Jumping out of a plane?

No, it’s not crazy. Not even a little bit. The fact is, the sport of skydiving is one of those activities that produces a genuine adrenaline rush in most who try it. More and more are doing just that, including Texans in Dallas, Houston and throughout the state.

There is, by nature and, perhaps by definition, a basic risk associated with the sport. You are, after all, leaving the relative safety of the airplane that elevated you the 10,000 or so necessary feet to make your sky dive in the first place. One of the first items of business when a novice skydiver arrives at a skydiving school is a registration form that includes an acknowledgment of those risks.

The United States Parachute Association, which has a list of schools and drop zones on its Web site also has a list of basic safety requirements which prospective skydivers will need to meet, among them the need to be in good health and physical condition. In addition, someone considering taking up skydiving as a sport should be free of any medication which might affect judgment or performance. If someone has recently given blood or done underwater (SCUBA) diving, waiting a few days before skydiving may be necessary.

How old does someone need to be before engaging in the sport of skydiving? While some will allow minors at least 16 years of age (with notarized parental or guardian consent) to take the ground training, more often than not schools require jumpers to be at least 18.

Once the training is done, testing follows. Written, oral and practical tests are part of the regimen skydivers must undergo. Written tests give students the opportunity to explain their knowledge and understanding, while oral testing is used to develop decision-making ability. Practical testing is designed for students to demonstrate their reactions and skills.

At the same time, testing as part of the skydiving training program gives the student confidence that the necessary lessons have actually been absorbed, an important consideration for obvious reasons.

Training doesn’t have to take a long time, however. In many cases, it’s no more than 30 minutes and doing the training and a first jump might take only half a day.

When it comes to the first jump itself, a tandem free fall type is often the most common form of jump, done by having both the student and instructor attached to the same parachute system. Free falling is done for about 30 to 50 seconds, depending on the jump altitude (perhaps 10,000 to 13,000 feet). Both instructor and novice descend together under a single large parachute with dual controls.

A second method, Accelerated Free fall, is done with two instructors exiting the airplane with the student. All three free fall together for about 30 to 50 seconds (again depending on the altitude). The instructors maintain a grip on the student’s harness, for in-air instruction purposes as well as helping with stability if necessary. By about 4,000 feet above the ground, the student opens the parachute and pilots it to the landing area.

The third form of a first sky dive is the instructor-assisted deployment, or static-line method, done after practical instruction on the essentials — climb-out and exit of the aircraft, free fall, canopy flight, landing and emergency procedures.

A key difference: the parachute deploys immediately after leaving the aircraft, typically at about 3,500 feet, followed by the student piloting the parachute to the ground.

Yet another training technique used in the sport of skydiving is the vertical wind tunnel, a large fan that produces a current of air strong enough to support a person or small group of people. Some instructors use the technique to teach stability and maneuvering, in preparation for an actual free fall.

Is skydiving for you? Increasingly, those with a passion for trying something new are looking at sports such as this as an opportunity to “push the envelope” when it comes to conventional activities.

With the right training (much of it based on common sense) and attitude, skydiving can give a healthy person the “lift” they need.

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