If skydiving is more than just a one-time, bucket-list adventure for you, then you may want to get qualified to jump solo. This means earning a USPA A License, which requires demonstration of certain freefall and canopy flying skills and completion of a minimum of 25 instructor-supervised jumps. There are three types of beginner skydiver training: tandem freefall, accelerated freefall (AFF), and instructor-assisted deployment (IAD)/static line. You can find out more about each one here, and decide which might be the right choice for you. USPA issues four skydiving licenses, A through D, indicating progressive levels of skill and accomplishment.
Designed as a resource for first-time jumpers, the USPA Online Ground School is not a complete skydiving course. It gives newbies an introduction to the equipment and concepts needed for their maiden jump and serves as a refresher for those who may not have jumped in quite a while.
Vertical Wind Tunnel Training
Both rank beginners and professional parachutists use vertical wind tunnels, also known as indoor skydiving centers, to hone their freefall skills. In the tunnel, your freefall time is not limited to the typical 60 seconds of a real jump, and you don’t have to worry about chute packing and airplane exit procedures. You can hire a coach to teach you some nifty body flight maneuvers or just get better acclimated to the sensation of freefall and the wind hitting you at terminal velocity of 120 mph.
Check3GPS Readiness Quotient
Your supervisor may use the following checklist to determine if you have adequately addressed the risk factors for skydiving. If you can answer “yes” to all the questions below, you should be good to go!
1. Did you receive your initial skydiving training through the United States Parachute Association (USPA) or a USPA-approved jump school?
2. Have you sought advice from a friend who is a seasoned skydiver or a USPA-member skydiving center or local airport?
3. If you own your own equipment:
a. Have you ensured your equipment is in good condition, including your current reserve chute?
b. Have you checked that your equipment is compatible and within usage limitations?
c. Do you perform a thorough inspection prior to repacking your main canopy or downing (stitching, connectors, rips/tears, lines, canopy, reserve canopy pins)?
4. Do you jump with an automatic activation device (AAD)?
5. Do you perform a function check before every jump?
6. Do you review general emergency procedures every 30 days?
7. Do you review emergency procedures for each pilot chute deployment system before each jump?
8. Do you factor into your skydiving plan your trip to and from the skydiving site (fatigue, road conditions, weather, nutrition and hydration)?
9. If your last jump was not very recent, do you plan to take a refresher course?
10. Do you abstain from alcohol consumption at least 12 hours prior to any skydiving and while skydiving?
This checklist has been adapted from the Pacific Air Forces High Risk Activities Guide.
Top Hazards And How To Mitigate Them
1. IMPROPER RIG PACKING
Mitigate: The FAA requires that the main and reserve parachute must be packed by a FAA-certified and appropriately rated parachute rigger or a trained individual under the supervision of a certified rigger. The detailed procedures for proper parachute packing are laid out in the 350-page Parachute Rigger Handbook. The chute must be packed in the container in the correct orientation, and the lines must be stowed in such a way as to reduce the risk of entanglement on deployment.
2. OVERDUE MAIN AND RESERVE CHUTE REPACKING
Mitigate: Your main parachute must be regularly repacked and inspected for mold, mildew and other damage. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines and state regulations regarding the recommended repacking interval, which can range from 60 days to one year depending on the parachute material and prevailing climate conditions. The FAA requires that reserve chutes be repacked and inspected every 180 days, regardless of whether they have been deployed, if the parachute system is made of materials substantially resistant to mold, mildew, or other rotting agents. If the chutes contain more degradable materials, such as silk, they must be repacked every 60 days.
3. NONFUNCTIONAL AUTOMATIC ACTIVATION DEVICE (AAD)
Mitigate: If you should become incapacitated or otherwise unable to deploy your canopy, your AAD will do it for you at a set speed and altitude. If you purchase your own AAD, make certain that it conforms to Parachute Industry Association (PIA) standards and that you have read the manufacturer’s instructions for use and maintenance of the device. Whether you own or rent your AAD, conduct a pre-jump check using the manufacturer’s recommended procedures for proper setting, arming, and operational status verification. To ensure that the AAD is set at the proper altitude and under current weather conditions, do the pre-jump check before boarding the aircraft. This is especially important when the AAD has adjustable activation settings, and when the elevations of the landing and departure areas differ.
4. UNCERTIFIED/NON-REPUTABLE ORGANIZATIONS
Mitigate: Only jump with a skydive center (aka “drop zone”) that is a United States Parachute Association (USPA) Group Member. USPA Group Members abide by the USPA Basic Safety Requirements, and use current USPA-certified instructors, equipment and instruction methods. There are more than 200 USPA Group Member skydiving centers across the country. Your skydiving instructor should have a USPA D-license and have completed at least 500 total jumps.
5. UNSAFE WEATHER CONDITIONS
Mitigate: Reputable skydiving centers will not let you jump in unsafe weather conditions. Heavy cloud cover, for example, can obscure other jumpers and aircraft as well as the landing area below. The Federal Aviation Administration mandates that skydivers maintain a minimum distance of 500 feet under, 1,000 feet over, and 2,000 feet horizontally from clouds. In addition, flight visibility must be at least three miles. High winds and gusty conditions are also risky. On hot, windy days, skydivers can get caught in downdrafts close to the ground, making for an accelerated and potentially dangerous landing. A 10-mph wind will drift a skydiver a half a mile in a normal 3,000-foot descent under canopy; as a result, skydivers don't typically jump when the winds are greater than 20 to 30 mph. The USPA limits solo students using ram-air canopies to a maximum ground wind speed of 14 mph
Perfect Your Parachute Landing Fall Technique
The majority of skydiving mishaps occur on landing, causing ankle and lower-leg injuries. There are two ways you can reduce your risk of suffering this type of adverse skydiving outcome: One is to wear sturdy, ankle-supporting boots, and the other is learn and practice a technique called the Parachute Landing Fall (PLF).
Developed by the Army’s Parachute Training School during WWII, the PLF is an emergency procedure deployed during rough landings meant to evenly distribute the shock of impact over a larger area of the body and a longer length of time and to prevent the parachutist’s head, elbows and hands from hitting the ground.
Although today’s rectangular “ram-air” parachutes are designed to be more docile and controllable than the round chutes of yesteryear and generally provide a softer landing, turbulent ground winds and other tricky conditions can still lead to unexpectedly steep and/or fast descents. That’s why the USPA still teaches students the proper PLF body position and technique.
Knees and feet pressed together
Chin to chest
Elbows and hands tucked into body
In the event of a rough landing, roll along the side of one leg, thigh and buttock, in that order, and then across the back to the opposite shoulder. Keeping your head forward and chin to chest, lift your legs off the ground and roll over. Remember the order in which your body parts should hit the ground when executing a proper PLF:
Balls of the feet
Side of the calf
Side of the upper leg
Back of the hip/upper butt
Side of the back
To ensure that you will be able to execute the PLF in the flurry of an emergency landing, be sure to perform many repetitions from an elevated platform. For further guidance, check out the following instructional article and video:
Associations & Websites
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