Skydiving is the sport that involves parachuting from an airplane. It grew out of the air show demonstrations in the 1930's and parachute tactics employed in World War II. See parachute. The activity is also called sport parachuting. A world championship meet is held every two years. The sport in the United States is controlled by the National Aeronautic Association, Washington, D. C., through the United States Parachute Association, Inc., and internationally by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, Paris, France. In 1959 the first sport-parachuting center in the United States was opened at Orange, Mass. By the 1970's there were about 50,000 sport parachutists in the United States and half a million worldwide.
Criteria used in judging competitive contests are: (1) accuracy in landing near a marked target, usually a disk at the center of a large cross; (2) style in free fall; and (3) group free-fall linkups called relative work. Landing accuracy is rated by the distance in meters or yards from the center of the target to the point where the parachutist first touches ground. New types of parachutes that can be steered, improved methods of wind measurement, and increased skill among parachutists have resulted in some notable records, based on the average distance from the target in two or more successive jumps. In 1960 the first two world records by U. S. parachutists were set: 1.02 meters (3.35 feet) with parachute open at 1,000 meters (3,280 feet), and 0.62 meters (2.03 feet) with parachute open at 1,500 meters (4,920 feet). By the early 1970's most accuracy records were superseded by several successive dead-center landings.
Style in free fall- the way the contestant holds his body from the time he leaves the aircraft until he opens the parachute- involves various points. All events start with the body on a preselected heading during free fall. The contestant loses points for buffeting (longitudinal body rocking), fish tailing (horizontal swaying), or if his body falls on the side. He is disqualified if his back turns toward the earth (except in controlled loops) or if his fall is disordered. Some free-fall events require definite movements within time limits, such as 360° horizontal left and right turns and backward loops. At one time, turns to be performed were signaled from the ground. With increased proficiency, maneuvers are now preselected and judged only on speed of execution.
A skilled parachutist can increase or decrease his rate of descent while maintaining his stability. A combination of controlled forward speed, controlled turns, and variable descent rate has enabled several skydivers to pass a baton from one to another during free fall. In relative work, 20 or more experts have met and linked hands in a circle before separating in order to deploy their parachutes at a safe altitude of 2,500 feet (762 meters).
Skydivers use two parachutes on a single harness: the main one is on the back, the smaller reserve one on the chest. Boots, helmet, coveralls, nonfogging plastic goggles, altimeter, stopwatch, and gloves are basic equipment.