United States Parachute Association > Experienced Skydivers > SIM > Section 6-13

6-13: Speed Skydiving copy link

A. Introduction

  1. These recommendations guide skydivers who are intentionally attempting to reach their highest terminal velocity in freefall.
  2. Though speed skydives incorporate elements of both free-flying and angle flying, the high vertical speeds reached present several unique considerations covered in this section. Speeds a speed skydiver achieves will dramatically vary based on skill and experience. Only a tiny minority of top competitors are surpassing the 300mph range. Most beginners, especially those without extensive angles and tunnel experience, will likely be closer to a low 200's top speed.
  3. Jumpers can find the competition rules in Chapter 15 of the USPA's Skydivers Competition Manual (SCM).

B. Qualifications

  1. Before engaging in speed skydives, a participating skydiver should:
    1. Hold a C license or higher.
    2. Have made a minimum of 200 jumps.
    3. Maintain consistent awareness of altitude and location over the ground.
    4. Jumpers must have their gear inspected by a qualified person.
    5. Consult a local S&TA or DZO on:
      1. the terrain and alternate landing areas around the DZ.
      2. exit order
      3. navigation (move in the correct direction and ability to deploy at the planned altitude and location).
      4. communication with drop zone authorities, other jumpers and aircraft pilot (to determine jump run and spot)
      5. understanding weather (including reading a winds-aloft forecast and maintaining awareness of clouds before jumping)
      6. Jumpers must make a flight plan that includes exit orders, flight plans during freefall, breakoff, and canopy flight path, to avoid other groups.

C. Equipment

  1. Jumpers must adequately secure their gear to prevent premature deployment of either the main or reserve parachutes.
    1. Because the speeds in these skydives can surpass the gear's TSO deployments speeds, a premature opening could result in severe injury or death.
    2. Deployment systems and operation handles should remain secure during inverted flights. Therefore, equipment for speed skydives should include the following:
      1. A well-maintained bottom-of-container mounted throw-out pilot chute pouch, pull-out pilot chute, or ripcord main deployment system.
        1. Exposed leg-strap-mounted pilot chutes present a hazard.
        2. Any exposed pilot-chute bridle presents a danger.
        3. Jumpers should use a tuck tab to provide additional security for the pilot chute during high freefall speeds.
      2. Closing loops, pin-protection flaps, and riser covers well maintained and adequately sized
  2. Harness straps: Jumpers must tightly stow excess legs and chest straps.
  3. Jumpers should use an automatic activation device because of the high potential of losing altitude awareness associated with speed skydives.
  4. Personal accessories for speed skydiving should include the following:
    1. Two audible altimeters (additional flashing color visuals inside the helmet are highly encouraged). Two audibles are required because the wind noise on a speed skydive may drown out the audible beeps. Jumpers must increase the volume of all audible altimeters to a maximum volume.
    2. Visual altimeter
    3. Hard helmet – if a jumper uses a full-face helmet, they must ensure that the visor stays shut during the jump (either through its design or using additional constraints, e.g., tape). Fogging can occur, and the jumper must have a plan in case vision becomes limited. If a jumper uses an open-face helmet, they must ensure that eye protection is secure and cannot come off.
    4. Most speed skydivers choose to fly with extremely tight clothing or jumpsuit that helps cut down on drag. Because of this, it requires more remarkable body-flight skills to maintain control. A jumper's chosen attire should not obscure or obstruct deployment, emergency handles or altimeters.
    5. Speed measuring device (SMD): A device used to record the real-time, three-dimensional position of the jumper mounted on the skydiver's body or equipment.
  5. Experimentation - While jumpers may in the future begin to modify equipment as the sport progresses, there are a few safety considerations when experimenting with faster speeds:
    1. Competition only allows standard skydiving equipment. Jumpers can use aero shaping for implementation during training or experimentation. Jumpers should use caution when making modifications to helmets, as a shape or weight change may result in severe torques created on the neck and spine that could result in severe injury.
    2. A propulsion system or added weight (belt or vest) is not allowed in competition. However, for training and experimental purposes, such items should be reviewed by an experienced speed skydiver or S&TA before being used.
    3. Using a Tandem rig for speed skydiving is not permitted in competition nor recommended in training.
    4. New speed skydivers should consider increasing their skill level in a suit with some drag before seeking to minimize their drag by wearing a skintight suit that they may not have the skill set to fly at 200+ mph airspeeds. Jumpers should use a conservative approach when decreasing drag in the speed discipline, relatable to upsizing a wingsuit or downsizing a canopy.

D. Training

  1. Speed skydiving is a solo discipline, and participants primarily evaluate their performance by analyzing data from SMD to analyze performance. Speed skydivers can also employ a coach to help analyze data and to film their routines to get further insight through an outside video perspective. The analysis of body-flight performance is just as vital as the recorded data from a speed-measuring device. During a jump with a speed skydiver and coach, jumpers must actively mitigate the risk of collisions at high speeds by closely matching speed and direction.
  2. Speed skydiving has similar skill sets and elements from free-flying and movement jumps.
    1. A beginner will progress faster and safer with a coach.
    2. Novices should not attempt speed skydiving until they have—
      1. Received training in some combination of tracking, angle flying, tunnel flying, and free- flying.
      2. If possible, demonstrate the ability to control navigation, body pitch and speed.
    3. Angle flying includes many essential skills for novice speed flyers, such as body positions, freefall awareness and flight planning for freefall and canopy. Once proficient with those skills, jumpers can begin their speed career with solo runs, prioritizing control rather than speed to develop exit, body position, heading control, pitch and speed control and breakoff skills, then progress gradually to faster terminal velocities. As mentioned above, using a coach will maximize the progression and understanding of this new discipline.
    4. Jumpers should breakoff altitude at 5,600 ft. (1,707 meters) AGL. Competition rules do not include any measurements below the breakoff altitude. Higher breakoffs also ensure the performer has adequate time to slow down before deploying a parachute. The performance window is the scoring part of the speed jump, which starts at the exit. The end of the performance window is either 7,400 ft. (2,256 meters) below the exit or at breakoff altitude – whichever comes first.
    5. No one should attempt a speed run on a low-altitude pass, for example, a hop and pop.

E. Hazards Associated with Speed Skydives

Before boarding, it is of the utmost importance to communicate your intentions with the drop zone authorities (such as manifest, an S&TA or a loadmaster) and the entire load.

  1. Exit and freefall
    1. Exit order primarily depends on the speed consistently attained. Once a speed skydiving can demonstrate that they are consistently exceeding normal max free-fly speeds (in excess of approximately 250 mph), speed skydivers who are training should be allowed to exit first and instructed to turn away from jump run. Trained speed skydivers exiting after other jumps is an extreme safety risk. A speed skydiver traveling 300 mph that collides with a solo belly jumper in a baggy suit will have a 200-mph closure rate. With multiple speed skydivers, exit order should be fastest out first, with consideration given to deployment altitudes and parachute type/size if necessary.
    2. Speed skydivers should be classified as a movement jump and not followed by another movement group when integrating with other disciplines.
    3. Move off the aircraft's line of flight
    4. Navigation: remaining on course
    5. Maintaining stability in freefall – what to do in case of disorientation
    6. Breaking off / pulling out of the dive at or above 5,600 ft. (1,707 meters) AGL. At 310 mph, a jumper travels at 450ft per second. Consider the resulting horizontal speed.
    7. Slowing down to a safe deployment speed is critical. Can be accomplished by transitioning to either the belly or back-flying flight orientations.
  2. Deployment and Canopy-flight
    1. A speed skydiver must slow their terminal velocity to "deployment speeds."
    2. A parachute deployment, intentional or unintentional, while performing a speed skydive can result in severe injury or death.
    3. Deployment should occur at or above 2,500 ft. AGL, per the USPA's BSR 2-1.I
    4. A speed skydiver must take great care to avoid other groups that might still be in freefall once under the canopy. Groups to avoid can include jumpers that exit before or after the speed skydiver. Jumpers must control their heading during deployment to continue a perpendicular course from the aircraft's jump run.