Skydiver Question

When changing position in the air is it an intuitive type move or something we have to learn.

Some of both.

The general concept is intuitive: you can move body parts (e.g. hands) to direct airflow in a chosen direction and experience a Newtonian equal and opposite reaction that moves you the other way.

But to get good at this so you can move with precision takes a lot of practice.

Thanks, that is kind of what I expected to hear. Would you equate the learning curve to a young bird learning to fly or would you say it is harder for humans? My pigeons were always killing themselves trying to manipulate the wires near my house. It took a good month before I felt confident they would clear them.

For some extreme precision of movement, check out indoor skydiving videos, like this one.

I’d say humans need much more practice to become proficient. I think for most birds it’s largely instinctive.

Though birds certainly don’t always get it right.

I think that’s a Gooney bird. They often screw up the landings.

As Xema stated, for birds it’s largely instinctive. For humans, not only is it not instinctive but it goes against one of our basic instincts (the fear of falling). We can overcome that fear and intentionally fall great distances by jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. But we typically get very limited amounts of time to practice how to control our bodies in free fall. If we climb to 12,000 feet above ground level before jumping we get about 60 seconds of practice time before we have to open our parachute.

So if an experienced skydiver goes out to the airport on a Saturday and makes five jumps (which cost $20 or more per jump) they get about 5 minutes total of practice time. Consequently it takes a long time to become proficient. As with any endeavor, some people take to it right away and others have to stick with it and keep practicing. For the average person it takes hundreds of jumps to get to the level where they can reliably control their body in free fall and take part in larger formations (say, 20 or more people).

The birds in the video are guillemots. “Gooney birds” are generally reckoned to be albatrosses - so a very much larger wingspan (but still some awkward landings).

I’ve done a good bit of indoor skydiving and at least for me it took a good bit of time to obtain the proficiency level that could best be described as “Really Bad”

This is an additional point that needs to be emphasized.

I’ve only made a handful of static line jumps, but here’s the interesting thing. On none of those jumps – including one with an unusually long free fall when the pilot chute had trouble catching the airstream to pull out the main – do I remember a damn thing about the free-fall portion. Nothing. I distinctly remember pushing off the airplane, and I distinctly remember the rather pleasant descents under the open canopy, but of the free fall I remember absolutely nothing. Mind is a total blank. The psychology of our brain’s conditioning is quite fascinating, and I would think one would need a fair bit of acclimatization just to be cognitively aware during free fall before you can even start to worry about your aerodynamic competence. Which is exactly why novice jumpers are set up either with static lines or altitude-triggered devices. When you jump out of an airplane and start plummeting to the ground, your brain is not working in anything resembling a normal way until you start getting used to it.

You don’t need air resistance, or air deflection, or air anything else, to change orientation, just for lateral movements. For changing orientation, you can windmill your arms or the like.

I’ve done one static line jump in my life, and my experience was exactly the same.

But when the relative wind is blowing at 120+ mph, this will produce aerodynamic effects that considerably complicate things. It’s thus not a technique that’s useful in practice.

You get past this fairly quickly. Most people are starting to act reasonably clear-headed after a half-dozen jumps.

And - unsurprisingly - this isn’t a big deal in indoor skydiving.

I did indoor skydiving once. It was broken into two 2-minute sessions. By the end of the second session I had achieved reliable yaw control, but I had almost zero control over fore/aft/lateral movement; if the instructor took his hand off of me, I tended to gently bonk into the wall of the room at random. I also had a problem with pitch instability, a weird interaction between airflow and relaxed legs that caused oscillation to develop and grow. I don’t remember the instructor having specific advice for how to damp out that oscillation, but by the end of my time I had figured it out.

While I was hanging around there, I saw that most of the other customers struggled to exhibit any kind of control. I think if you’re somewhat athletic, then you likely have a well-developed kinesthetic sense, and you will probably catch on more quickly than average - but you still won’t want your first skydiving experience to be a solo freefall.

Like commasense, I too have done one static line jump and this was my experience also. They tell you to arch, and I know I did, but if it was a good arch or not I have no idea. I remember stepping out onto the small platform and walking my hands out onto the wing strut, and then arching. But once I let go, that fear of falling and also realizing that I’ve just left a perfectly good airplane is a bit overwhelming to the brain.


Jumped about 2 months ago.
It’s a sudden shift in your surroundings that’s so loud and bright that it’s overwheming. The seconds between jumping out the plane and being in the arch position facing down are just gone for me; it must have been too much for my brain to take in.