Skydiving is an air sport where a person departs from an aircraft at a certain altitude and then uses the wind from free fall to perform various tricks before opening a parachute and landing safely back on the ground.
Skydives are usually carried out from as high as 13,000-feet above the ground, which provides up to a minute of fall fall time. However, some events (particularly events based around parachute performance) require fliers to depart much lower to the ground. Skydives can be done solo or with a group forming various formations or freestyle acrobatics.
To maximize safety, skydivers are required to wear two parachutes, a main and a reserve. They also wear helmets, altimeters to judge the altitude, and many have automatic activation devices (AAD) that will automatically deploy the reserve at a low altitude as a last resort.
The first skydive was recorded in 1797 when a French aeronaut Andre Jacques Garnerin made descents from a hot air balloon. Modern competitions happen all over the world, with the largest events in the U.S. sanctioned by the U.S. Parachute Association. Internationally, the sport is regulated by the International Skydiving Commission under the umbrella of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the global governing body for air sports recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
The FAI Parachuting World Cup and the FAI World Cup of Freefall Style and Accuracy Landing are among the sport’s biggest competitions. Skydiving can be thought of in the same way might think of track and field, where ‘track’ events are freefall, and ‘field’ events are related to parachuting and landing. There are multiple types of events for discipline.
Typically, freefall events include:
• Freestyle - an artistic acrobatic freefall routine judged subjectively on points. Usually performed solo or in a duo, and always with a camera flier.
• Formation Skydiving – skydiving in a specific formation. This can be done either in a horizontal belly-to-earth orientation, or a vertical feet or head-to-earth orientation known as freeflying. In formation flying, athletes are given points by performing a specific pattern, which includes fast turns and touches. These teams are typically four or eight athletes in size and also include a camera flier.
• Speed Skydiving - a newer discipline where athletes are judged by the fastest speed gained over a given distance. This represents the fastest non-motorized sport on Earth. In a freefly position with clothes and body position maximed, skydivers can reach speeds in the vicinity of 300 miles per hour.
Typically, parachute events include:
• Accuracy Landing and Swooping – the pilot has to land on or maneuver around a target, and are graded points based on their accuracy.
• Canopy Formation – a visual event in which large groups of parachutists perform coordinated routines, often requiring them to fly very nearby each other.