Accelerated Free Fall Course
The first step in becoming a certified skydiver is to locate the nearest drop zone to you. Once you are there, sign up for their AFF course. AFF stands for accelerated free fall and is offered at any drop zone. The course consists of a 5-8 hour ground school, 7 AFF jumps, 6 coach jumps, 2 "hop 'n pops", 10 solo jumps, and your A-License test.
Before performing your first skydive you must sit through a drop zone's ground school course. This class typically costs $100, but several drop zones offer an occasional free ground school class. So make sure you check the calendar of events of your local drop zone. Your ground school will be led by an experienced skydiver with years of experience and immense knowledge of the sport. You will discuss proper conduct of skydiving including the proper way to exit the plane, your body positioning during free fall, how to pilot your parachute, proper landing procedures, and emergency procedures. Once you feel prepared, and have passed your ground school test, you can schedule your first skydive.
Accelerated Free Fall
Before every AFF level, you will meet with your instructors and discuss the requirements of the jump. Each AFF level has specific requirements that you must perform in order to pass to the next level. Your first skydive simply requires you to leave the plane with two instructors, check your altimeter 3-5 times on the way down to get into the habit of knowing your altitude, practice touching your pilot chute so you can feel the change in your body position when you are ready to pull your parachute, and then opening your canopy at the altitude pre-determined with your instructors. After three skydives with two instructors by your side, they will advance you to AFF level four. This is when you start jumping with only one instructor by your side. After three jumps with one instructor holding on to you, you will then perform your first solo exit with an instructor. Your instructor is only there to make sure everything goes to plan. During your seventh jump your instructor will not touch you except in emergency situations. After this jump you will advance to skydiving completely on your own. As you progress through the AFF levels, the requirements get more complex and will require you to perform controlled movements such as barrel rolls, flips, and turns. You will also have to show control over technical aspects of the skydive like changes to your fall speed, and canopy maneuvers. After completing seven jumps with instructors by your side, you will then experience your first solo jump from 14,000ft.
The order in which you complete your next 18 jumps is up to you, as long as you complete ten solo jumps, six coach jumps, and two "hop 'n pops." From my own experience, It is recommended to do a few solo jumps before starting your coach jumps because this gives you time to learn to fly your body and allows you to better understand the lessons that the instructors will teach you. The coach jumps are meant to refine your skills and help you become more aware of your surroundings. They focus on docking with skydivers, tracking across the sky, and changing your fall rate. Along with these coach jumps, two "hop 'n pops" are required. "Hop 'n pops" are jumps that must be performed from 3500ft and another from 5500ft. These are used to replicate emergency situations as well as give you time to practice flying your canopy with a wide open air space.
Finally, the time has come for your 25th jump: Graduation Jump. On this skydive, you will be asked to perform a majority of the skills you have learned on your past 24 jumps all in one. Your jump will consist of leaving the plane in a controlled manner and completing a left 360 degree turn, a right 360 degree turn, a backflip, a front flip, a barrel roll, changing your fall rate to match your instructor, docking with your instructor, and successfully deploying your parachute at the pre-determined altitude. Once you have completed your graduation jump, you will then take the A-License test which can be administered verbally or written, depending on the drop zone. The questions cover material that you have learned in ground school, your AFF course, your past 25 jumps, as well as knowledge specific to the drop zone. After receiving a passing grade, you can apply to join the United States Parachute Association (USPA) and request your A-License. Once you are licensed and registered with the USPA you will be able to take your skills to drop zones all over the world.
Skydiving is a great way to travel, make friends, and conquer your fears. So what are you waiting for? The sky is calling.