United States Parachute Association > Experienced Skydivers > SIM > Skydive School > CAT C

Category C

Category at a Glance   |   Academics   |   Dive Flows   |   Quiz   |   Reading— Visualization



  • two jumps


  • three jumps


  • 4,000 feet

By this time, you have had several opportunities to learn controlled, stable fall. Freefall students (AFF and tandem) have a head start on the point of the next lesson’s freefall skills: relaxed control using the procedure, “altitude, arch, legs, relax.”

Tandem and AFF students usually begin this category with two AFF Instructors but should jump with only one before advancing.

IAD and static-line students perform the first jump in this category identically to the last jump in Category B, preferably on the same day. On subsequent jumps, they practice controlled freefall for ten seconds before deployment on at least two jumps to become accustomed to the shift in direction of the relative wind from ahead to below. It also introduces them to the speed of a near-terminal-velocity freefall.

You need to establish confidence and relaxed freefall control. A controlled freefall in Category C may include some random heading drift, which you learn to lessen by relaxing and focusing on the basics: altitude, arch, legs, and relax.

The instructor shows you more about how to plan a canopy pattern for various wind speeds and directions to improve traffic flow and avoid conflicts with obstacles and other jumpers. You learn to predict, avoid, and react to turbulence induced by wind over obstacles and heated areas.

You’ll learn ways to approach an off-field landing, and the drop zone staff explains how off-field landings may affect neighbor relations.

You’ll meet the FAA-rated parachute rigger, who packs and maintains the reserve parachute. He or she will familiarize you with the closed parachute system, and you’ll observe the pre-flight equipment check.

Emergency review includes discussion on an inadvertently opened parachute in and around the aircraft and how to avoid and respond to it. Also, your instructor provides more details on recognizing and avoiding landing obstacles and how to approach off-field landings.

Instructor: Transition Protocol

The USPA Tandem program terminates after Category B. All former tandem students may continue in the AFF program, or the remainder of the USPA IAD or static-line progression.

Crossover students to AFF who have completed Category B in the IAD and static-line program will need additional training on the AFF climbout, set-up, and count; AFF freefall communications; use of the altimeter in freefall; and the main parachute deployment device, including deployment device malfunctions. IAD and static-line students may make the first jump in this category with one AFF Instructor on the recommendation of the USPA IAD or Static-Line Instructor and with the concurrence of the USPA AFF Instructor.

Crossover students to IAD or static line who have completed Category B in another training method will need additional training on the IAD or static-line climbout, set-up, and exit commands and use and malfunctions of the IAD or static-line deployment system. AFF and tandem students who have completed Category B must demonstrate a stable practice deployment on an IAD or static-line jump before proceeding to a clear and pull.

Category at a Glance

Advancement Criteria

Exit and Freefall

AFF Students

  • demonstrate the ability to freefall safely with one AFF Instructor
  • stable solo deployment at assigned altitude

IAD and Static-Line Students

  • one stable clear and pull
  • two stable ten-second freefalls

All Students

  • control within five seconds of exit
  • stable, relaxed fall
  • ability to dampen turns and heading drift using “altitude, arch, legs, relax”
  • wave-off and pull at the assigned altitude
  • fly a recognizable pattern with minimal assistance
  • flare with minimal assistance


Spotting and Aircraft
  • understanding of how to plan and adjust the landing pattern for wind speed and direction


oral quiz

Book Stuff

  • review BSRs on equipment required for student jumps, SIM Section 2-1.M.2 — 5
  • study FAR 105.43.b.1 (SIM Section 9-1) regarding the requirements for periodic inspection and repacking of reserve parachute systems
  • discuss with the drop zone owner the ramifications of off-field landings, both legal and from a neighbor and public relations perspective
  • read the canopy owner’s manual



Category C: Learning and Performance Objectives

  • unassisted freefall with heading maintenance
  • hover control
  • solo deployment
  • landing patterns for higher winds
  • downwind landings
  • wing loading
  • accidental opening review
  • turbulence
  • landing off
  • obstacle recognition
  • the FAA rigger
  • the closed parachute system


A. Exit & Freefall

  1. Pull priorities:
    1. Jumpers must deploy at the planned altitude, regardless of stability.
    2. Priorities are in the following order of importance (top down):
      1. Pull
      2. Pull at the correct altitude
      3. Pull while stable
  2. Review of smooth climbout and exit (minimal assistance)
    1. exact hand and foot placement
    2. smooth launch to reduce momentum
    3. correct presentation of hips and chest to the relative wind
    4. legs out for a few seconds to add control
  3. Single-instructor exit (AFF, when applicable)
    1. Revise the climbout procedure for one instructor.
    2. Prepare for slightly different results after launch with one instructor (typically more vertical).
  4. Review of stability recovery and maintenance “altitude, arch, legs, relax” (IAD and static-line students only after successful clear and pull)—
    1. A.I.R. Provided you are Altitude aware, In control, and Relaxed (AIR), you may continue in freefall and deploy at the assigned altitude.
    2. If you are above your assigned deployment altitude but cannot control your freefall (spinning rapidly or tumbling) employ the stability recovery and maintenance procedure. If unsuccessful after 5 seconds deploy your main canopy immediately. Deploy your main canopy at the assigned deployment altitude regardless of stability.
    3. If you are above your assigned deployment altitude and falling in a back-to-earth orientation, roll to one side to recover to a stable, belly-to-earth body position. Check altitude, arch, look towards the ground to the right, bring the right arm in across your chest, as your body rolls to the right and you are facing the ground bring your right arm back to the freefall position. Check altitude. This is commonly referred to as the “roll out of bed” technique.
    4. know the altitude by reading the altimeter or counting from exit (depending on exit altitude)
    5. arch at the hips to improve belly-to-wind stability
    6. check your leg position and adjust as needed (probably extend to 45 degrees).
    7. relax by taking a breath and letting go of unwanted body tension.
    8. recognize heading (actively correct only if turn training was introduced in Category B).
  5. Alternate freefall altitude references
    1. Judge altitude by keeping track of time (average ten seconds for the first 1,000 feet, 5.5 seconds for every additional 1,000 feet).
    2. Look at the ground during the climb to altitude and cross check against the altimeter.
    3. Observe the cloud bases on the ride to altitude to use later as an altitude reference.
    4. Look at the ground after initiating deployment and while waiting for inflation; check what you observed against the altimeter after opening.
  6. IAD and static-line students (after first successful clear and pull):
    1. exposure to continuous freefall (two stable ten-second delays recommended to complete Category C)
    2. transition of the relative wind from opposite the aircraft heading to below
    3. altitude, arch, legs, relax
    4. wave-off to signal other jumpers prior to deployment


B. Canopy

  1. Wing loading and canopy size
    1. The wing-loading ratio is the jumper’s exit weight (geared up) divided by the square footage of the canopy.
    2. The canopy manufacturer publishes wing loading or load recommendations for each model of canopy.
      1. in the canopy owner’s manual
      2. on the manufacturer’s website
    3. Canopy performance changes with wing loading.
      1. With a higher wing loading, expect:
        1. faster forward speed
        2. faster descent rate
        3. quicker turns
        4. steeper and longer dive from a turn
        5. more violent malfunctions
        6. more skill to flare correctly
      2. With a lighter wing loading, expect
        1. less drive against a strong wind
        2. slower turns
        3. more forgiveness of landing errors
        4. less predictable in turbulence
    4. Use the example to calculate the wing loading for the canopy the student is about to jump (one of the Category C advancement criteria).
    5. Canopies may appear easier to land with more weight, to a point.
      1. A good landing in ideal conditions does not mean a smaller canopy is safe to jump in all conditions.
      2. A more highly loaded canopy will stall at a higher airspeed.
    6. With the same wing loading a smaller canopy of the same model will exhibit more lively performance characteristics.
      1. faster turns and turn response
      2. quicker dynamic stall response
  2. Converting forward speed to lift:
    1. Flaring the canopy quickly to half brakes causes the canopy to slow down abruptly.
    2. Your momentum causes you to swing forward briefly, raising the front of the canopy and flattening the glide.
    3. Continue to flare, braking the canopy more and holding the high nose angle to maintain your lift while reducing the forward speed.
    4. Time your flare so your feet touch the ground before you begin to swing back under the canopy (dynamic stall) or begin to fly backwards (full stall).

  3. Turbulence sometimes occurs in the landing area.
    1. Anticipate turbulence 10-20 times the height of an obstacle on the downwind side.
    2. The effects and likelihood of turbulence increase with wind speed.
    3. Turbulence often occurs—
      1. near runways
      2. alongside roads
      3. where two areas of different colors or textures meet
      4. behind other canopies (wake turbulence)
      5. over irregular terrain
      6. downwind of the propeller wash of a taxiing aircraft
  4. When flying in turbulence—
    1. Maintain the desired heading using smooth but effective toggle input.
    2. Fly full speed or as directed in canopy owner’s manual.
    3. Prepare for a hard landing.
  5. Recognition of a clear field
    1. Power lines run along roads and between buildings, as well as randomly in open fields.
    2. A row of vegetation often hides a fence.
    3. Rocks, hills, and other terrain irregularities often remain invisible until just prior to touchdown.
    4. Inspect an unfamiliar landing area more closely at every 500-foot interval during descent and continuously below 500 feet.
  6. Planning a landing pattern (intended landing area or alternate) for smooth flow and separation of traffic:
    1. Jumpers on left-hand (left-turning) approaches should land on the left side of the landing area; jumpers on right-hand approaches should land on the right side of the landing area to prevent conflicts.
    2. The turn from base leg to final is the most hazardous because of opposite approaching traffic
    3. See and avoid.
  7. Downwind landings are better than low turns.
    1. On calm days, unexpected wind shifts sometimes require jumpers to land with a light wind, instead of against it.
    2. On windy days, jumpers sometimes fly downwind too long and run out of time to complete a turn into the wind, also requiring them to land with the wind.
    3. When faced with deciding between a low turn or a downwind landing, the downwind landing is the correct decision.
    4. When making a downwind landing—
      1. Flare at the normal altitude, regardless of ground speed.
      2. Roll on landing, using the PLF hard-landing procedure.
      3. Tripping when trying to run out a high-speed landing can result in serious neck injury or death.
  8. When to attempt a stand-up landing:
    1. when you’re in control of all the variables
    2. after a good flare at the appropriate altitude


C. Emergency Procedure Review

Note: Tandem students should additionally review all Category B emergency procedures on the same day before making any jump in Category C. IAD and static-line students should additionally review procedures for deployment handle problems, premature container opening in freefall (hand deployment), and pilot-chute hesitations before making any jump in Category C.

  1. Open parachute in aircraft
    1. extreme care required when leaning back against anything in aircraft
    2. importance of a pre-jump equipment check before leaving the aircraft
    3. importance of careful movement near or outside the door, especially with an AAD
    4. If a parachute opens in the plane:
      1. If door is closed, secure the parachute and land with the plane.
      2. If the door is open, contain the parachute, close the door, and land with the plane.
      3. If the parachute goes out the door, so must the jumper.
  2. Importance of deployment at the correct altitude, regardless of stability
  3. If an off-DZ landing is unavoidable—
    1. Look for an open, clear, accessible field.
    2. Decide on an alternate landing area by 2,000 feet.
    3. Fly a predictable landing pattern.
    4. Transpose the planned landing pattern from the intended field onto the alternate field.
    5. Land well clear of turbulence and obstacles.
    6. Prepare for a hard landing in any unfamiliar landing area.
    7. Be considerate of the property owner when leaving the landing area.
      1. Cross only at gates or reinforced areas.
      2. Leave all gates as they are found.
      3. Do not disturb cattle.
      4. Walk parallel to (between) any rows of crops until reaching the end of the field.
      5. Repair or replace any damaged property.
  4. Review of landing priorities
    1. Land with the wing level and flying in a straight line.
    2. Land in a clear and open area, avoiding obstacles.
    3. Flare to at least the half-brake position.
    4. Perform a parachute landing fall
  5. Collapse an inflated canopy on landing by pulling in one toggle and running toward it.


D. Equipment

  1. The automatic activation device:
    1. activates the main or reserve parachute
    2. is worn only as a back-up

    Note: Detailed AAD operation is explained in Category D.

  2. Observe the instructor performing the pre-flight check:
    1. top to bottom, back—
      1. reserve pin in place and straight.
      2. reserve closing loop must have no visible wear.
      3. reserve ripcord cable movement in housing.
      4. reserve packing data card and seal (especially on an unfamiliar or rental rig).
      5. AAD turned on and/or calibrated.
      6. main activation cable or pin in place, free of nicks or kinks.
      7. main closing loop worn no more than ten percent.
      8. pilot chute bridle routing or ripcord cable movement.
      9. main activation handle in place.
    2. top to bottom, front—
      1. overview operation of three-ring release—pulling the cable releases the rings

        Note: Pre-flight details for the three-ring release are covered in Category D. Disassembly and maintenance are explained in Category H.)

      2. RSL connection, routing, and basic function to back up the jumper in pulling the reserve following a cutaway

        Note: Comprehensive RSL operation is explained in Category E.

      3. chest strap and hardware intact
      4. cutaway handle in position
      5. reserve handle in position
      6. leg straps and hardware operational and correctly threaded


E. Rules & Recommendations

  1. The BSRs list gear requirements for student jumps in Section 2-1.M.2 through 5.
  2. The FAA also regulates the training and certification of the FAA rigger, according to FAR 65.
  3. Some skydiving centers are subject to state and local rules or restrictions concerning landing off the DZ.
  4. The student should discuss with the drop-zone staff how an off-field landing may affect the jumper and the DZ.


F. Spotting & Aircraft

  1. The landing pattern is square on a calm day, with each leg based on the canopy’s projected glide distance from 300 feet of altitude (see illustration).

    1. Each jumper must know his or her own canopy’s glide distance from 300 feet in no wind to plan a pattern.
    2. The instructor estimates the 300-foot no-wind glide distance for beginning students.
  2. The planned final approach must be shortened from the known zero-wind square pattern as the wind increases; for example, cut the final approach approximately in half for ten mph.
  3. The base leg also shortens as the wind increases; for example, also cut the base leg approximately in half for a ten-mph wind.
  4. Plan the 1,000-foot pattern entry point farther upwind as winds increase; for example, double the length of the downwind leg used for calm conditions, ending at the new projected 600-foot point for ten-mph winds.



CAT C dive flows


play C1


play C2 AFF

  • Exit in a relaxed arch.
  • Circle of Awareness.
  • Practice deployment(s) until smooth and without assistance.
  • Circle of Awareness.
  • Instructor(s) release grips as situation allows.
  • Altitude, arch, legs, relax.
  • Instructor(s) make sure of student control by 6,000 feet or regrip through deployment.
  • Wave-off at 5,500 feet and deploy by 4,000 feet.

IAD AND STATIC LINE Dive Plan #1: Clear and Pull

  • Exit on command with legs extended.
  • Initiate deployment sequence as practiced on prior jumps, regardless of stability.
  • Check canopy.

IAD AND STATIC LINE Dive Plan #2: Ten-Second Freefall (two jumps)

  • Exit with legs extended.
  • Relax into neutral.
  • Maintain count to ten by thousands while checking altimeter.
  • Wave-off at seven seconds or 4,500 feet and initiate deployment by ten seconds or 4,000 feet, regardless of stability.
  • play video Release brakes and address any routine opening problems.
  • Look left, turn left.
  • Look right, turn right.
  • Flare.
  • Check altitude, position, and traffic.
  • Find the landing area and pattern entry point.
  • Divide the flight path by thousands of feet.
  • Identify suspect areas of turbulence.
  • Verify landing pattern and adjust as necessary.
  • Steer over correct portion of flight path until 1,000 feet.
  • Follow planned pattern over landing area or alternate.
  • Flare to land and PLF.
Instructor Notes

Following release by their AFF Instructors, AFF students who have not received turn training in Category B may encounter heading drift. These students should be taught to recognize a heading change, consider it acceptable, and to correct it using the “altitude, arch, legs, relax” procedure.

Students who were taught turn technique in Category B may add “correct turn” at the end of that sequence, placing emphasis on the other four, more important points. Relaxed stability must first be established for proper, relaxed control.

The instructor should advance students only according to the recommended progression during the rudimentary skills training in Categories A-D. Repetition of fewer basic skills improves success later.


Visualization: Mind Over Body

Did you know that done properly, visualizing what you’re about to do can be as effective as practicing it for real? Studies show that the only part of an athlete’s performance that visualization won’t help is gaining the strength necessary to perform the task.

Exercise is hard, and skydiving is expensive, but visualization is cheap and easy. To begin, go where you can relax and where distractions won’t affect you. (Potential distractions may be all around, but you can train your mind to tune them out.) Breathe rhythmically and slowly and recall or imagine a pleasant experience or moment where you are calm and very comfortable.

At this stage of your training, your performance requires as much of your attention as any skydiver training for competition.

Then, imagine your upcoming performance exactly as you want it to occur. Start from the beginning, which includes moving to the door of the aircraft, and imagine your actions through to the end. You should even visualize your descent under canopy.

Visualize every detail: where you will place your hands and feet in the door, the cold air rushing in, the noise of the plane, the clean smell of the air, the feel of the aircraft metal on your hands, and everything you can associate with the upcoming experience.

Imagine how you will move every part of your body during the count and exit and how you will feel as you fly away from the plane. Think of where you will position your hands, feet, head, and torso, particularly as you explore techniques for maneuvering in freefall. Visualize every move, including looking at the ground, checking your altimeter, and seeing your instructors.

Some athletes visualize the upcoming performance from their point of view, while others visualize as if they were watching themselves on TV from above or alongside.

Visualize in slow motion or real time, but no faster. See your performance as one continuous flowing action, rather than as snapshots. As you visualize your actions, associate the motions by feigning the small movements with your hands or your legs with each action (“twitch”) as you mentally rehearse the performance.

Leave yourself a few minutes to take in the sights and sounds on the way to altitude, but keep your performance first on your mind. The jumpers who succeed best all practice their routines on the climb to altitude, so you shouldn’t feel out of place. Just look around at the others doing the same thing!

At this stage of your training, your performance requires as much of your attention as any skydiver training for competition. Use these same visualization tips that help top athletes in skydiving and other sports to help you improve your performance and increase your overall satisfaction from each jump.