What is Skydiving?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Skydiving is a sport in which participants jump or fall from aircraft at altitude. They can perform an assortment of aerial maneuvers before deploying a parachute to slow their descent, allowing them to come gently to rest on the Earth below. The sport is also known as parachuting, in a reference to that vital piece of safety equipment. People at different levels of physical fitness can participate in skydiving, as long as they are ready for an adrenalin-packed sport which can be both terrifying and exhilarating.

Skydiving can be carried out in groups.
Skydiving can be carried out in groups.

The roots of the sport are actually much older than many people realize. Several medieval inventors developed rudimentary equipment which could have potentially been used for skydiving activity, and in 1797, Andre Jacques Garnerin jumped from a hot air balloon with a parachute, marking the first incident of truly modern skydiving. The sport was further refined throughout the 1800s, and many militaries adopted it in the 1900s.

Skydivers are usually dropped from light aircraft.
Skydivers are usually dropped from light aircraft.

In the military, skydiving was originally intended to be a backup safety mechanism for airmen. If a plane became disabled during flight, the pilot could deploy a parachute to save his life. Intrepid pilots began to skydive recreationally as well, and in many countries, further applications were considered. Many modern militaries use skydiving for troop deployment, for example. Wildfire fighters also skydive to reach remote sites, so that they can be on the ground quickly.

Expert skydivers may jump from a helicopter instead of a plane.
Expert skydivers may jump from a helicopter instead of a plane.

The potential of skydiving as a recreational sport was also quickly realized. Both women and men participated in the development and refinement of it as a sport, and continue to do so. Sport skydiving is characterized by performing with a sense of flair as well as safety. These people also perform stunts in films and for product promotions. Group skydiving is also often performed as a sport, as is wingsuit flying, a variation that uses a specially designed flight suit to more closely mimic the sense of flying.

Several safety measures are taken to make skydiving as safe as possible. Skydivers regularly check their gear to ensure that it is in good shape, and most skydivers carry a backup parachute. In some cases, the backup will deploy automatically if a skydiver reaches a certain altitude. Both primary and backup parachutes are controlled with steering lines, allowing the skydiver to control his or her descent. Internationally, several organizations promote safe skydiving, offering classes and certifications in the sport.

For people who want to experience skydiving for themselves, numerous companies around the world offer opportunities. In general, people take tandem jumps their first few times out, so that they can learn the basics before taking over on their own. Good training also involves ground schooling as well, to make sure that the skydiver is safe, secure, and ready for a solo. Some companies also offer standalone skydiving experiences for people who just want to try it out.

Wildfire fighters skydive to reach remote sites.
Wildfire fighters skydive to reach remote sites.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I wish I could sky dive.


I would like to know if skydiving is a competitive sport or just freestyle?


@cupcake15 I am a regular skydiver and afraid of heights. Examples: I find it difficult to climb a ladder or walk on the roof of a single-story building; I climbed up half of "Sagrada Familia" in Barcelona and froze - struggled to climb down.

Fear of heights, for me, is more a fear of hitting the ground. When skydiving, I use my own gear, pack it myself, and take responsibility for its maintenance.

Don't let fear of heights stop you leaping from a "perfectly good airplane" --Matthew


@Cafe41-I have to say that I would be a little scared of having the skydiving equipment backfire somehow.

I am scared of heights so I don’t think I could ever skydive but I think it is great that other people enjoy it. I wish I could be more adventurous like that.


I always thought people that went skydiving were really brave. Whenever I see people skydiving on television it seems to give them an adrenaline rush.

I had a friend that was considering skydiving in Florida when she came to visit, but the costs of skydiving were a little too high. It was about $250 which was a little out of her budget.

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