant is timed from the moment that feet touch the ground until that first rock is completed. This event is considered a race.

Pond swooping

Pond swooping is a form of competitive parachuting wherein canopy pilots attempt to touch down at a glide across a small body of water, and onto the shore. Events provide lighthearted competition rating accuracy, speed, distance, and style. Points and peer approval are reduced when a participant "chows," or fails to reach shore and sinks into the water.

Swoop and chug

Very similar to Hit and Rock, except the target is replaced by a case of beer. Jumpers are timed from the moment their feet touch the ground until they drink the can of beer and place the empty can upside-down on their head.

Of course, it must be mentioned that drop zones enforce strict rules prohibiting anyone from jumping any more that day once alcohol has been consumed. Therefore, the Swoop & Chug is usually reserved for the last load of the day.


A cross-country jump refers to a skydive where the participants open their parachutes immediately after jumping, with the intention of covering as much ground under canopy as possible. Usual distance from Jump Run to the DZ is 10 miles (20 km).

Camera flying

In camera flying, a cameraman or camerawomen jumps with other skydivers and films them. The camera flier often wears specialized equipment, such as a winged jumpsuit to provide a greater range of fallrates, helmet-mounted video and still cameras, mouth operated camera switches, and special optical sights. Some skydivers specialize in camera flying and a few earn significant fees for filming students on coached jumps or tandem-jumpers, or producing professional footage and photographs for the media.

There is always a demand for good camera flyers in the skydiving community, as many of the competitive skydiving disciplines are judged from a video record.

Night jumps

Skydiving is not always restricted to daytime hours. Experienced skydivers sometimes perform night jumps. For obvious safety reasons, this requires more equipment than a usual daytime jump and in most jurisdictions requires both an advanced skydiving license (at least a B-License in the U.S.) and specialized training (night rating). A lighted altimeter (preferably accompanied with an audible altimeter) is a must. Skydivers performing night jumps often take flashlights up with them so that they can check their canopies once they deploy, so they can be assured that the canopy has opened correctly and is safe to fly and land. Visibility to other skydivers and other aircraft is also a consideration; FAA regulations require skydivers jumping at night to be wearing a light visible for three miles (5 km) in every direction, and to turn it on once they are under canopy.

Stuff jumps

A skydiver sits in a rubber raft steadied by three other jumpers

Skydivers are always looking for something new to do in the air. With the availability of a rear door aircraft and a large, unpopulated space to jump over, "stuff" jumps become possible. In these jumps, the skydivers jump out with some object. Rubber raft jumps are popular, where the jumpers sit in a rubber raft. Cars, bikes, motorcycles, water tanks, and inflatable companions have also been thrown out the back of an aircraft. At a certain height the jumpers break off from the object and deploy their parachutes, leaving it to crash into the ground at a very high speed.

Parachuting records

  • World's largest free fall formation: 400. This record was set February 8, 2006, in Udon Thani, Thailand.
  • World's largest canopy formation: 100. This record was set November 21, 2007, in Lake Wales, Florida, U.S.
  • Don Kellner holds the record for the most parachute jumps, with a total of over 36,000 jumps.
  • Cheryl Stearns (U.S.) holds the record for the most parachute descents by a woman, with a total of 15,560 in August 2003.
  • Capt. Joe W. Kittinger achieved the highest and longest (14 min) parachute jump in history on August 16, 1960, as part of a United States Air Force program testing high-altitude escape systems. Wearing a pressure suit, Capt. Kittinger ascended for an hour and a half in an open gondola attached to a balloon to an altitude of 102,800 feet (31,330 m), where he then jumped. The fall lasted 4 minutes and 36 seconds, during which Capt. Kittinger reached speeds of 714 miles per hour (1,150 km/h).[3] The air in the upper atmosphere is less dense and thus leads to lower air-resistance and a much higher terminal velocity.
  • Adrian Nicholas holds the record for the longest free fall. A 4 minute and 55 second wingsuit jump made on March 12, 1999.
  • Jay Stokes holds the record for most parachute descents in a single day at 640.
  • Hildegarde Ferrea is the oldest person to have completed a skydive jump—at the age of 99 years old. She completed her tandem jump on February 17, 1996, at Dillingham Field in Oahu, Hawaii.


  1. Sky Diving Fatalities, Fatality statistics. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  2. How Stuff Works, How skydiving works. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  3. USAF Museum, USAF Museum Gathering of Eagles. Retrieved December 22, 2007.

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External links

All links retrieved January 29, 2023.

  • Skydive Radio The world's first and only podcast dedicated to skydiving.
  • FAI The Federation Aeronautique Internationale—The international governing body for all airborne sports, including skydiving.
  • USPA The United States Parachute Association—The governing body for sport skydiving in the U.S.
  • CSPA The Canadian Sport Parachuting Association—The governing body for sport skydiving in Canada.
  • BPA The British Parachute Association—The governing body for sport skydiving in the United Kingdom.
  • Skydive Ireland In Ireland all Skydiving Centers are Approved Directly by the Irish Aviation Authority.
  • Information about military parachuting


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