There are several ways to get initiated into the exciting activity of skydiving. One of the most common is something called a Tandem Jump.
As the term suggests, this is a technique in which a pair of skydivers exit the plane and descend together. The student is at all times attached by a harness to a more experienced skydiver, the tandem instructor. The instructor completely controls the jump, the free fall and the canopy release. He or she will pilot the pair horizontally and vertically through the entire jump. The student is, so to speak, just along for the ride.
But that passive position is the perfect beginning for some. It allows the novice to get acquainted with skydiving with minimal risk, minimal anxiety and minimal training. Other jump programs require several hours of ground instruction.
That instruction includes discussion on skydiving physics, parachute construction and behavior, and much else. It’s a lot to absorb, but the information is vital to having a safe, yet still enjoyable first-time skydive.
Tandem jumping, by contrast, gets students into the air more quickly. Though there’s still often some amount of training on the ground. Since the tandem instructor and student are tied together, there’s a certain amount of cooperation needed to exit the plane safely and descend properly.
During that discussion, instructors will outline how the jump will proceed.
When the pair exit the plane, the tandem instructor immediately deploys a small chute called a drogue. Typically about 4 feet wide (1.2m), it helps slow the descent of the pair to normal free fall speed, about 120 mph (193 kph). Without it, the combined weight of student and instructor would result in terminal velocity of about 200 mph (321 kph) or higher. That’s much faster than a first time skydiver should experience. It also would introduce a safety factor when deploying the main canopy.
At the appropriate elevation above ground level (about 3,000 feet – 914 m), the tandem instructor pulls a cord that allows the drogue to operate as in normal jumps. It pulls the canopy out of the D-bag, inside the container. That canopy is larger in the case of tandem jumps. It’s designed to support the weight of two men with a large safety factor.
The pair then descend at the normal rate, about 10 mph (16 kph), until they touch down. The instructor then releases the student from the harness and he or she throws up. Yes, it sounds odd, but many first time jumpers will vomit from the adrenaline of their first jump. Not always, but it’s not uncommon either. Even more oddly, they’re often eager to jump again right way. That’s the strength of attraction of skydiving.
Tandem jumps are often less expensive than Static Line or AFF (accelerated free fall) training. But most who gain an interest will quickly graduate to one or the other. A few jumps later, the student is going solo in one of the most thrilling activities possible: skydiving.