Skydiving looks so simple. You open the canopy, you drift down. What could be simpler? In fact, there is an amazing variety of gear used in even the most elementary jumps.
The parachute is the most obvious, of course. But even here we find lots of complexity.
In the average rig there’s the container itself, which holds several straps. The straps can be attached in various ways and the specifics of how they’re arranged affect the experience. Individual tastes vary.
Inside the container there are several component parts. The main canopy is housed in a unit called a D-bag and attached via lines to a smaller pilot chute called a drogue. Alongside there is a reserve chute that can be deployed in case the main fails. Once deployed there are hand toggles used to steer and brake.
On the way down, it’s always helpful to know how far Above Ground Level (AGL) you are and, sometimes, how fast you’re descending. It can be useful to know which direction you’re going and the speed and direction in which the wind is blowing.
AGL is measured by a familiar device called an altimeter. Most are calibrated automatically on the ground. Other things being equal, the higher up you are the lower the air pressure. The altimeter senses these pressure levels and calculates the elevation accordingly. Most are digital today and some contain radio transceivers.
Since altimeters don’t measure the height above the ground directly (say by bouncing a laser beam off the Earth and back to a receiver, one technique used to measure the distance to the Moon), they can be off by several meters. Most are only approximate.
Another important, and now standard piece of gear, is the AAD or automatic activation device. A very sophisticated hand held computer, the device has a projectile that’s used to automatically cut a strap to deploy the skydiver’s parachute if he or she fails to do so by the appropriate height.
Measuring elevation, descent rate and other factors, the AAD is designed with elaborate algorithms to prevent deploying a canopy that is already open. That can happen for example, if the main is correctly deployed but the AAD misjudges the situation and deploys the reserve accidentally. Today, such events are very rare, but they do happen.
In normal circumstances, a novice or even advanced skydiver may black out, get tangled or for some other reason be unable to activate their parachute. The AAD then becomes a lifesaver and has been so more than once.
Other gear is common and more important than appears at first glance.
A helmet is often used to protect against wind and possible head trauma when hitting the ground. Unlike old movies, it’s very rare for a skydiver to have to hit the ground and roll. But it’s possible for a gust of wind, a trip or other event to put a skydiver’s head on the ground. At such times, a helmet is a must. Two-way radios are often incorporated to allow in-the-air and air-to-ground communication.
Skydiving suits are common and they come in a variety of styles. They differ in how and where straps are attached, what type of flight and speed characteristics their design results in and a wide array of other factors.
Gear up and get ready for a great adventure.