Is Skydiving Dangerous? cover image

Is Skydiving Dangerous?

By Gavin Marsh

hobby

Skydiving

What I have learned falling from Aeroplanes:

Introduction

I did my first Skydive on 3rd March 2003, I had seen an advert on TV of someone skydiving and I thought it looked like a fun activity to try, so I chatted to one of my more adventurous friends and asked him if he would like to try it out with me. That was fifteen years ago and I have now done 192 skydives’ from twenty different types of aeroplanes in around six different countries. 192 jumps is a very small number mind, with some jumpers having accumulated in the tens of thousands of jumps.

I've taken many years out but it always seems to pull me back in certainly during the summer when the sky is pure blue and you just get the urge to be amongst it. It's not just a solo sport or activity but more of a team outing even when you are doing solo jumps for fun the camaraderie continues in the aeroplane as well as the ground.

This article is about the things I have learned about skydiving as a hobby so far.

So to answer the click bait title... is it dangerous?

Well, in a word no, it really isn't, although may sound like bollocks, it really is no where near as dangerous as it sounds. In fact skydiving is actually extremely well regulated and can be quite tedious at times with all of the safety checks involved and supervision from the drop-zone management. The act of jumping out of aeroplanes is dangerous in and of itself and most certainly if you do not pay attention to the regulated (and personal) safety drills then the probability of having an accident is very high, but lets face your not going to switch of your brain if your jumping from an aeroplane, not unless your a complete idiot and unfortunately like any sport we do have some idiots within the Skydiving ranks. On the whole, most if not all accidents in Skydiving are caused by individuals not paying attention or being lax about the skydiving club or their own safety rules.

Every Skydiving drop-zone (the airfield where skydiving takes place) that I have visited takes safety extremely seriously and it is absolutely the forefront of everything that they do.

With safety aside the Skydiving community is one of the friendliest and camaraderie hobbies I have taken part in, you really do make friends for life and these friends will most definitely span the globe and come from all walks of life.

So lets get down to the nitty gritty, "What’s in it for me?"...

Skydiving has many flavours

There are many types of skydiving and parachuting to try out, offering bigger, better scarier for the adrenalin junkies or smooth and technical for the more reframed analytical types among us. There really is something for everyone in the world of Skydiving. Here are the most popular styles I’ve come across:

  • Standard Skydiving
  • Tandem Skydiving
  • Static Line
  • Formation jumping
  • Freeflying
  • Wingsuit flying
  • Proximity flying
  • Canopy formation
  • BASE-jumping
  • Indoor Skydiving

Standard skydiving

Often known as ‘fun jumps’, a standard skydive is a purely recreational experience done for the rush of free fall and majestic views while soaring to the ground. There are plenty of skydiving clubs around where you can meet like-minded people and share the fun of jumping.

Tandem Skydiving

This is the easiest way to dip your brave toe into the world of Skydiving, you basically climb into a harness and get strapped to a qualified and experience Tandem instructor who jumps out of the plane and handles all of the technical aspects of the jump, like pulling the rip cord for the parachute. It's okay for a day out but it doesn't really give you the true feeling of what skydiving is all about and why most people choice this hobby in the first place. The freedom of flying through the air and the space around you that it provides. However a Tandem jump is a nice way to introduce someone to the sport if they are a little nervous.

Static Line

This is where you jump out of an aeroplane on your own but your main canopy is connected to the inside of the aeroplane by a static line, Upon jumping the line pulls a cover off the cute and releases the canopy. Static lines are used for beginner Skydivers to get them used to exiting and opening on heading while being stable. You might be familiar with this kind of jumping from war films where they use static line to deploy many soldiers safely and quickly from an aircraft.

Formation Skydiving

This is the sport of jumping from the aeroplane with a group of friends or team mates (if you've gone pro) and trying to stay relative to one another i.e. at the same height and falling speed, hence also being known as ‘relative work’. The aim of the game is to exit the aircraft falling to the earth with your belly facing down and try to get as many points (grips) as possible using movement skills and by holding on to each other’s arms and legs. Formations can number from two-ways to groups numbering in the hundreds.

This is me doing some relative work during a refresher (fun jump) with a friend.

Freeflying

This is a form or aerial acrobatics that involves building a series of formations in a mix of upright and head-down orientations. Jumpers fly in all body positions around each other although often in the head up position in pre-planned patterns. Vertical head down formation skydiving is another variation of Freeflying at the more advanced skill level of the Freeflying spectrum.

Wingsuit flying

One of the most recent forms of Skydiving is jumping while wearing a Wingsuit. These are specially designed, aerodynamic jumpsuits that use technical fabric to create rigid wings between the arms and legs of the jumper. This means they can cover large distances horizontally.

Proximity flying

The extreme end of the Wingsuit scale, Proximity flying is the art of flying as close to an object as possible for the longest time possible (that your nerve, sanity will allow), usually the side of a cliff, building or in extreme circumstances just the ground itself or sod-it a hole in a cave.

Canopy formation

Also known as ‘canopy relative work,' this is formation skydiving that takes place after the chute has opened. Because of this the jumpers open their chutes the moment they leave the aeroplane to give maximum time for canopy work.

BASE jumping

The name is an acronym describing an activity where jumpers launch from fixed objects. BASE stands for Building-Antenna-Span (usually bridges) and Earth (usually cliffs).

Started in the late 1970s by a small group led by filmmaker Carl Boenish, now of the more infamous styles of Skydiving. Largely because it is highly visual (with jumpers taking off from high inner city apartment blocks) and because it is usually considered dangerous and often illegal depending on what and where you are jumping from.

Freefall style and accuracy landing

As well as adrenaline, skydiving is all about style, grace and accuracy, in a competitive sense. Which is why these are often known as the ‘classics’ of skydiving. A jumper in order to score points against his friends or competitors will perform a routine in the air while freefalling and then once their chute has been deployed the goal is to attempt to land as close to a pre-designated point (usually a large white painted bulls eye) on the airfields landing zone.

Canopy piloting

This is also sometimes known as ‘swooping’. Experienced jumpers will use a small canopy to weight (load) ratio and spiral down to the drop zone creating forward speed they will then pull down on the front risers creating greater speed and then at the last minute flare the canopy and swoop as low to the ground and for as long as possible. The faster the approach and the longer the swoop the more kudos they gain from other fellow swoops. Looks amazing to watch but is highly technical to execute correctly with a very small margin for error and hence considered to be one of the more dangerous Skydiving activities.

Indoor Skydiving (Wind-Tunnels/Tunnel-Work)

Indoor Skydiving in a wind tunnel is a bit of a wild card, they are a great place to experience freefall, simulating the sensations of falling through the air, but indoor skydiving is also a sport in itself. Many people think that skydiving wind tunnels are simply a place to try the experience of freefall before jumping from a plane but there are various indoor skydiving competitions throughout the year so teams will conduct training wind tunnel camps to help them improve.

There are also skydivers who just use wind tunnels to improve upon there ability in freefall, you improve and you increase the range of skills you have. The usual set up would be that you pay for 2-3 minute tunnel time slots and go back to back with another skydiver or team, so you fly for 2-3min and then exit the tunnel and allow the next person or team to enter (there is a big digital clock displayed with a count down timer and some tunnels will flash red to indicate your flight time is up). For debriefing most of the tunnels have HD recording and will play the last time slot on a screen in the waiting/holding area so after you exit the tunnel you can then watch your flight back to see where you need to improve, if you are training with an instructor then this will be when they debrief you on what to work on next. The HD playback will end and it will be your time to jump back into the tunnel again. This means you get to experience many jumps back-to-back which usually steepens the learning curve and allows you to progress faster in your understanding of how to control the airflow and your body during freefall.

Here's me with an instructor working on my freeflying.

Summary

So to round it all up, if your a crazy BASE jumper who loves Swooping on landings and doesn't pay much attention to there own or others health and safety, then yes Skydiving is a dangerous sport for both you and any one around you when jumping. But if your like most people and are generally safety conscious, if not for your own well being but for those around you then Skydiving is a very safe and extremely rewarding activity/sport.

Final thoughts

There are so many pluses to Skydiving that I would strongly urge anyone who has even a slight interest to check go and take a day trip to your local drop-zone, head down there with some friends or family and make a day of it. you will not be disappointed and even if it's just to have a chat with some fellow Skydivers to get a feel for things you will be most welcomed even by the crazy BASE/Proximity/Swooper jumpers.

Published on March 28, 2019.

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