Yesterday I used the above equipment three times to jump at Skydive Snohomish and play in the air with some friends. Because of the apparent interest in why and how I do this activity, consider this to be a short introduction to what you really need when you jump out of an airplane. This "rig" (what we call our harness/container system) has two parachutes in it, the main and the reserve. There are also three handles visible. The one I use every time is a black hackey on the bottom of the container, in reach of my right hand. It deploys a pilot chute, which in turn deploys my main parachute, 135 square feet of beautiful nylon.
But because any piece of equipment can malfunction, I am required by the FAA to carry a secondary parachute on my back. In 4,033 jumps, I have been under my reserve three times. The most recent (knock wood) was several thousand jumps ago. If I need to jettison my main, I pull the red pillow handle located on the right side just under my chest strap, which causes me to go back into freefall. (I am held into my rig by the two leg straps and the chest strap.) Then I pull the silver handle, located on the left side under the chest strap. If all goes as it should, I will then be under my reserve, which is 150 square feet of nylon.
This is what the back side of my rig looks like. The brand is called a Mirage. They all look a little different, but all modern skydiving rigs function similarly: on the bottom, just above the hackey, is a curved pin that is pulled when I throw the pilot chute (attached to the hackey) into the airstream. That deploys the parachute, and I look up to see if everything looks right and then get ahold of the steering toggles and start my way back to where we took off.
Laying the rig sideways and uncovering the pins, you can see the curved pin on the right, which is released when I throw out the pilot chute, and on the left you can see the straight pin that holds down the reserve. The reserve has a spring-loaded pilot chute, which launches straight out if needed, increasing your chances of having a good parachute no matter what your body position might be. All skydivers intend to deploy with their belly toward the earth, since that is the position in which they were designed to work best. Here's a picture from Skydive Orange's website, showing the parts of the parachute:
People tend to think of skydivers as young adrenaline-charged men, but frankly, we cover the whole gamut of humanity: yes, there are young men and women, but also old ones, even some old women (I am 66 and still jumping, my friend Linny is 61). The guy in the picture above is more typical: just a guy who likes to skydive. There aren't a lot of older women who are still active, for many reasons. The typical time in the sport is around seven years, and most people start when they are young. I was 47 when I made a tandem jump for the first time, so I am atypical to begin with. In the old days, women were less common, and most have not continued, but every year there are more who are still jumping and still getting older. The first time I was in the SOS record attempt (Skydivers Over Sixty), I was the only woman, and now there are more than a dozen.
But skydiving is evolving, as does almost every activity known to humans. With the advent of parachutes that allow you to touch down softly, as compared to round parachutes, more people from all walks of life became skydivers. And there is another wrinkle of late: wind tunnels. These allow people to practice skydiving without skydiving, and to practice other than belly-to-earth positions. When I first started, people pretty much stayed with belly flying and made formations, but now all that has changed. I have not learned how to do these maneuvers. Here is a link to a video showing how one would begin to practice head-down skydiving.
And finally, in the last few years wingsuits have become common at almost any Drop Zone. These suits are designed for maximum coverage over the ground. Where I might spend a minute in freefall, these suits allow as much as three to four minutes zipping across the ground before it's time to pull. (We usually exit the plane at around 13,000 feet above the ground and deploy our main at around 3,000 feet.)
I am a dinosaur in the skydiving world: I don't do all that stuff, I look for people who want to play in the sky with me making different formations. It's a wonderful and very satisfying thing to do, and if I were younger, I might decide to try some of that. I've spent some time in the tunnel and find it to be fun, but it's not skydiving.
If anyone has any particular questions you'd like answered, just send me a comment and I'm happy to respond. Skydiving is still my passion, but I'm expanding into the also-exciting world of blogging!