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SKYDIVE INTO BLUE HOLE -- BELIZE
DEPARTURE CHECKLIST FOR
HIGH ELEVATION AIRFIELDS
SKYDIVING INFORMATION FOR YOU
(For detailed skydiving log, scroll to bottom of this page.)
Q: Why do people go skydiving in the first place? "Why jump out of a perfectly good airplane?"
A: Most first-time skydivers either saw a skydive on T.V. or as a promotional jump at some event and yearned to give it a try themselves. A few have friends or relatives who have made at least one jump and that person has encouraged them. People who are adventurous and participate in other "extreme" sports (like downhill skiing, motorcycle racing, roller blading, wave surfing, white water kayaking, etc.) are more likely to want to experience skydiving. Aside from those considerations, there is the excitement of the freefall that far exceeds the thrill of the fastest roller coaster or any amusement park ride in the world. Skydivers are not lunatics or daredevils...nor are they people who have a death wish. In fact, statistics have shown they have, on the average, a higher I.Q. than the general population, and many of them are professionals, scientists, or engineers. By the way, according to a fellow skydiver who also happens to be a certified airplane mechanic, there is no such thing as "a perfectly good airplane."
Q: Where can I learn to skydive?
A: Look in the telephone book yellow pages under "parachuting" or "skydiving" to find a local parachuting operation/club. These are called "drop zones" or just "DZ's" by skydivers. Call the DZ and ask if they provide services or courses to learn to skydive. Most do. Ask them when they offer their first jump course -- and don't forget to ask for directions to the DZ. Another approach: call the United States Parachute Association (USPA)) in Alexandria, VA, at (703) 836-3495. They can tell you what USPA-affiliated DZ's are located near you or in your state. The DZ nearest Lancaster, PA, is The Maytown Sport Parachute Club (MSPC) based at the Donegal Springs Airpark about two miles north of Maytown. You can read more about the MSPC by visiting their WEBSITE or calling them directly: (717) 653-0422. If you know anyone who has made a parachute jump, they might be able to make a recommendation or help you get acquainted with the DZ members in your area. The USPA also has a list of all the affiliated DZ's on its own WEBSITE.
Q: How will I learn to skydive?
A: There are three ways: (1) static line training (or just S/L for short); (2) accelerated freefall (AFF); or (3) tandem. Not all DZ's offer each approach, so you should discuss the options available when you call your nearby DZ.
Q: What is a "static line" or S/L jump?
A: In the S/L approach, you take a six hour training course, usually on a weekend day, then make your first jump immediately after completing the course (weather permitting). A "static line jump" means the activation device (ripcord) for your parachute is attached by a 15' long tether to a metal ring in the plane and automatically deploys your parachute almost immediately after you exit the plane. Your main responsibilities are flying the canopy to a safe landing and pulling your reserve ripcord in the rare event that the main parachute malfunctions. After you have done several static line jumps, you graduate to pulling your own ripcord immediately after exiting the plane. By jumping from progressively higher altitudes, you gradually prolong the time before you pull your ripcord (5 sec., 10 sec., 15 sec., etc.). When your freefall period exceeds about 11 seconds, you have reached terminal velocity. "Terminal Velocity" is defined as the speed at which the acceleration of gravity is equalized by the air resistance created by the speed of your descent and you freefall at a constant rate, usually between 100 and 190 mph depending upon your body position, weight, clothing you are wearing, barometric pressure, air temperature, and other minor factors. Once you learn to remain stable and perform certain maneuvers during freefall, you will be signed off student status by an instructor and eventually get your Class A license.
Q: What will happen in the Accelerated Free Fall (AFF) approach?
A: The ground training is a bit more intensive in this approach because you will be doing a 45 - 50 second freefall from 10,000' altitude on your first jump...but you will not be alone. On that jump you will exit the plane with two AFF jumpmasters (JM's) who will assist you during freefall. The jumpmasters maintain grips on the studfent from the moment they leave the plane together until it is time to deploy the parachute, assisting the student as necessary to maintain stability, practice ripcord pulls, and monitor altitude. The student pulls his or her own ripcord at 4,000' or 5,000' altitude. From that point he has the same responsibility as a S/L student: fly the parachute to a safe landing.
The AFF approach is a 7 level program. Levels 1, 2, & 3 require two freefall jumpmasters to accompany you. These dives concentrate on basic safety skills and stability. On the third dive, the JM's will release you in freefall for the first time. Levels 4, 5, 6, and 7 require only one freefall JM (which lowers your cost) during which you will learn turns, forward and backward movement, docking, barrel rolls, loops, and various plane exits. After successfully performing the necessary moves at each level, you will move on to the next level. After graduating from level 7, you will enter a more free format stage called "Level 8" where you practice your skills yourself and in small groups (two-ways) until you get your Class B or C license.
Q: What is a tandem jump?
A: Tandem jumps are often made by people who just want to experience one skydive and have no intentions of ever jumping out of an airplane by themselves. In a tandem jump you take a brief instruction course lasting up to one hour. Then you go to 10,000' - 13,000' altitude where you exit the aircraft attached (by way of a dual harness) to an experienced jumper called a "tandem master" who is responsible for deploying the parachute and flying it to a safe landing. You do not wear your own parachute in a tandem jump. Naturally the parachutes needed to land safely carrying two people are very large. If you make a tandem jump and decide afterward you would like to pursue the sport, you will still have to take a static line or AFF course to make a jump on your own.
Q: What are the age requirements?
A: Most DZ's require you to be at least 18 years of age or the age of legal maturity in the jurisdiction they are located. On the other hand, there are DZ's in the US where kids 13 or 14 years old are jumping. How can this be? This is usually because their parent is either a DZ owner or a pilot who flies the jump plane. Some states allow you to jump when you are 16 years old if you have written parental consent. You will need your driver's license for photo ID and proof of age to take the First Jump Course, so don't forget to take it along.
There is no upper age limit for doing a skydive. Some experienced skydivers in the USPA are over 80 years old and still doing solo jumps. President George Bush Sr. made a tandem skydive a few years ago on his 82nd birthday. Some people in their 90's have made tandem skydives. If you are very elderly or have serious health problems at any age (eg. heart trouble, history of stroke, siezure disorder, high blood pressure, back problems, etc.), you may not even be a suitable candidate for a tandem jump. However if your health is good, old age per se is no limitation.
Q: What are the physical requirements?
A: Student parachutes are much larger than most experienced jumpers use because the larger canopies are safer (descend slower), and they have to accommodate a wide variety of people of different weights who may take the First Jump Course. The maximum weight individual allowed to make a static line jump by most DZ's is around 225 pounds. That having been said, if you are a 5'5" couch potato weighing 225 pounds, you are much more likely to be injured in a bad landing than an athletic 225 pound ex-linebacker who is 6'2" tall and still in great physical shape. So relative considerations need to be taken into account.
Since skydiving is a sport just like skiing, roller blading, or even jogging, you should be in reasonably good physical condition. This does not mean you need to be in the kind of shape that would allow you to compete in an Ironman Triathlon or even a five minute mile. You must be able to wear 30+ pounds of equipment, endure opening schock, maneuver the canopy, land, and sometimes walk a distance to get back to the DZ. There are also rapid, drastic variations in temperature, atmospheric pressure, and airplane rides to altitude. If any of these things seem insurmountable to you, skydiving may not be for you.
Due to the rapid changes in air pressure, inner ear problems and respiratory ailments are relative reasons to avoid skydiving. In fact, regular skydivers will sometimes not jump when they have a common cold or sinus problems. People who experience unexpected fainting spells, seizures, heart trouble, irregular heart beat, or severe visual disturbances should not jump. Most DZ's will willingly discuss these issues with you, and, of course, your personal physician is the best judge if any physical impairments you have would preclude skydiving.
Q: What will I learn in the first jump course?
A: The FJC is intended to teach you everything you need to know to make the first jump safely. This includes elementary safety check of you equipment, rules of plane safety, body position when you leave the plane, checking the integrity of your deployed parachute, how to steer the parachute in flight, when and how to activate your reserve parachute, and landing ("flaring"). Most DZ's have one-way radio communication with you to give you some assistance while you are flying and landing your canopy. On the first jump, you will *not* be responsible for packing your own parachute, deciding when to exit the aircraft, or pulling your own ripcord (unless you need to activate your reserve).
Q: What kind of parachute will I be using?
A: Most training DZ's use large ram-air steerable, sport parachutes for students. These parachutes can be "flared" as you approach the ground to provide for soft standup landings. Using a large student parachute, even if you do not flare the chute at the correct time, it is extremely unlikely that you would be seriously injured. You will receive coaching from a knowledgeable person by radio communication on the proper time to flare your parachute when landing.
Q: How much does it cost to take the first jump course, do a first-time AFF, or perform a tandem jump?
A: The cost will vary from DZ to DZ depending upon whether you are near a major metropolitan area, how busy the DZ is, and other factors, but generally the price will range between $150 and $200. If you want a video of your jump, it will run an additional $75 to $125.
Q: What if my main parachute doesn't open?
A: This is the most common question people ask before taking the First Jump Course. In the first place, this should be a rare event; but if there would be a malfunction, you will have been trained what action to take. FAA regulations require that all intentional, non-military parachute jumps be made with a single harness, dual parachute system containing both a main canopy and reserve canopy. In other words, you are carrying a spare canopy if the first one does not open properly. Briefly, you would pull your reserve parachute's ripcord which will deploy your reserve parachute while automatically releasing the main chute from your harness (to avoid entanglement).
Q: What if my reserve parachute doesn't open?
A: This should be an even more unlikely event than having a "main" failure. In fact, based upon accident statistics collected by the USPA, it would be more likely that you would be struck by lightning in your lifetime than have *both* your main and reserve parachutes fail to deploy. The reason is that all reserve parachutes *by law* must be repacked every 180 days by a "certified parachute rigger." This means the most common cause of parachute malfunction, packing error, should be taken out of the equation for the reserve chute. For safety reasons, reserve parachutes are generally constructed to deploy more reliably than main parachutes, and their pilot chutes are spring loaded to make them come out faster.
Careful investigations of every skydiving accident resulting in serious injury or death are conducted by the USPA each year. The results of these investigations are published quarterly in the USPA publication, The Parachutist. A review of the past several years' records reveals that failure of both the main and reserve parachutes to open properly is an exceedingly rare cause of skydiving accidents and fatalities. As in many other "extreme" sports (such as downhill skiing or hang gliding), the three most common causes of accidents are pilot error, carelessness, and "hot-dogging."
Q: So, how dangerous is skydiving...really?
A: According to the United States Parachute Association, about 3,000,000 skydives are made in the U.S. every year. This includes all participants: people experienced in sport skydiving who make several jumps per week as well as tandem jumpers who may only make one jump in their entire life. Each year about 25 people die in parachuting accidents in the U.S. Assuming every jump has an equal amount of risk, a person's chance of dying on any one jump is about 1 in 100,000. If you take chances while skydiving and attempt dangerous maneuvers, you place yourself in a much higher risk category compared to more conservative skydivers. If you are extremely careful, your chances of being injured or killed in a skydiving accident would probably be somewhere around 1 in 500,000.
How does this fatality rate compare in risk to other routine, day-to-day activities? About 40,000 people are killed each year in traffic accidents. That amounts to 1.7 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles driven. Assuming the risk of driving at anytime is the same for everyone, and if you drive ~10,000 miles per year, your chance of being killed in a car accident in any given year is about 1 in 6,000. That means your risk of dying in a car accident during a year of driving would be 17 times greater than your risk of dying in a skydiving accident if you make one jump per year. If you drive while intoxicated, your risk of dying behind the wheel increases substantially. Why then do we not think of driving a car as being a risky activity?
Because there are only a few skydiving fatalities per year in the entire U.S., they are very uncommon and receive an inordiante amount of publicity locally when they occur. With 110 fatal auto accidents per day in the U.S., even though they make the local news, we are accustomed to hearing about them so we don't think as much about it. Unless someone we know is involved in an auto accident, it would probably not attract our attention when it is reported in the newspaper. Additionally most adults drive regularly every day and nothing bad happens to the vast majority of them, therefore they don't think of their own risk as being as high as the next guy. That leaves us with the impression that the risk of being killed in an auto accident is very low compared to skydiving.
People who indulge in risky behaviors while skydiving or driving a car are at much higher risk for injury than the average skydiver or driver for obvious reasons. By taking every possible safety precaution, the danger from any activity can be minimized. Skydivers know they are participating in a dangerous sport and the vast majority of them make a jump only after taking every possible measure to make it a safe one.
Q: What kinds of activities can I expect to participate in after I gain some experience skydiving?
A: Like any other sport, there are a variety of special interests you may develop in skydiving. For comparison, skiers can "specialize" in the downhill, slalom, giant slalom, or cross country skiing. In a similar way, most skydivers find one area of skydiving that catches their fancy, and that is what they do most of the time when they are skydiving. Here are a few of the things you can do:
Q: Can you steer a parachute? If so, how??
A: Yes, you *CAN* steer a parachute. Today's ram-air sport parachutes are much more refined than when sport skydiving was born in the early 1950's. At that time most parachute jumps were made with military round canopies called "Paracommanders" which could not be flared on landing and were difficult to steer. Parachutists did not jump when the surface winds were much greater than several miles per hour because the parachutes could easily be blown off course. On landing the parachutist had to make a Parachute Landing Fall or "PFL" to avoid injury...and even then, broken ankles were not uncommon. The ram-air parachutes of today are essentially "flying wings." The longitudinal cells of the canopy inflate to form a wing as it moves forward through the air. The air filling the cells is what keeps them inflated causing the canopy to maintain its rigid, wing-like shape. The ground speed of such a canopy in still air can vary from 10 to 60 mph depending upon the exit weight of the skydiver, the comparative size (surface area) of the canopy, and the weather conditions. Turns and other intentional maneuvers are caused by the skydiver pulling on control lines or "toggles" attached to each side of the trailing edge of the canopy. Several seconds before landing, the skydiver can pull on both control toggles to greatly slow his descent rate by flaring his parachute and make a soft landing. The mechanics of such a landing are very similar to and as graceful in appearance as those of a seagull landing on a sandy beach in a gentle summer breeze.
Q: What is an AAD?
A: "AAD" stands for "automatic activation device." An AAD is an electro-mechanical device installed into your gear that senses your fall rate and altitude while in freefall. Some AAD's need to be activated before every skydive, while others need activation only once a day during which you are performing skydiving activities. If you reach a certain altitude (preset by the manufacturer or you before the jump) while falling at a certain speed, the AAD will automatically cause your reserve parachute to open. An example of a situation where this could be life-saving would be if you accidentally flew into another skydiver at a very high rate of speed while performing maneuvers in freefall. If you were knocked unconscious, you would not be able to activate the deployment system of your own parachute. When you have an AAD, your reserve parachute would be deployed automatically and you would most likely survive the parachute jump, although without a landing flare you may be injured.
There have been many instances of an AAD saving the life of a skydiver since they have come into widespread use. Most regular skydivers would jump without a functioning AAD, and student rigs are *required* to have them.
DETAILED SKYDIVE LOG
TOTAL NUMBER OF SKYDIVES TO DATE = 804
FREEFALL TIME TO DATE = 10 hrs., 22 min., 10 sec.
HIGH ALTITUDE =8
HIGH SPEED EXITS (>200 KNOTS)
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