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Published: September 25, 2022
Everyone knows that when you skydive, you are jumping out of a plane and falling through the sky toward the ground. But exactly how fast do you fall when skydiving? When you make a tandem skydive, you fall at about 120 mph on average, but the skydiving speed depends on a few things. Check it -
Since you are plummeting towards Earth for about a minute, there is plenty of time for your body to reach terminal velocity in freefall. In this case, terminal velocity means the fastest speed that you can fall through the sky. Up until the point at which you reach terminal velocity, the speed you are falling is increasing, but once you hit terminal velocity you are no longer accelerating.
So, how fast do you go when skydiving? Different factors affect what your terminal velocity is, like your mass, surface area, and drag. On average, the terminal velocity for a tandem skydiver or a solo belly-to-earth experienced skydiver is 120 mph, and it takes about 12 seconds to reach that speed.
You might have seen videos or photos of other people making tandem skydives, and noticed a tiny white parachute behind them while they were in freefall. This small parachute-looking thing is called a drogue and is only on tandem gear (experienced jumper gear has a small parachute known as a pilot chute, which serves a somewhat different purpose than a drogue).
The tandem instructor releases the drogue with a handle immediately after leaving the plane. A drogue has three primary jobs:
- Increase stability in freefall
- Slow the rate of freefall to normal speeds
- Deploy the main parachute (similar to the pilot chute on non-tandem gear)
Since we're talking about freefall speeds, let's focus on how the drogue slows down the skydive. When an experienced person falls belly-to-earth on a skydive, they typically have a mass and surface area which lets them fall at around 120 mph.
When a tandem instructor is strapped to a tandem student, the surface area is about the same as the experienced jumper, but the mass is almost twice as much! How fast is skydiving in this case? About 200 mph in freefall - ouch, that parachute deployment would hurt! With the drogue providing a little bit of drag, the tandem instructor and tandem student are able to freefall at the normal freefall speed of an experienced solo jumper. (Science is so awesome.)
Experienced Skydivers Fall Differently
How fast do skydivers fall when they're not strapped to a tandem instructor?
The speed at which a tandem skydiver falls is pretty much determined by the size of the instructor and passenger since they are falling in a single position. Experienced skydivers, though, can move their bodies in a variety of ways and also wear different outfits that manipulate the speed at which they fall.
We've mentioned that an experienced belly-to-earth skydiver falls at about the same rate as a tandem skydiver, but a jumper who flies in a vertical position - like head-up or head-down instead of belly-to-earth - would have less surface area. This means they'd fall faster, at around a range of 150 mph to 180 mph (in the sport, this is called freeflying).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, experienced wingsuit skydivers (who you might know as people who fly "squirrel suits") have a lot more drag and can fall vertically as slow as 40 mph!
How Fast Does Freefall Feel?
You are going FAST when you're in freefall, but somehow it doesn't really feel like it! There is a good chance it won't even feel like you're falling. That's hard to believe, but there is typically no perspective in the sky. Sometimes you will see a few clouds whooshing by and you'll notice the speed that you are falling, but without some sort of reference freefall actually feels like you are floating! Dreamy ...
As you get lower in altitude, you might notice the ground very slowly getting larger, and there is no ground rush effect (at least none by the time you'd pull your parachute).
The Speed of the Parachute
While the entire skydive goes by fairly quickly, things slow down quite a bit once you deploy your parachute.
With the parachute open, you're not in freefall anymore, so your rate of vertical descent slows down to about 15mph. This gives you time to take a breath and really enjoy the sights without 120 mph of wind in your face. Plus, you'll be falling slowly enough that you and your instructor will be able to talk with each other. Ready to fulfill your need for speed? Come jump with us! Blue skies.
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