If you were to ask yourself what the most important aspect of skydiving was, you would probably have to say “trust”. You have to trust that the parachute was packed correctly, you have to trust the the pilot can fly the plane well, you have to trust that you instructor will deploy the parachute at the right time and you have to trust that you will land where you want to land. When you think about it, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to just jump out of a plane and risk your live that this piece of nylon will carry you safely to the ground, but that’s just what those who skydive do each day.
Skydiving was developed as a way to land troops in inland areas during the 1st World War. It then morphed into a safe way for pilots in danger to exit their planes safely. It was not until the fifties that parachuting was thought of as a recreational sport. Of course, it is still used in the military and more and more in civilian use for firefighting and other protective services to get needed personnel where they are needed.
A modern skydiving team will each carry two chutes and many other safety features, such as an altimeter that alerts the skydiver that it is time to deploy the parachute. A ripcord pulled by the jumper opens the primary chute, but the secondary chute is opened when the altitude reaches a certain level, in case of any problems with the jumper opening the chute. In addition, there is the concept of static line jumping, where the jumper has no control whatsoever; the parachute is opened as soon as he jumps out of the plane since it is attached to a line.
The speed at which a skydiver descends to earth is primarily determined by his position wen he leaves the plane. Spread eagle or belly down position allows for the slowest descent (if you can call 120 mph slow)because of the added wind resistance, but diving head first out of the plane will give the diver speeds of as much as 200 mph, since there is so little wind resistance.
Most first experiences for new skydivers is a tandem jump. In this type of jump, the novice diver is harnessed to a veteran diver/instructor and the two dive in “tandem”. At any point in the descent, the instructor can take over and control the jump, the free fall and the opening of the chute and the eventual landing. Most skydiving centers will require at least one tandem jump before a student can move up to the next step, which is a static line jump.
The reserve chute is used both by novice and experienced skydivers. It allow the diver to open the parachute by hand if the main chute does not open, or it will open automatically if the main chute does not open within a certain altitude from land.
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