There are two basic methods of learning skydiving:
- Static-line progression programme
- Accelerated freefall tuition
Static-line progression (Instant opening or Instructor-Assisted Deployment) programme for skydivers
Traditionally skydiving lessons are usually taught using the static-line progression programme, and this is still the cheapest way to learn. ‘Static line’ jumps mean that the parachute is connected to the plane by a short static line so that when you jump, the canopy is opened automatically.
On a static-line progression programme the student first jumps from around 1,500m (4,500ft) and practices obtaining the ideal ‘arch position’ essential to freefall skydiving. The instructor will observe the student from the plane and the student will only progress to the next stage of the training program if they show a good stable arch position upon exiting the plane.
After at least three basic static line skydiving lessons, the student will be given a dummy ripcord to pull whilst they are falling – even though the canopy will still be opened automatically by the static line. Again the instructor will observe the student from the plane until they are happy you are ready to progress to the next level… the first freefall!
On the static-line progression program the first freefall descents will involve increasing time in freefall; starting with three seconds, then five seconds and then 15 seconds. From here the student progresses to increased freefall times and learns the art of skydiving; making flat turns, forward and reverse somersaults (saultos) whilst freefalling.
Accelerated freefall (solo freefall) method for skydiving
The accelerated freefall method (AFF) is now widely used for skydiving lessons as it is three to five times faster than the static line progression programme. The AFF courses involve eight jumps after which you will be a qualified solo skydiver! It is possible, with the right weather conditions to finish an AFF course in as little as two days!
In the static line progression programme, a student is totally alone during their first exposures to freefall. A disadvantage of this programme is that during the first brief exposures to freefall students are exposed to a phenomenon known as sensory overload in which the brain is subject to an overwhelming array of new experiences.
In the AFF method the student falls with direct in-air assistance from two instructors and also the first freefall durations are for much longer periods (typically 40 to 45 seconds) giving the student a chance to overcome sensory overload, learn from and enjoy the experience. In AFF, the skills needed to exit the plane and fall with stability and control are taught with intensive ground training and direct in-air supervision with hand signals from your instructors.
Three initial dummy pulls and the first actual ripcord pull are made with direct assistance on your first descent before you are ready to progress on the program. From here you will progress to jumping with one instructor giving direct in-air supervision until you are ready to make that first solo skydive.
Most AFF courses will also include a cameraman who will jump with a helmet mounted camera in order to record your first descents. Once on the ground your instructors will analyse the jump with you, pointing out good and bad points about your technique so that you can learn for your next jump. This is another huge advantage over the static line method of learning – as well as the benefit of being able to take the video and photos home with you!
Wind tunnels for skydiving
Wind tunnels offer an awesome opportunity to rapidly advance your skydiving skills and are a great environment in which to learn. A wind tunnel will usually be a circular room about 5m (16 ft) in diameter with a fan located in the floor. This fan blasts air at around 125mph (200kmph) upwards allowing you to experience the sensation of ‘freefall’ and practice your technique.
One of the biggest advantages of wind tunnels is the fact that you are in a room and therefore have points of reference to ensure you ‘fall’ in a straight line and also can master 90 degree, 180 degree and 360 degree turns – all of which are very hard to judge is the sky!
On average the progression you will achieve during a ten minute wind tunnel session will be equivalent to having completed 50 solo skydives!
Costs of skydiving lessons
The cost of skydiving lessons will vary depending on what method of instruction you choose and what school you enroll in. In all skydiving tuition whether static-line or AFF, instructors will never progress a student to the next level unless they are completely satisfied that they have achieved the required standard and are ready to progress. Some drop zones will charge a flat fee regardless of the number of jumps it takes you to qualify while others will charge for additional jumps so this is worth checking out beforehand as it could add to the costs.
Skydiving won’t be for everyone so before you commit your money to any type of skydiving training most drop zones will insist that you undertake at least one static-line jump or one tandem jump just to ensure that you enjoy the experience and want to progress further and learn to skydive.
In a tandem jump you are securely harnessed to an experienced tandem master who will control your freefall descent and the opening and landing of the parachute. This leaves you free to enjoy up to 45 seconds of freefall and decide if you want to progress further.
If you are unsure about whether skydiving is for you we would recommend taking a tandem jump over a static-line jump simply because this gives you a freefall experience whereas a static line jump literally opens the parachute as soon as you exit the plane.
Both methods of learning involve at least eight hours of ground based training to teach the basic principles of how a parachute works, how to fly, control and land your canopy and actions on malfunctions should they occur. On all courses, all skydiving equipment, jumpsuit, parachute, helmet, goggles and a radio for talking you through your first landings will be provided.