- This article is about a recreational activity. For the Bulgarian suicide method, see Sky Diving.
“ If at first you don't succeed, skydiving ain't your sport.”
Skydiving involves jumping out of a perfectly good and functional airplane mid-air, parachuting to the ground, and not breaking your femur when you land. Why? Because someone had left the door open. Unlike most other sports, such as golf, tennis, football or basketball, which require one ball to practise, skydiving requires two.
Assuming they want to survive the landing and jump again and one is not a bird, bat or a flying squirrel, every skydiver must use a parachute. Most usually jump out of an aeroplane usually either in flight (as opposed to just sitting on the ground) or an aircraft that very very recently WAS in flight, before it started to plummet from the sky in smoke and flames. It's a good idea to jump from a sufficient altitude to allow the parachute to inflate and slow the terrifying headlong fall to certain death. Some skydivers also jump tall buildings, high bridges, large cliffs, small dogs, naked people, clothed people -- heck, skydivers will jump anything. They are either adrenaline junkies who will do any insanities to get their daily fix or horny, oversexed hedonists who can't be trusted with anything that has holes in it.
Common sense would dictate that a larger parachute would be safer, and this is, in fact, the case. Larger parachutes are slower and more docile, greatly reducing the risk of injury.
But, since skydivers are generally not admired for their common sense, most skydivers choose to jump very very small parachutes, often called "canopies," that are very fast, highly maneuverable, and very likely going to hurt someone in a spectacular life-threatening impact that will probably be videoed and posted on YouTube within minutes. It's a fact in skydiving that the smaller your parachute, the larger your penis. So ladies, next time you see a guy land a parachute the size of a beach towel, you know he's packing.
Modern parachutes, made of synthetic nylon and a host of high-tech materials, are much more reliable than the old 'round' silk parachtes of yesteryear. In fact, they are much too reliable for the serious skydiver seeking to risk life and limb in an adrenaline-enhancing plunge to earth, so many continue to experiment with new designs that can increase the sense of sudden fright and unexpected terror once so common in the sport. Two such parachutes are worn: a main parachute designed to be as difficult to pack up as possible and to open inconsistently, giving the modern jumper the same feeling of dread and uncertainty as in the old days; and the reserve parachute, designed to support professional parachute packers, known as 'riggers' (as in "this raw deal must be rigged somehow") who claim with a straight face that the reserve chute must be repacked, used or not, every 6 months for a handsome fee.
The safest parachutes are made by Strong Enterprises -- they are perfectly safe and well designed by Sed Ttrong. A Strong parachute is well made, designed to last and will never be subject to a safety recall ever. A skydiver is much less likely to die from gear design flaws and deterioration if they use a parachute made by Strong.
Unsafe gear is made by Sun Path, such as their Javelin "death trap" Odyssey. Micron, Wings, Icon, Velocity and Mirage parachute gear is also considered to be unsafe and much more likely to kill the jumper without even swooping.
Most beginning skydivers carry an altimeter, or height gauge, which tells them how far above the hard, unforgiving ground they are. It is usually mounted on the wrist. Most experienced skydivers however, 'eyeball' it, because they are too cool to be wearing what looks like a goofy wrist watch. In the Anglosphere, the altimeter reading is in feet. Elsewhere in the the world, metres. The usual jump altitude is in US 12,500 ft and elsewhere in the world 4000 m. It is advisable to follow the altimeter reading to avoid undesired consequences of negligence.
Helmets are also commonly worn, much to the bafflement of onlookers wondering what good they will do, not realizing how important the helmets are in keeping the head sweaty and the hair matted firmly to the skull, giving skydivers that coveted "helmet head" hairdo.
A special, custom fitted jumpsuit helps keep the otherwise flailing body in control while in freefall. Most skydivers wear brightly coloured jumpsuits, so they can be easily seen and can show off how bad ass they are, unless they are skydiving naked -- a not uncommon practice (see above). Despite the bright colours of their jumpsuits, skydivers should not be confused with the Houston Astros of the 1970s
Some skydivers also mortgage their homes to purchase an expensive, electronic "automatic activation device" costing thousands of dollars and designed to support the companies that manufacture them by bilking customers out of hundreds of dollars every few years to replace the expensive batteries, inspect the units and declare them out of date every 12 years, forcing the customers to purchase brand new units that will accidentally deploy the reserve parachute into the perfectly good main parachute, causing them to entangle and collapse, giving the skydiver that wonderful old sense of sudden fright and unexpected terror as they plummet to their death.
Skydiving generally takes place from an aircraft missing a large, secure door that is flying up in the sky, or one that is quickly disintegrating as it hurtles to the ground in a burning, twisting hulk of sheared metal and smoking debris. Some of the more common skydiving planes are old, beat-up Cessna 182s and Cessna Caravans, long-neglected and poorly maintained Twin Otters, perfectly good King Airs that fly contraband below radar when they aren't hauling jumpers, World War Two vintage DC-3s and ancient Beech 18s that nobody else will dare fly. More recently, the only airplane supposedly ever actually designed for skydiving is essentially an overgrown, redesigned crop duster from New Zealand with a Canadian engine, so nobody is really sure which way the prop is supposed to turn, or how much alcohol should be in the fuel mixture. And it doesn't even have a proper name. If you are in Eastern Europe or Russia, you most likely will jump off Soviet Union era Antonov An-2 biplane. In United Kingdom they favour Short Skyvans with rear doors resembling the business end of a garbage truck.
Planes must be certified for recreational parachuting. This involves thoroughly trashing the interior, installing a kick-ass stereo system and speakers, chipping away most of the paint and replacing it with clever bumper stickers and duct tape, removing all the seats if there are any, and bolting seatbelts to the bare floor which the FAA mandates must be worn so as to give skydivers a false sense of security should the pilot elect to crash the aircraft on takeoff.
In general, to be certified for parachuting, the planes are made as uncomfortable to sit in as possible, and as slow to climb without raising suspicion so that skydivers will be encouraged to jump out of the airplane rather than endure riding in it a minute longer.
Skydiving is a great sport with many disciplines and skills to master. In reality, they are all just variations of what we call 'falling'. Falling right side up is counted as a completely separate discipline than falling upside down. Many skydivers like to pretend they are sitting in an invisible chair while falling, and have very active imaginations! The most popular disciplines include formation skydiving (also known as relative work), Canopy Formation (also known as Canopy Relative Work, or CReW), and Freeflying (but actually costing just as much as regular skydiving).
Formation Skydiving Formation Skydiving a.k.a. belly flying is the carefully planned art of falling out of an aeroplane while holding onto someone else. While this might seem an obvious and intuitive thing to do, given the terrifying nature of the activity, in practice its is quite hard to accomplish. Skydivers carefully rehearse the dive on the ground before attempting it in the air, in a pre-jump ritual known as dirt diving -- no kidding. Intricate, beautiful patterns, or formations, are meticulously choreographed and practiced, with each jumper given a slot, an assigned grip point and designated orientation in mid-air. Each completed formation is called a 'point.' Once in the plane and over the jump spot, the skydivers huddle together in the open door, fighting the blistering wind, clutching onto each other for dear life as they tumble out the aircraft in a spinning, rolling mass of humanity before being quickly flung apart, bodies flying uncontrollably in every direction. Most usually regain consciousness in time to deploy their parachutes before cratering into the ground.
Canopy Formation Skydivers too scared to experience the horrors of free-fall often deploy their parachutes just as soon as they can after leaving the aircraft, and instead substitute the insanity of flying their parachutes into each other. If the hapless jumper manages to grab hold of some part of the other jumper's equipment, body or whatever, and if the canopies do not wrap themselves up into a tangled, spinning pin-wheel, nor rip themselves into shreds of worthless fabric, and if the suspension lines do not cut the jumpers in half or strip their skin clean to the bones, as they so often want to do, and if the canopies somehow miraculously stay inflated and flying in more or less the same direction, the resulting collision is called a canopy formation.... which then may wrap up into a nasty mess killing everybody involved.
Freeflying (A.k.a. lawn darts) Skydivers unable to fall stable relative to the earth, instead cartwheeling about, head down, feet first, on their backs, careening about the sky, narrowly missing other unstable jumpers, and often reaching blazing speeds of several hundreds of miles per hour as they scream (sometimes literally) straight down out of the cold sky are engaging in the discipline of "Freeflying".
Wingsuit Skydivers not satisfied with the obvious level of risk of malfunctioning parachute equipment. They put on a winged suit that restricts their arm and leg movement effectively hindering their ability to deal with mailfunctions. First they have to unzip and "get out". The winged jumpers soar happily on the winds like eagles, each of them convinced by the hopeless idea that if the parachute equipment fails completely then they can just "glide it off" as their wings can lower the vertical speed to 30mph - while the horizontal speed of 150 mph is just considered a minor problem.
Other Disciplines There are many other aspects and areas of specialization in the sport, including Accuracy, where jumpers compete to see how far they miss landing on a target; Swooping where jumpers perform low, sharp turns close to the ground and compete to see how long a trench they can dig with their toes as they plough into the earth tumbling, rolling or splatting upon impact; Skysurfing, where especially narcissistic jumpers who imagine themselves to be comic book super heroes convince gullible friends to jump with them and take their picture as they spin wildly out of control with their legs tightly locked in place to a rigid board; and Drinking, easily the most common and popular activity, where jumpers replenish their courage and fortitude for the next day's bold assault on the heavens, often while working on their creative fiction skills filling in a thing called a log book.
The drop zone culture is an odd blend of one-half ski club, one-half motorcycle gang, and one-half frat house. Yes, that's one and a half, which is exactly the point. Imagine the motorcycle gang consisting of both Harleys and rice rockets, and that's kinda the thing between belly flyers and free flyers - they pretend to hate each other, but they both defend the common interest against the uninitiated. Much like a ski club, everyone on the drop zone has at some time dated or slept with somebody else who in turn has dated/slept with another person and so on such that there is almost always a connection between any two DZ regulars, in fact multiple ways to make the connection. It's kinda like the internet - lots of connections and access points and parts of it go down a lot. For the first timer, the drop zone resembles a loonie bin. It is always nice to meet people who are even more insane than you are.
Skydivers have their own slang, with words, gestures and symbols unknown to most other people. Here are some:
- Whuffo: Someone who does not skydive, i.e. has enough common sense not to participate in potentially dangerous pastime with potentially fatal outcomes. Such as whuffo you jump off that there plane?
- DZ: Drop zone, the location where the skydiving is practised. Consists usually airstrip, club house, chute packing hall, landing area and crash site.
- 100 Jump Wonder: This is a derogatory term for a jumper who has just gotten his licence and some experience, but not much, he who thinks they know it all. It is short hand for egotistical, self centered, cocky and pathologically clueless.
- First. Never say that aloud. If you answer: Hey, nice rig you have there. Is this how many jump of yours with it? as My first, you owe the jumpmaster a case of beer.
- Bounce. This one is nasty. It is "to land with an unsurviveable speed" so that your lifeless body will bounce after hitting the ground. You don't owe a case of beer after a bounce.
- Land off: You did not land in the designated landing area. This could happen for a variety of reasons.
- You screwed up. You didn’t go where you were supposed to go. You weren’t paying attention. You tracked the wrong way or too far.
- You were too far downwind of the landing zone. This can happen to students because your canopy is huge and you cannot penetrate (another nice piece of suggestive slang. Try to ignore it) and make forward momentum. If you look between your feet aloft as you head into the wind and the ground doesn’t move under you, you cannot penetrate the wind. You’re screwed.
- You had a bad “spot”. This means when you jumped, you thought you were in a good place and you could get where you need to, but you were wrong. A bad spot is always your own fault, no matter what other jumpers did.
- Hop and Pop: This means you jump out of the plane at a lower altitude and deploy your canopy as soon as you get stable, usually within a few seconds. Classic hop ‘n pop altitude as 3,500 feet or 1200 m. Why would you do this, you ask? It is something you must do once as part of your A license because this is how you would exit the plane in case of an emergency. Lots of high performance sport jumper (like swoopers) do this on purpose all day long because they are all about the canopy work and landing.
- Swoop: To rapidly dive toward the ground like a WWII dive bomber and then make a [hopefully] controlled approach relative to a target.
- Sunset Load: This is the last load of the day, which unsurprisingly happens at sunset. This is a fun load for a number of reasons. The tandems are usually done and it’s mostly all fun jumpers and regulars. It is beautiful! Skydivers love the sky and really appreciate the beauty of a sunset. It has a more relaxed and playful atmosphere. People do interesting things like jump naked.
If merely jumping off a perfectly good and functional airplane mid-air didn't give you good enough vibes and adrenaline rush to satisfy your addiction, there are several harder stuffs available.
- Join a World War Two re-enactment group and say you want to re-enact a paratrooper. You get to jump in full combat gear and weapon off a DC-3 with an old-fashioned round parachute, which may work or not. Bonus vibes from knowing you will never know where you will land and how.
- HALO means high altitude, low opening where "high" can mean 30,000 ft and "low" 1,000 ft. You get to combine skydiving and SCUBA diving since air is very thin at high altitudes and you need extra oxygen to breathe.
- Jump with a flightsuit. You get to re-enact a flying squirrel.
- Jump at night. Be careful not to collide with the suddenly approaching ground. It is advisable to use an illuminated altimeter.
- Jump over water. That's the way the US Navy Seals do it.
- Join the French Foreign Legion and say you want to become a paratrooper.
- Open the three ring release system mid-air and practise deploying your reserve chute.
- BASE means Buildings, Aerials, Spans, Earth i.e. jumping off a solid ground, such as balcony, public broadcast antenna, chimney, bridge or cliff. This is both insanely dangerous and illegal in most parts of the world, so you get extra bonus vibes from dodging the security guards and police officers.
- One Yves Rossy, a Swiss airline pilot and all-round awesome dude, has devised a wearable wing with four tiny jet engines of the type used on remote controlled model airplanes, allowing him to use his own body as the fuselage of the world's smallest manned aircraft. Equipped with enough fuel for about 3 minutes of flight, he has a parachute he opens once he runs out of fuel. He's in his 50s and looking for, in his words, "a younger guy" to keep the endeavor alive in the event that his health ever prevents him from continuing it himself. Is known by the monikers "Jetman" and "Fusionman" for his wearable wing escapades.
- Jump over the Johnny Redneck's Farm. Bonus vibes if Gramps Redneck comes to chase you off from his hemp patch with a shotgun.
- Throw your chute pack first off the airplane, then jump after it, and put it on during the free fall.
- Hijack an airplane and do as D.B. Cooper did.
- Watch all James Bond movies and try re-enacting all the jumps in those flicks.