In days past, Static Line was the most common method of skydiving for beginners. As the skydiver exits the plane, an attached line deploys a pilot chute, which then opens the main canopy a few seconds later. Tandem skydiving grew later. Here, the novice is attached to a more experienced skydiver by a harness. The instructor is in control of chute deployment and every other aspect of the dive.
But both these methods have their drawbacks. Static Line provides the freedom of a solo jump right away, but with minimal free fall. Tandem can provide a lot of free fall, depending on the height of the jump (sometimes 10,000 feet – 3048 m or more). But the student is just a passive rider.
Through a combination of careful instruction and practical experience, the beginning skydivers get up to speed on all the ways to get the most out of this exciting activity. But with Static Line, a student may make 30 jumps before graduating. With AFF it can be as few as 8 assisted jumps followed by 10 solo skydives. Static Line training may take weeks to complete. AFF training can often be completed in as little as two days.
AFF combines the best aspects of each with the least amount of instructor control and guidance. In accelerated free fall, the instructor and student exit together as in tandem jumping. But far from being attached closely together by a harness, one or two instructors just grip the student by the hand or wrist.
They act on a coordinated set of signals, and sometimes with two-way radio communication. The instructor insures that the student is able and ready to deploy at the proper time. When the student follows the proper procedures, they deploy and land on their own with the instructor(s) nearby. When necessary, an instructor can open the chute for the student. An instructor can even pull the student in and provide a safe landing for both should anything go wrong.
AFF, as the name suggests, gets novice skydivers in the air and on their own as quickly as possible. As they progress through multiple jumps they gain experience in free fall techniques and other skills that lead in a few jumps to a license.
No license in the U.S. is required to jump out of a plane, provided the skydiver uses approved equipment. But skydiving schools and businesses have rules that they follow, usually set by the USPA (U.S. Parachute Association). A license allows the student to use those services in ways that unlicensed skydivers can not.
AFF training is done in stages, with the first set taking place on the ground. A series of lectures and demonstrations take 6-8 hours to run through (sometimes less). Often two instructors are part of the program, especially during the first jump. That gets the student up and running as fast as possible.
Early on, instructors will talk about how to achieve and maintain a stable body position. They discuss the experience, talking about altitude and free fall awareness. They cover how to activate the parachute and what happens. They’ll cover how to use the radio and what kind of things will be said.
AFF training covers how to deploy a pilot chute and how it in turn extracts the main canopy. They’ll discuss hover control, influencing direction and other skills. After a few jumps, they move to more advanced skills, such as flips, canopy control and others. Relative work, involving linking up with other divers and performing cooperative maneuvers may be discussed and practiced.
More and more novice skydivers are turning to AFF training to get up in the air on their own as quickly as possible.