Serious about learning to skydive? Accelerated free fall may be for you
As the aircraft passes over the drop zone on final ‘run in’ your AFF instructor looks into your eyes and with a big smile asks you “are you ready to skydive”? Both instructors have grips on your harness now. Your dream about skydiving is about to come true.
You've practiced this over and over again with your instructors and so your answer is a resounding (this icon means 'you') Yes! and the infectious smiles of your instructors causes you to grin, to your surprise.
“Step into the door after me” says your reserve-side Instructor, she sweeps her visor down and backs out of the door, guiding your movement with her and she is now fully outside in the slipstream, holding your harness with one hand and the handle on the aircraft fuselage with the other. You get yourself set in the door with a little help from your main-side instructor and then you start straight into your pre-rehearsed sequence and you say
“Check-in” reminds you to lookat the instructor inside the aircraft and get the OK to continue with the launch.
“OK!” He nods and smiles.
“Check-out” reminds you turn to look at the instructor outside
“OK” she smiles and nods
"Prop" reminds you to look forward at the propellor and make your body position square and symetrical
Up, down, arch!” reminds you of the smooth movement which is almost a dance move that ends with you being in a nicely arched box position and which you've practiced with your instructor team many times and so it's become instinctive.
Now you’re all out in freefall together, you're actually skydiving! How amazing is this feeling?
You're enjoying this sensation so much that you see a reminder signal in front of your face from your instructor which says 'do your circle of awareness drill' and so you go straight into your HASP check and you say the words to yourself as you have many times already (Heading, Altitude, report your height "twelve thousand feet" to Secondary and then to Primary instructor). You do three practice pulls of your main parachute handle with your instructors adjusting the position of your hands and arms and by the last time you've got it pretty well correct.
You see a couple of signals from your instructors which help you to adjust your leg position and now they seem to be happy with the position and they are still smiling, and you can't help smiling back at them. You now notice the camera flyer n front of you and you even manage a little wave before taking a look at your altimeter (you say the height 'seven thousand feet' to yourself) you look up again and feel you're staring to become aware of the body position and how your body feels in the slipstream.
You look at your altimeter again and repeat it back to yourself "six thoudand feet - lock on" and its just two seconds later that you give a nice smooth wave-off to signal to those around you that you are about to deploy your parachute and as you say "arch, reach, locate, throw" as you smoothly and slowly reach to grasp the hand deploy pilot chute toggle and throw the pilot chute out into the slipstream.
You start your safety count "One thousand, two thousand, three....." and before you can finish you feel youself being pulled sharply upright and you see out of your peripheral vision, your instructors and your video flyer continue to drop away as your parachute opens into a nice big rectangular shape and you start your safety checks. Now you prepare to steer it down to land in your target area. PHEW! Ohhh YEEEAAAAHHHHH you just have to let out a shout at the birds to let them know how good you're feeling. It's a mixture of super excitement and relief and you know you'll never look at a blue sky in the same way again.
A Five minute canopy ride from five thousand feet
LEVEL 2 AFF
After a little more instruction, you again exit the aircraft with 2 instructors in the same format as last time (you're getting pretty good at it by now). Although the exercises are very similar to level 1, you now hone your body position, to be symmetrical, relaxed and yet, aware. You learn to control your movement, whilst maintaining heading and altitude awareness and this time we also get you to make some small turns with the instructors still holding on, like trainer wheels on a bike. Same as before, at 5,500' you signal to the instructors and open your parachute and as before you are pulled out of their hands by your deploying canopy. The canopy landing gets even smoother and although you will still have the radio to help you for a while, you’re now being given a little more lee-way to make some decisions (which you have been trained to do).
LEVEL 3 AFF
LEVEL 4 AFF
Now that you have mastered the basics, you learn to start, control and stop the turns which you first learned about on level 2 by slightly lowering one shoulder and arm and you do the opposite to stop the turn. Just one instructor accompanies you from level 4 onwards and although your own exit is the same as before you only need one instructor with you. You’re now starting to feel like you are in control of your own movements. It feels good to be in control of your body, but also comforting to see your instructor smiling in front of you, giving signals and sometimes taking a grip of your arm or leg to help you out or perhaps just to get you to ‘relax’.
LEVEL 5 AFF
Maybe you’ll do the same exit, or maybe your instructor will teach you to do a dive exit while she still holds onto you, it really depends on you and how you’re feeling. In this level you now confirm that you really can start and stop your turns with some precision by doing controlled 360 degree; turns in front of your instructor, still maintaining altitude awareness. You are gaining confidence rapidly although please try not to get too excited. Its really comforting to see your instructor right in front of you, even if he now seems to be doing less and less…. That’s all part of the plan.
LEVEL 6 AFF
This is probably your first solo exit with a dive exit (great fun) and moving forward horizontally across the sky (its called ‘tracking’) air and back-loops (amazing fun). After you’ve done these exercises your confidence will be surging and from now on, I'll bet you'll practice these backloops whenever you're in the swimming pool . Your instructor is still right there with you, ready to help if you need him, although mostly by this time he’s more of an insurance policy.
LEVEL 7 AFF
This is the dive when you put all of the pieces of the jigsaw together. After exiting the aircraft with another dive exit, we get you to peform a set sequence of 2x360 degree turns in alternate directions, a back-loop, and a short track before deploying your parachute by 4000'. In between each of these manoeuvres you demonstrate altitude awareness with altimeter checks (it’s a bit like the ‘mirror’ checks in a driving test – you need to show the instructor you’re doing them so emphasise the movement) You’ve done all of these before and there is plenty of time to complete them as long as you don’t waste time.
LEVEL 8 AFF
The final test (in UK). You are briefed to exit the aircraft on your own for the 1st time, and deploy your parachute from a stable position within 10 seconds. Your Instructor watches the whole thing from the aircraft and debriefs you when you’re both back on the ground together. Although this dive is only a UK requirement and you may not see a level 8 in other countries AFF systems, so why is it incorporated in the UK system? Well, for one, the UK weather tends to be a little ‘variable’, so someday (after your graduation) it may well be that the cloud base is maybe 3,500 feet (but other conditions are OK to jump) and instead of having to land with the aircraft, suitably qualified jumpers have the option to do a ‘hop-and-pop’ (other wise known as a ‘clear-and-pull’) from this altitude. The level eight prepares the student for ‘real life’ in this kind of situation. It also helps to prepare them for a life saving manoeuvre in the event of an aircraft emergency, when it’s necessary for everyone to get out quickly (according to the instructions of the pilot-in-command). Most AFF students say this gives them an even bigger boost to their confidence If thats possible, given how god they're already feeling).
Congratulations, you've just graduated. That night, a few celebratory drinks are called for in the bar.
This completes our explanation of what happens on your AFF course. Like to find out more about the ground school that starts the whole thing off?
or maybe you'd like to see which AFF drop zones & centres you could use? This is a full list.
Perhaps you'd like to know a little more about planning your AFF course
Do you have any stories questions, comments or reviews about your skydiving experience?
If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts with us about any aspect of making your first skydive. You'd be very welcome to register on acceleratedfreefall.com and use our free 'dive doctor' service from qualified and experienced skydiving instructors to answer any questions you may have. You're invited to blog your views and reports about your first skydive on this site. You'll see the registration form on the left of this page. It's free and we promise to respect your privacy.
Or if you've thought about this and perhaps tandem skydiving might be more intersting for you, then you might like to visit the tandem section of our site and perhaps even take a look at some of the best Tandem skydive deals we've found so far
Here's another option to consider - Indoor skydiving is fun, great for fitness and you can do it with your friends, family and colleagues in corporate team building sessions. So I strongly advise you to try it! You won’t regret it, the only thing is, you may end up wanting to go an make a skydive as a result and your next step may possibly be a tandem skydive.