Skydiving is a three-part sport:
- Jumping from the aeroplane
- Free fall
- Canopy flying
Learning to manage your internal state so that you can jump with confidence is the hardest step. Relaxing in free fall to be stable and in control is challenging. Canopy flying is quite straightforward.
There are three things you can do:
- A tandem jump which provides the full experience of jumping without requiring the skills. This is a good way to decide whether you want to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience or a new sport.
- Learn to skydive through the Ram-Air Progression System (RAPS). RAPS begins with static line descents, which provide the jump and the canopy flight in full, initially without free fall. As you progress, you experience progressively longer freefalls. This is a slow way to learn to skydive, particularly with British weather.
- Learn to skydive through an Accelerated Free Fall (AFF) course. Every jump is a full skydive with particular exercises. You can qualify as an A-licence skydiver in as few as 19 jumps: 8 with instructors, 10 consolidation jumps and a lower-level “hop and pop” to demonstrate emergency exit capability.
My route was a single static line jump at university, 12 jumps of a RAPS course in the RAF and then AFF in Spain a couple of years ago. This was fun but unideal.
I recommend you:
- Jump tandem to check the sport is for you.
- Take 10-15 minutes of vertical wind tunnel time.
- Complete AFF in a short period of time.
The vertical wind tunnel will teach you to become stable and perform basic turns. This will save you from experiencing the terror of being out of control in free fall. You should also avoid repeating AFF level 4, your first solo attempt at controlled turns. The largest tunnel is Bodyflight, Bedford, and Airkix is at Milton Keynes with a Manchester venue planned. For this purpose, it does not matter which you use1.
Some footage from Bodyflight:
The UK has plenty of drop zones offering AFF: please see this map. You may wish to consider Spain or the USA, where the weather is more reliable. I have used Deland (Florida), Empuriabrava (Costa Brava), Ocaña (Madrid) and Lillo (Madrid). English is spoken at the Spanish drop zones but not so much in the area around Madrid. Ocaña’s Freefall University has British instructors.
Allow a week in Spain and several months of weekends in the UK. The continuity of a week in Spain is probably better.
As you will discover when you buy insurance for your skydiving trip, the sport is fairly low-risk in practice. However, you do risk serious injury and death on every descent and, as I discovered after I bought my rig, the equipment is supplied without warranty as to fitness for any particular purpose. This is rather the point: you must take personal responsibility for your self.
Being older or heavier significantly raises the risk of injury but flying a larger canopy conservatively seems to work for me. Older skydivers require a formal medical. Good landings are no worse than stepping off a stair, but do expect to land badly when learning, which may sting. As my friend Mark explains in this clip, it’s all worth it:
And of course, you are never too old:
- Bodyflight is better for teams simply because it is larger. [↩]