There are certain forces you’ll experience when skydiving. Most people can handle them, but it isn’t bad to have an idea of what you’ll be putting your body through.
The biggest impact is during the opening of your parachute. The following factors determine the force you’ll experience:
- Speed upon parachute opening
- Body weight
- Size of your parachute
- Method used to pack the parachute
- Solo or tandem jump
What Type of Jump Are You Doing?
There are a few different types of jumps and each one has different forces. You could do:
- static line
- accelerated free fall
This jump is done solo – no instructor jumps with you.
An old school way of starting skydiving is by doing a static line jump. This is where your ripcord is attached to the plane itself so that as you jump, the ripcord gets pulled when you’re about 15 feet away from the plane.
You do not get up to terminal velocity, which is about 120 mph, so there is less of an impact with this jump.
Accelerated Free Fall
The word “accelerated” here doesn’t refer to your speed of travel. It refers to the speed of a training program. When you do accelerated free fall, you are going faster than the normal training route to get your license. There’s the normal route, then there is the accelerated route.
In this jump, you have two instructors with you (but neither are attached). You have your own parachute and you reach terminal velocity.
This jump involves being strapped to an instructor.
Your speed of travel gets to up about 120 mph. But these jumps tend to have less impact due to the combined weight of you and the instructor.
Which brings me to my next point, wing loading.
Wing Loading – Parachute Size vs Your Weight
There’s a simple concept to this.
If I were to deploy a parachute the size of a blanket while traveling at 120 miles per hour, it wouldn’t slow me down that much and I probably wouldn’t feel much of a force on my body.
However, if I deploy a parachute that is the size of a football field, it would stop me in my tracks and I would quickly decelerate from 120 mph down to a few miles per hour.
Skydivers will jump with various sized parachutes. The quick, sporty, high-performance ones will be as small as 100 square feet and the bigger ones around 260 square feet for students.
The difference upon opening with these two chutes is like night and day. The student parachutes will stop you fast, the sporty ones will stop you slow.
When you’re on a tandem parachute – which can be around 400 square feet – the impact tends to be less because you are two bodies plus the weight of your gear pulling against the bigger parachute.
Tandom skydives tend to be gentle upon opening.
Method of Packing and Speed of Opening
There are a couple of different ways to pack your parachute and they affect how fast it opens.
Without going into details too much, there are ways to slow down how fast the parachute opens after you deploy it. A parachute isn’t just a flat piece of material. It has air cells that fill up with air to make it more stable.
The speed of inflation of those air cells determines how fast your body slows down and the forces you feel.
There is a technique of rolling the nose of a parachute when you are packing it to slow down the opening. This is, of course, done after proper training and following the manufacturer’s guidelines on packing.
So, even when you have a wing load that should be easy on you, there are “hard openings” and “soft openings” based on how you packed it.
Sometimes you think you packed it perfectly and it does whatever it wants. They open most of the time.
The Impact of Landing
Most landings are soft enough for most people.
Tandem jumps will commonly have the person slide in so there is very, very little impact.
If you jump enough, you will encounter an entire spectrum of landings. You’ll have nice, soft ones that are equal to stepping off a curb. Then you’ll have some where your parachute just seems to deflate 10 feet above the ground. (But that’s usually due to user error)
There is an art and a skill to landing and if you’re with a tandem instructor, you are in good hands.
The Biggest Force on Your Body
By far, the biggest impact on your body is when the parachute opens.
If you are jumping tandem, I would say that you should be able to ride a roller coaster ride and not have any problems before you attempt to skydive.
If you have bone density issues, you may want to steer clear of skydiving or at least get a medical professional’s advice.
From my perspective, I have had openings that left me bruises where the thigh straps held my legs. The student parachutes that I used were something like 300 square feet and the openings were pretty hard.
Then I started using some that were 170ish square feet and I was in heaven.
When I moved down to 120 square feet, it was nothing. But when you are jumping something that small, you’ve got to understand that you are traveling faster and the ground then becomes more of a potential hazard.
How Fit Do You Need To Be To Skydive?
If you really want to skydive and are concerned about how it will affect your body, then start an exercise regimen.
You can put on an exercise video and do it at home or join a gym. Do it on a gradient.
Do it for a few months and you’ll probably be good enough, assuming you aren’t obese or have any medical problems. If you’re concerned, get a doctor’s advice.
But generally, if you can ride a roller coaster, you can jump out of a plane.
How Skydivers Deal With Injuries
The licensing organization for skydivers issues a magazine every month. It contains an incident report that is actually amazing. Skydivers don’t pretend that accidents and deaths don’t happen. They look at the data. A full investigation is done. Specifics are laid out in detail, such as: the number of jumps the person has done, the brand and size of parachute, the plans for the jump, what happened, what went wrong and what could have been done to prevent it.
The entire investigation is opened and closed and there is no mystery.
This gives every skydiver a chance to look over his own gear, his habits and situation to make sure that he is not potentially going to make that same mistake.
Injuries I’ve Seen in Person
Here are a couple that I’ve seen:
1. There was a veteran skydiver in her 60’s who had a constant problem with her shoulder dislocating. She would reach back to throw her parachute out and about a third of the time her shoulder would go out instead. Sometimes she could work it and get the parachute out, otherwise she would pull her reserve with her other hand (since that lever is on her chest). This is not a normal occurrence or situation and probably should have been immediately adressed.
2. My friend – an experienced skydiver with over 2,000 jumps – was trying some daring parachute work near the ground and didn’t pull up in time. He shattered one of his vertebrae and had to have that one fused with the two on either side. Lost mobility in his neck but he’s still kicking around.
I have often come down with a bloody hand or a stream of blood on the side of my face where I cut something somewhere in the process. I could never find out what did it because so much adrenaline was involved that it is hard to pay attention.
This isn’t an injury, but I had a very weird experience once at about my 40th jump. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. It was summer, with light cloud cover. I jumped and did some drills with my coach. Then I started to feel pinpricks on my exposed face and arms.
They started small at first, but then it felt like my face and arms were waking up from being numb – like pins and needles.
I waved off and pulled my parachute high because I figured that if I passed out, I was going to be under a fully-deployed parachute first.
The feeling stopped immediately. I looked at my arms and I had red dots everywhere. I was confused as hell, but happy I wasn’t dying.
When I got down, my coach said “What happened?” I showed her my arms and I said “You tell me.”
She laughed and said “That’s virga!” I looked at her like she was an alien. She said “Those are little droplets of water that are rain, but haven’t fallen from the sky.
So, I freaked out over water hitting me at 120 miles per hour. It’s not the weirdest or scariest thing that has happened while skydiving, but you may fall through some water and if you’ve read this, you’ll know.