Feel free to fall free

So someone’s presented you with a skydiving voucher. That’s great!

You might think that New Zealand was best known for bungy jumping, that is, people jumping off perfectly good bridges into ravines, securely attached to a Government-approved safety harness. You’ll be surprised how many other opportunities there are for you to leap out of a perfectly good aircraft, several kilometres high, securely attached to a professional Dive Instructor who will manage every stage of your flight.

New Zealand’s aviation regulations earn international respect.  A quick check shows 19 professional skydiving firms (in 2012) located all over the country.  One firm even has a 32 week Diploma in Commercial Skydiving, registered with the NZ Qualifications Authority.

First jump ever? Let your instructor set your mind at rest.  You’ll be connected to them all the way. Literally connected, because the instructor controls the whole jump – exit, freefall, opening, landing – and the two of you share the instructor’s parachute. 

What’s free-fall like?  Perhaps you’ve tried a simulator at a science park.  You lie on a mesh and a fan pushes air up from beneath.  The airflow increases until you lift off the mesh.  You float on air and control your position by moving your body. Sideslips, rolls, and loops all seem possible.

In free-fall the “fan” is silent and your aerobatics have no sideways limit.  Guided by your instructor, you’ll discover new delights, maybe even holding hands with another jumper, thousands of metres in the air.

At a safe height, the instructor – or you – deploys, or opens, the parachute, and your free fall turns into parachuting, which is exciting enough by itself.  Parachuting is much slower, of course, and modern parachutes allow the instructor and you to land at a walking pace, but there’s still a proper way to do it, just as there’s a proper way to jump off a wall, and you will  practice this beforehand.

Free-fall! Is the sky the limit? Well, the stratosphere may be.  People have jumped from balloons 20 and 30 kilometres up, where the sky is black, the Earth is a blue-green ball,  and they have to fall a long, long way before the air is thick enough to breathe or slow them below supersonic speed.

As you travel through New Zealand, look above you from time to time. It seems that wherever there’s an airfield, there’s a certified outfit offering tandem jumps, training in going solo, international solo certificates, and coaching at every level. Congratulations again on your skydiving T-shirt. Not everyone goes home with such a souvenir!

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