Learning To Skydive: Your Complete Guide

I began my skydiving journey with the Freefall University near Madrid, and here, I aim to share my insights and experiences to assist you on your own skydiving adventure.

Understanding what is Skydiving?

Skydiving is an epic sport that involves jumping from an aircraft and descending towards the earth. It involves a period of freefall followed by the opening of a parachute. The descent in freefall typically takes place at a speed of approximately 120 mph and lasts between 30 seconds and 75 seconds depending on the altitude of the plane and when you deploy your chute.

Tandem Skydiving versus Solo Skydiving

There are two primary forms of skydiving for beginners – tandem and solo. Tandem jumps are an excellent introduction to the sport, where you’re connected via a harness to an experienced instructor who guides the jump and controls the parachute. Solo jumps, on the other hand, are performed independently, but only after training.

Tandems are great one off experiences or a way to test whether the sport is for you. However, it is a misconception that you need to do a tandem before going solo. I was surprised by this. But I have never done a tandem and dove straight into the AFF course, more on that below.

What is Indoor Skydiving?

Indoor skydiving utilizes wind tunnels to simulate the sensation of freefall. This can be a useful way to practice technique and gain confidence. It is often used alongside an AFF course to practice technique, especially if you fail a level. However, Indoor skydiving is emerging as a discipline in its own right, independent of traditional skydiving. Some of the moves people pull of today are incredible.

What are the different skydiving licenses: UK, USA, and Europe?

Skydiving qualifications differ slightly across the UK, USA, and Europe, but all share common principles.

In the UK, the British Parachute Association (BPA) provides four main license grades: ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’, with the ‘A’ license being the first step in becoming a qualified solo skydiver. Each license requires a certain number of jumps, specific skills, and varying levels of theoretical knowledge. If you complete your A license in the UK it is generally recognised world wide.

USA skydiving is overseen by the United States Parachute Association (USPA). They offer five licenses: ‘A’ through ‘E’. Like the BPA, each license has requirements of jump numbers, skills, and knowledge. The ‘A’ license is the novice skydiver’s license.

In Europe, the license structure is similar, but the governing bodies differ by country. The European Skydiving Licenses (ESL) offer a harmonized qualification that’s recognized across participating European nations. They provide ‘A’ to ‘D’ licenses, each building on the skills and experience of the previous level.

BPA AFF Course and UK Skydiving Licenses

The BPA categorizes licenses into A, B, C and D. The A License authorizes you to skydive unsupervised and requires 10 jumps after either static line training or AFF training. A great achievement and awesome feeling. After this the training continues though to open up more disciplines, techniques and further down the line professional jobs from skydiving.

B Licenses, requiring 50 jumps, enables skydivers to act as Jumpmaster and wear a full face helment. You can also complete your Formation Skydiving 1 rating after your A license to allow you to skydive with others. C Licenses, requiring 200 jumps permits carrying a camera and the first levels of being an instructor.

Static Line versus Accelerated Freefall in the UK

In the UK, two common methods of skydiving instruction exist: Static Line Training and Accelerated Freefall (AFF).

Static Line Training is an older method where you jump from the plane with your parachute line attached to the aircraft. This ‘static line’ triggers the automatic deployment of your parachute shortly after exit. You begin with several ground training sessions, then proceed to solo jumps where your focus is primarily on the parachute control and landing, as the opening of the parachute is taken care of automatically. As you progress, you will learn how to manually deploy your parachute.

Accelerated Freefall (AFF) offers a faster route into freefall skydiving. After ground training, your first jump will be from full altitude (approximately 15,000 feet), accompanied by two instructors holding onto you. In AFF, the emphasis from the beginning is on freefall skills with students opening their parachutes manually on every jump. As you progress through eight levels of AFF, the amount of instructor supervision reduces until you’re ready to jump completely independently. I would recommend the AFF method.

learn to skydive

Before freefall, Ground School

You start off with around 6 hours of classroom based lessons to cover the basics of skydiving. You’ll learn how to:

  • Exit the plane
  • Control your body during freefall and remain stable
  • Commmunicate with others around you using hand signals
  • How to know your altitude using your altimeter
  • How to deploy your parachute and the signal to make others aware you are going to
  • Emergency procedures to cut away and deploy your reserve if your primary is not where it should be – is it there, does it flare, and is it square?
  • Landing patterns and how to land safetly

So lets go over what is covered in the AFF course levels

The Accelerated Freefall (AFF) course comprises of eight distinct levels, each designed to build upon the skills and knowledge gained from the previous level. Let’s delve into what each level entails:

Level 1: Accompanied by two instructors, you’ll make your first full altitude jump, focusing on basic skills such as altitude awareness, stable body position, and parachute deployment. A successful jump involves maintaining stability and successfully pulling your own ripcord.

Level 2: Jumping again with two instructors, you’ll work on practicing turns in the air, maintaining a steady body position, and effectively checking your altimeter.

Level 3: Still jumping with two instructors, this level will see you making controlled turns and maintaining heading. The instructors will let go of you for the first time to assess your ability to maintain control independently.

Level 4: With one instructor accompanying you, you will execute a controlled 360-degree turn. This level tests your ability to control your movement in the air on your own.

Level 5: With a single instructor again, you’ll perform a more complex series of maneuvers including a full back loop (flip) and a controlled 360-degree turn.

Level 6: This is where the fun really begins. Alongside one instructor, you’ll attempt a solo exit from the plane, complete a backloop, and track forward in the air – a method of moving horizontally while in freefall.

Level 7: This level involves demonstrating the ability to perform various freefall maneuvers including turns, flips, and tracking. As well as an unstable exit, i.e. doing a flip out of the plane… nice.

Level 8: This level usually involves a lower altitude hop-and-pop jump where you deploy your parachute soon after exiting the aircraft to demonstrate proficiency in canopy control. I found this gets the heart going more than the previous levels as the ground is noticably nearer than previous altitudes.

The aim of the AFF levels is to gradually build your skills and confidence, preparing you to jump independently. Each level needs to be passed by demonstrating the necessary skills before progressing to the next one. After Level 8, you’ll make 10 consolidation jumps to solidify your skills, and then you’ve done it and achieved your A license!

Failing an AFF level

Many people do not pass all 8 levels first try and need to take a retest. Also your instructor will often recommend to do a session or two in an indoor wind tunnel if you are a little unstable. This allows you to practice your freefall technique and stability. Indoor facilities give you much more ‘freefall’ time per £ spent.

skydiving ground school
Check your altitude – tip: don’t wait until 0

Considerations and Costs

Skydiving is great but is not the cheapest sport around, largely due to the plane and equipment costs. Generally, you can expect to pay between £1,500-£3,000 for a complete course of lessons. You get start with your level one for £350 including ground school.

accelerated freefall course skydiving
Student with two instructors doing his level 3

Image by David Mark; Wes Harrison; YasDO

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Co-founder and Chief Adventurer

I am Max, the co-founder and CEO of adventuro. We are on a mission to help you get into the sports you have always wanted to try, or develop in the sports you love, exploring new skills and locations. We do this by partnering with the best instructors, guides, and activity centres to get a great spread from beginner all the way to instructor training.

For too long, it has been way to confusing to find your next steps, or even to know where to start when getting into adventure sports. I am an experienced and/or qualified paraglider, skydiver, scuba diver, freediver, power boat driver, snowboarder, kitesurfer, kayaker, mountain biker, surfer, dirt biker, wakeboarder, and sailor.

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