By: Matt Myers | Skydive Airtight
You’re ready to embark on the path to becoming a skydiver but you’re not sure where to start.
First off, CONGRATULATIONS!!!
Welcome to one of the most elite and close-knit sporting communities in the world.
Hopefully we can help to clear up any questions you may have and guide you towards your
goals as a future skydiver.
The Governing Bodies of the Sport
The primary regulatory body for the sport of skydiving is the United States Parachute
Association (USPA). They maintain the Skydivers Information Manual (SIM) which provides all regulatory information for the sport. The SIM details the requirements for skydivers at all levels from Student to Instructor and Pro. You can find it at www.USPA.org/sim-online
As a student skydiver, your primary focus of the SIM is Section 2: BSRs (Basic Safety
Requirements) and Section 4: ISP (Integrated Student Program)
The Two Training Methods
As a new skydiver, you have the option to choose between 2 methods of training.
The training methods are composed of a First Jump Course (training class) and a series of jumps to achieve a status typically referred to as “Cleared for Self-Supervision” (i.e. graduating the Student Skydiver Program).
Accelerated Free Fall (AFF)
The first and most common is AFF. Doing any amount of research into learning to skydive, you will undoubtedly hear about AFF.
AFF is the most efficient (and typically the quickest) method to graduating the Student Skydiver Program. In all, an AFF student will complete 7-9 jumps before graduating the program.
During your first 3 jumps, two instructors leave the plane with you maintaining contact (grip) on your legs and arms. This ensures you are stable during free fall and deploy your parachute properly and at the correct altitude. Subsequent jumps will have 1 instructor alongside you in freefall.
Instructor-Assisted Deployment (IAD)
The second (and less common) method is IAD.
The IAD training method and first jumps focus on exiting with stable body position and canopy piloting. During your first 5 jumps, the instructor extracts your pilot chute (the small auxiliary parachute used to deploy the main canopy) and holds it while you poise yourself to exit the aircraft. Once you have left the aircraft, your instructor immediately initiates the main canopy’s deployment process using the pilot chute. Because your canopy is open within the first 3-5 seconds of leaving the aircraft, the jump altitude on these first 5 skydives is relatively low (around 5,000 ft) before progressing to increased jump altitudes. In all, an IAD student will complete 12-15 jumps before graduating the program.
As a student skydiver, you’re equipped with a handheld radio (attached to your harness system). Once your canopy has opened, a coach or instructor will assist in safely navigating you to the ground.
Ground School (First Jump Course) differs between the two training methods as the first jump for each method differs. IAD First Jump Course typically lasts 4-6 hours while AFF lasts 6-8 hours. FJC is the only formal class required. As you advance through the program, you will be given more instruction regarding free fall and canopy technique both before and after each skydive. Pay close attention to your instructor(s). There’s a quiz at the end.
“Do I need make a Tandem Skydive prior to starting the Student Skydiver Program?”
This is a question we get asked a lot. While it is not required by the USPA, at Skydive Airtight
(and many other drop zones), we do require it.
Your first solo jump (AFF or IAD) requires your full attention during pre-flight gear check,
boarding the aircraft, free fall, and canopy flight until you are safely on the ground. It’s less
about the complexity (there’s really not ton to it) and more about how you (your focus, heart
rate, attention) respond to that first experience. A Tandem Skydive provides a much more
comfortable introduction to the sport of skydiving.
If you’re interested in becoming a licensed skydiver, let your Tandem Instructor know you would like to do a “Working Tandem”. You will be given an altimeter and some additional training to begin familiarizing yourself with the equipment and canopy flight techniques. The USPA allows up to 3 Tandem Skydives to be counted towards the overall requirement of 25 for your ‘A’ License.
“Is there a cost difference?”
As a path to graduating the program, AFF is slightly more expensive.
“What if I want to switch training methods after I’ve already started?”
While you are allowed to do this, the translation is not so easy and will require stepping
backwards in your progression. For that reason, we recommend sticking with your initially
selected training method.
Once you have completed the Student Skydiver Program and you’re cleared to jump on your
own, the next goal is your ‘A’ license. You will need to complete approximately 4-5 jumps
alongside a USPA-rated Coach (‘Coach Jumps’) covering more advanced free fall techniques
preparing you to jump with other licensed skydivers. These 4-5 jumps can be completed at your own pace. It’s common for jumpers to make several solo skydives before attempting these coach jumps. Once you complete these coach jumps and a minimum of 25 total skydives, it’s time for your ‘A’ License Final Exam and Check Dive (this can actually be your 25th skydive).
Now you’re a LICENSED SKYDIVER!
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