This is an activity I’ve got into over the last couple of years, but unfortunately one that I’m not able to do as regular as I’d like, and that pretty much boils down to finding the spare time, as family commitments and even weather can be an issue for this type of adventure sport.
I first got into it many years ago when I decided to do some parachute jumps for charity, it was for cancer research, the static line parachute jumps took place in Peterborough at the Sibson airfield. I managed to do two parachute jumps but I never had the time or determination then to all the perfect jumps to then progress to the skydiving level, but things have changed since then.
AFF skydiving courses, which stand for Accelerated Free Fall, which allows people to try skydiving but you don’t jump out on your own, this is a very controlled sport, and whilst training you start with exiting the plane with two instructors holding onto you.
I decided on attempting the AFF training course after doing a couple of tandem jumps, I enjoyed it so much that I just had to attempt to at least try AFF level one. For the first level, there was practical and theory training for a day which is quite in depth, you go through how to deal with parachute malfunctions, how to check your parachute when you’re coming down, canopy control, how the parachute works such as the vents in the canopy, heading awareness, body position, how to land, when to be facing upwind or downwind. You are also even taught how to deal with emergency situations, if they were to occur such as opening your reserve shoot.
Although on the first AFF level, you still have to be taught how to exit the plane, jumping out between 13,000 and 14,000 feet, and how to stablise yourself when in the air, even though you’ll have an instructor on both sides of you checking to make sure you do all the manouvres correctly. You have to go through the full process of arching your back correctly, positioning your arms and legs properly so that you will level out when free falling, you must check the horizon and then your altimeter, turn to the instructor (secondary) on your left and shout out the reading from your altimeter, then turning to the instructor (primary) on your right and doing the same again. There are various hand signals you learn to ensure that you understand what the instructors are telling you, as there is no way you can talk at that altitude falling up to speeds of 130mph, so it’s important you know what the instructors are telling you.
Although skydiving is classed as a dangerous sport, there are some mechanisms in place to ensure your parachute opens, of course there will always be some risks, but if you were to pass out in the air or you didn’t open your main parachute in time, there is an altimeter on your parachute which will detect the speed you’re going at a specific altitude, and if you’re still travelling too fast then a small mechanism will cut the metal chord of your reserve parachute. The device is very clever and will make sure the parachute is open ready for your landing.
For me the sport is very exhilarating, liberating, and is a completely different experience to any other. For me it is very addictive that you feel you want to complete all the levels so that you can exit the plane completely on your own and skydive without any assistance, that is a very big achievement. A very big wow factor for me, that I guess is why it’s so addictive, it’s not an every day sport, it takes determination and time to work your way through the levels to eventually be rewarded with your full skydiving license.
Here is an overview of the 8 AFF levels you have to successfully complete to get your full skydiving licence:
Level one – Your first skydive with two instructors, climbing out of the plane, standing at the edge, hotel check and exit count, arch on exit, HASP, 3 x PRCT’s, small circles, lock on, wave off and pull parachute chord.
Level two – still two instructors , climbing out, hotel check and exit count, arch on exit, HASP, PRCT’s (as required), team turns, altitude check, forward movement (optional), small circles, lock on, wave off and pull.
Level three – now down to one instructor, climb out, hotel check and exit count, arch on exit, HASP, PRCT’s (as required), altitude check, heading maintenance, hover control, small circles, lock on, wave off and pull.
Level four – still one instructor, climb out, hotel check and exit count, arch on exit, HAP, 90 degree turns until 6,500ft, small circles, lock on, wave off and pull.
Level five – with one instructor, climb out, hotel check and exit count, arch on exit, HAP, 360 degree turns until 6,500ft, small circles, lock on, wave off and pull.
Level six – no instructors, solo exit, climb out, hotel check and exit count, HAP, instability test, altitude check, forward movement (optional), small circles, lock on, wave off and pull.
Level seven – solo exit, climb out, hotel check and exit count, altitude check, instability test, altitude check, 2 x 360 degree turns, altitude check, forward movement, small circles, lock on, wave off and pull.
Level eight – solo exit from 5000ft, pull within 10 seconds.
Once you have completed all 8 levels and the necessary consolidation jumps, and they are happy with how you perform your freefall and under canopy, then you will be able to apply for your full skydive license. My AFF training took place at the parachute centre which was in Attleborough, Norfolk, but has now moved to the airfield in Beccles, Suffolk.