How Skydiving Works

A Typical Skydiver Jump

There are thousands of experienced skydivers in the United States who have hundreds or thousands of jumps under their belts. They typically own their own parachutes, pack their own parachutes and skydive every weekend. A typical jump for this kind of enthusiast goes something like this:

  • The skydiver puts on his/her jumpsuit and parachute. Typically, another jumper will check the straps and the rig to make sure everything looks OK.
  • The skydiver gets on the plane. Depending on the size of the plane, there might be up to 20 jumpers sharing a ride.
  • The plane flies to the jump altitude. A typical altitude might be around 13,000 feet (4,000 meters), which gives the jumper about 60 seconds of free fall -- the term used in skydiving to describe the moment the jumper exits the plane. It is possible to go as high as 16,000 feet (4,900 meters) without supplemental oxygen, giving the jumper up to 75 seconds of free fall.
  • When the plane is lined up properly over the jump site, the skydivers jump out of the plane.
  • At about 2,500 feet (760 meters), the skydiver throws out a pilot chute, and it deploys the parachute. In the case of tandem skydiving, a drogue chute is used to regulate the fall rate.
  • The skydiver steers the parachute to line up for the landing, and lands.

We've used a lot of terminology here -- let's look at some of the actual equipment that a skydiver uses.