How to Start Skydiving [Part 2]

The Definitive Guide to Achieving Solo Free Fall

Want to skydive? Meet just a few requirements, and you'll be in the air.
Want to skydive? Meet just a few requirements, and you'll be in the air. Image © Joel Strickland (varialfreefly.com)

<< Continued From Part 1

If the idea of a tandem skydive does not appeal to you, look for a drop zone that will allow you to move directly into the solo training program. Many experienced skydivers believe that completing a tandem first is an unnecessary, expensive step, and wish they had begun their journey to a skydiving license with a non-tandem student jump. Skydivers who do the latter report a much greater feeling of accomplishment and increased confidence.

(One great little hack: indoor skydiving. Most vertical wind tunnels offer introductory programs for skydivers-to-be.)

3. Choose a training method.

Most drop zones offer one or both of the below training methods of new-skydiver training. Familiarize yourself with them and choose the one that best fits your schedule and personality. Both methods begin with a few hours of ground school, during which the instructor familiarizes the student with the equipment and safety procedures. Once the student demonstrates a basic working knowledge of these subjects, both teacher and student gear up and board the plane.

  • Accelerated Free-Fall Certification (AFF): On an AFF jump, the student leaves the aircraft accompanied by two instructors. The three free fall together for approximately 30 to 50 seconds, depending on the altitude at which they leave the plane. On the first AFF jump, both instructors hold on to the student's harness and grips sewn on to the student's jumpsuit. The instructors give instruction via signals demonstrated during ground school, as well as assisting the student in maintaining stability. At break-off altitude -- approximately 4,000 feet -- the instructors let go, giving the student clear air space to deploy his or her own parachute. The student then self-pilots to the landing area, either with or without the help of a radio attached to the helmet (depending on the drop zone). As the AFF training progresses over the course of the next jumps, the student demonstrates a series of simple skills during free fall.
  • Static Line / Instructor-Assisted Deployment (IAD): These are very similar training programs. In both, the parachute is activated upon the student's exit from the plane via a "static line." A static line is either a line of cable or high-strength fabric webbing. One end is attached to the aircraft. The other end is attached to the parachute's deployment bag. At about 3,500 feet, the instructor helps the student climb out of the aircraft and prepare for the jump. When the student lets go and falls away, the static line immediately starts the deployment of the parachute. The student then self-pilots to the landing area, either with or without the help of a radio attached to the helmet (depending on the drop zone).

    4. Earn your license.

    The USPA, as well as regulating drop zone procedures, is also the authority that issues licenses and certifications to skydivers.

    The USPA issues four skydiving licenses: A, B, C and D. Either of the training methods will take you to the point of earning your A license, at which point you will complete a few more coach-supervised jumps and then be signed off to jump alone at any USPA or related international drop zone. As you continue to skydive, you'll earn the other licenses.

    5. Skydive, skydive, skydive.

    Don't stop. Especially at the beginning, it's emotionally difficult to do a recurrency jump. The more consistently you get to the drop zone, the more comfortable you will become with the equipment and procedures -- and the more quickly the fear will cede to enjoyment.