How Skydiving Works

Getting Into Skydiving

If you have never been skydiving before, one popular way to make the first jump is called tandem jumping. In a tandem jump, you get strapped to your instructor and the two of you fall together. The instructor carries one large parachute on his back -- big enough to support your weight and his together. Your instructor controls all aspects of the jump to make sure nothing goes wrong.

A typical tandem jump looks a lot like a normal jump. Here are the big differences:


  • An experienced skydiver can simply leap from the plane. In a tandem jump, the student and the tandem instructor are strapped together, so there is a little more maneuvering to get ready for the jump.
  • Just after jumping out, the instructor throws out a large (approx. 4-foot/1.2-m diameter) drogue chute, and this drogue is out during the entire free fall. Without this drogue, the combined weight of the instructor and student would cause the pair to fall at 180 to 200 mph (290 to 320 kph) -- much faster than the normal 120 mph. The drogue slows the pair down to the normal falling speed.
  • When it is time to deploy the parachute, the instructor or student pulls a cord that lets the drogue do its normal job -- the drogue pulls the parachute out of the container.
  • The instructor and student land together.

Skydiving Costs

One of the most popular skydiving techniques in use today is called Accelerated Free Fall (AFF). In the United States, the student might go through the following steps to become a licensed skydiver:

  • The student probably starts with one tandem jump in order to get a little experience jumping out of the plane and working in free fall. This jump typically costs between $150 and $200.
  • The student then takes ground school to prepare for the first AFF jump, and then makes the first jump. In the first several AFF jumps, the student leaves the airplane with two instructors and they all fall together, with the instructors holding on to the student. The cost for ground school plus the first jump with two instructors is typically $300 or so.
  • The student then makes two to three more jumps with two instructors, at a rate of around $180 to $200 per jump.
  • The student then makes four to five more jumps with just one instructor, at a cost of about $150 for each jump.
  • The student is then cleared to jump solo with minimal supervision. The student must complete 20 jumps, pass a test and meet other criteria to get an A License from the United States Parachuting Association.

Once you have your A license, you are generally free to jump at most drop zones, and you pay $15 to $25 per jump.

Skydiving Variations

Once you have your A license, there are many different variations on the basic "falling through the sky at 120 mph" theme:

  • You can jump in formation with four or more other people.
  • You can jump with a skyboard and do tricks.
  • You can jump with the goal of maximum speed in free fall.
  • You can take up more extreme aspects of the sport, like BASE (Building, Antenna, Span, Earth) jumping.
  • You can try night jumping.

There are also the professional aspects of skydiving, like teaching and stunt skydiving in movies and TV shows (see, for example, Joe Jennings Freefall Cinematography or