Skydiving, also known as parachuting is when someone falls to earth from an aircraft intending to use a parachute for the descent. This can be from a hot-air balloon, a microlight, a paraglider as well as a plane. The parachute can be round, but most modern parachutes are square, known as ram-air parachutes. Skydivers use a “two-parachute system,” which is a backpack that contains the main parachute and a reserve, or backup, parachute in case the main one malfunctions. To ensure total safety skydiving systems have a device installed which opens the reserve parachute in when the skydiver does not or is unable to open their own parachute unaided.
Experienced skydivers jump between a range of 7,500 to 15,000 feet (2,300 to 4,600 metres) above ground level, which means a freefall of between 40 and 85 seconds, which is the time between leaving the aircraft and deploying the parachute and the speed of this freefall is between 110 to 130 miles per hour (180 to 210 km per hour). Using extended-wing “birdman” suits reduces that speed to about 40 miles per hour. The usual altitude to deploy a parachute is about 2,500 feet as usual. First, a pilot chute is released by pulling an attached cord, which acts to pull the main parachute out from the backpack. The main parachute increases air resistance so the fall speed drops to 10 mph as the skydiver can steer and sail gently to the ground.
Whilst skydiving does not require you to be super-fit, or under a certain age, or have a set of honed skills, parachuting has been taken to the extreme ever since the first parachute jump ever recorded. The inventor of the parachute, Andre-Jacques Garnerin made the first skydive in Paris on 22 October 1797. His wife, Jeanne Genevieve Labrosse, became the first woman to ascend solo and fly a parachute.
Learn to skydive
For a great adrenaline rush, skydiving is one of the extreme sports where it is easy to start. This is because the first is a tandem jump, where you are strapped to an experienced instructor, so you dive together. Generally, a tandem skydive is taken at 7,000-feet, which gives 10 seconds of freefall before the chute opens.
Whilst the freefall element of skydiving is adrenaline-filled, the deployment of the parachute leads to calm tranquillity where you have a wonderful, calm, birds-eye view of the world.
Parachuting as a sport took off in the 1950s, though it was commonly used as a means of deployment in the Second World War. The sport has grown, and there are several competitive skydiving events including:
Classical style: a series of timed acrobatic manoeuvres.
Accuracy trials: the skydiver aims to land on a 5cm (1.97-inch) target for a number of jumps.
Relative work in freefall: a group of skydivers create a prescribed series of formations.
Canopy relative work: a group of skydivers created formations after their chutes have opened.
Freestyle: a mix of free-form acrobatic and gymnastic manoeuvres by the diver combined with relative work involving a videographer.
Skysurfing: using a surfboard-like device for freestyle acrobatics during freefall.
Bladerunning: Manoeuvring a parachute through a pylon course of airblades (wind flags)— mounted about 15 feet above the ground on thin poles.
Luke Aikins set a record for being the first diver to jump without a parachute or wingsuit. In July 2016, his stunt called ‘Heaven Sent’, had Luke flip onto his back onto a safety net, with literally not a second to spare.
Jeb is famed for jumping from structures, including the Eiffel Tower and the Christ Redeemer statue in Brazil. In 2013, his jump, known as the ‘dagger’, had him jump out of a helicopter in a wingsuit and fly through a 15-foot wide crack in Mount Jianglang in China.
Felix broke the sound barrier in 2012, setting a record of the first person to do so without the aid of a motor. More recently he jumped to earth from a helium balloon up in the Stratosphere.
Jay Stokes celebrated his 50th birthday by completing 640 parachute jumps in 24 hours. That’s one every 2.25 minutes.