So you've completed your first skydive or parachute jump?

How to progress through the initial stages of skydiving and parachuting
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Contributed by Martin Williams, advanced AFF Instructor & Sky University coach running PhD skydiving instructional school

So you have just completed your first jump

, a static line descent, and now you are full of the excitement of knowing you want to be a skydiver, but how do you go about getting there - of reaching the milestones of Category 8 and then Category 10 (in old speak).

Yes, there's a bit of jargon in parachuting (you've probably already noticed)- but print out this guide and keep it for reference whilst you work you way through your jumps.

You've got a choice about the qualification system you can choose:

But let us firstly remind ourselves of the designation of parachutists:

  • Student parachutist ~ is a parachutist who has not yet qualified Category 8
  • Intermediate Parachutist ~ is a parachutist who holds an A license.
  • Experienced Parachutist ~ is a parachutist who holds an B license
Now we must understand what each of those licenses mean !
  • FAI A certificate ~ Category 8
  • FAI B certificate ~ Category 8, 50 jumps & Individual canopy grade 1
  • FAI C certificate ~ B certificate, 200 jumps & at least one other grade 1
  • FAI D certificate ~ C certificate and 1000 jumps
And now what are grade 1's! These mean you are safe and competent in any one of the following disciplines:

  • IC ~ Individual canopy, Safe and confident in flying your own canopy, able to land consistently in the correct place, and having received certain briefings on aspects of the sport and equipment.
  • FS ~ Formation skydiving, flying "face to earth" relative to other skydivers.
  • CF ~ canopy formations, joining canopies to make formations with other jumpers.
  • IS ~ Individual style, performing turns and back loops with precision against the clock
  • FF ~ Freeflying, flying your body in attitudes other than face to earth, such as sitting and head down
  • SS ~ Skysurfing, using a "surf board" in freefall.

Still with me? Now before you start making plans to get on your surf board as soon as you come off your student status let us look at the ways of getting to the first rung of the ladder, your Category 8.

As I mentioned above there are 2 main methods available to you to allow you to progress in the sport, the Category system or AFF (Accelerated Free Fall).

Each system has it's advantages and disadvantages and only you will be able to decide what will best suit you, however hopefully this article will enable you to understand the differences and make an informed choice.


You have already completed your training for this system (if not check out JoJaffa's guide to starting to skydiving) so from now on you will need to receive briefs from an instructor as you progress from category to category.

In summary the exercises you will need to carry out are as follows:

  • Category 1 ~ Has received minimum of 6 hours of ground training
  • Category 2 ~ Has demonstrated ability to fall stable (2 jumps minimum)
  • Category 3 ~ Has successfully performed Dummy Ripcord Pulls (DRP) on 3 Consecutive jumps
  • Category 4 ~ Has successfully performed stable delays of between 3 - 5 seconds (min 2 Consecutive jumps)
  • Category 5 ~ Has successfully performed stable delays of 10 seconds (min 2 Consecutive jumps)
  • Category 6 ~ Has successfully performed stable delays of 15 seconds (min 2 Consecutive jumps)
  • Category 7 ~ Perform 360 degree turns in both directions.
  • Category 8 ~ Demonstrate the ability to perform :
    1. Unstable exits
    2. Dive exits
    3. Back loops
    4. Tracks and track turns
    5. A qualifying jump consisting of a back loop, 360 turns, short track.

All this time you are getting briefs from your instructor on the ground but being "observed" from the aircraft initially and then from the ground. This can make for some fairly vague debriefs as you will actually be performing your skills alone in the air.

If you add up all those exercises you would expect to complete in the area of 18 - 20 jumps, however the reality of it is that the little word "consecutive" plays a large part in the equation.

By definition the category system is almost always a weekend progression system (there are some commercial companies / drop zone's (DZ) that will provide a facility to continue midweek, (I used to be an instructor at a military parachute school and we would always run 2 week courses, it was still unusual for a student to progress passed the 10 / 15 second area) but normally it means coming back weekend after weekend.

Why am I laboring this point, well you see… progress it is best to be able to build on the success of your last good jump, if this was 3 weeks ago (due to good old British weather or work commitments) you must really have a good memory ! So the "good performance on consecutive jumps" does become more difficult than at first expected.

Therefore it is wise to expect to carry out more like 25 - 30 jumps to attain your Category 8 through this system.

The advantages are that you are able to approach the training is very flexible and can fit around your schedule and obviously your free time. Finances and travel considerations will also play an important part.

Other advantages are that as you are slowly increasing your altitude as you progress you will be able to jump on those weather days that might keep AFF on the ground when there is a lowish cloud base. Also it is initially cheaper than AFF, in so much as your expenses are spread out over the months, like a "Pay as you go" scheme.


On the other hand there is the AFF (Accelerated Free Fall) program.

In this case you will undergo a ground school similar in some ways to the Static Line (SL) course. The big difference is a lot more information; such as how to fly your body correctly in freefall and the hand signals by which your instructors will coach you in the air during the skydive.

If you are already started with the Static Line (SL) system you can "convert" across to AFF level 3 if you have successfully passed your 10 second delay stage.

Your first jump will be from 12,000 with 2 AFF instructors, 1 holding you securely from each side of your body and using the hand signals to correct any mistakes in your body position and to assist you in the pull if necessary.

The course comprises of 8 levels or skydives, very briefly here is what you can expect to learn on each of the levels:

  • Level 1 ~ Learn the box body freefall position, complete dummy pulls and maintain altitude and heading awareness and then pull your own parachute at around 5000'
  • Level 2 ~ Very similar, you get to build on the experience gained in level 1 and try to relax in the air, possibly also try out turns and forward movement with your instructors still holding on to you.
  • Level 3 ~ As far as you are concerned very similar again to level 1, only this time the big difference being that someway during the skydive your 2 instructors will physically let go of you (they will stay in position a few feet away just in case things do not go quite according to plan !) this is your first opportunity to show you can fly your own body in control !
  • Level 4 ~ Because you have proved your ability on your release jump you will now only need 1 instructor to jump with you , you will then try out 90 degree turns starting and stopping them in control. This is really when the fun starts and you get the feeling that you are in control.
  • Level 5 ~ You and your instructor exit linked together and you performing 360 degree turns, all the time gaining confidence, all the time enjoying the jumps more and more.
  • Level 6 ~ Your first solo exit (your instructor by your side not holding on to you) and practicing exercises that force you to lose stability so you can prove how easy you can regain it. Also learning to "track" horizontally across the sky.
  • Level 7 ~ Your try out of a dive exit and then you have your chance to show off to your instructor that you can perform all the lessons learnt to date.
  • Level 8 ~ Your final jump on the course proper, from 5,000' you have to exit the aircraft, remain stable and pull your parachute within 10 seconds. This may seem a bit of a strange thing to practice but when you consider how many days in UK we need to jump below cloud base this is a most useful skill to practice.

Upon successful completion of all of the above you will have passed your AFF course but are still classed a student for a further 10 consolidation jumps.

It is worth mentioning that some people do experience difficulty along the way and may have to repeat one or more of the levels, remember it is "successful" completion of the exercises that allows you to progress onto the next level. The average would be 9/10 jumps per course.

It is quite amazing to think that in as little as 3 / 4 days you can have gone from complete novice to " skydiver"! This just goes to show how effective the AFF training method is.

The advantages of AFF are that you will receive very much more personal coaching, never more than a 3 to 1 ratio of student to instructor. In the actual skydive your instructor is there with you giving you real time information. Your learning curve is so much steeper.

Also now it is common for your AFF instructor to wear a camera to aid in the debrief phase, again the use of video is an invaluable tool that will improve your learning even faster.

Detailed briefings before each jump and detailed debriefs after each jump keep the learning process moving along at a fast pace, but it is that little word continuity that again becomes very important.

By fitting in all this learning into a short space of time you are building on the success of your last jump, your learning curve gets close to vertical !

Don't forget, upon completion of level 8 you will then need to complete 10 consolidation jumps before gaining your Category 8 qualification. This is where you will jump from altitude on your own and practice the recently learnt skills. Many students enjoy this as a time to relax from the "course" mentality, a chance to have a bit more fun and get more used to the responsibility you have for your own actions.

You should expect to receive briefings on what to do on each jump and you are still in need of supervision both before and after the jumps (you must still be dispatched from the aircraft by an instructor). It is a chance to practice different exits and different actions in the air, you will also be converted to throwaway pilot chute equipment. Now is a good time to also get those briefings required to enable you to get your IC 1 sticker.

Disadvantages with AFF, well first of all there is the availability of the instructors, there are a lot more category system instructors than there are AFF. Next is the weather, you do need clear skies to jump, and lastly there is the large initial outlay of cash, even though in the long run there is probably not that much in it.

So there you have it, those are your choices to get to Category 8. You can now weigh up the pro's & con's and hopefully now have a better understanding of which to chose.


The next big hurdle is to get you from Category 8 to your Category 10 or FORMATION SKYDIVING (FS) 1 as it should be called.

This effectively means a period of learning to get you to a position where you are competent in Formation Skydiving, to be able to show control of your own body in freefall and be able to make at least 4 points during a 4 way skydive. (ie jumping with 3 other jumpers)

Once again you have options, very similar to the choices between the category system and AFF you now can chose between WARP & Skydive University which are the 2 main methods of instruction used in teaching FORMATION SKYDIVING (FS).

Once again you will find WARP instructors much easier to find than Sky University instructors and you will find that there will be lots of information out there from lots of people.

If you can find one and if you can afford it, it is better to continue on a steep learning curve. Get good coaching and get your FORMATION SKYDIVING (FS) 1 early rather than over a period of a year doing one jump a weekend with a different WARP instructor each time.

I have seen people take literally months and months if not years meandering between Category 8 and Category 10 because they have not been able to get consistent tuition, you will have to be very good student in deed to progress well if you are only able to complete 2 jumps per weekend every other few weeks !

Both systems have the same goals, i.e. to teach you to fly your body safely and in control whiles jumping with others, WARP will be based around a series of 10 exercises, some as one on one, some as 3 ways, some as 4 ways. Sky University comprises of around 20 jumps all as one on one coaching jumps, the amount of information and coaching on the ground is in more detail and you get more practice at each stage before moving on to the next.

Once again ask around, find what is available at your drop zone (DZ) and make an informed choice. To fit in a Sky University course over a week's concentrated jumping is again the most effective way of learning for most people.


Another consideration is where to go to achieve your goal of becoming a skydiver? Again many factors will come into play to allow you to make your choice, personal circumstances such as proximity to drop zone (DZ), lodging considerations, finances available, aircraft available, instructors available, the list goes on…

More and more people are choosing to learn abroad, taking the bull by the horns and chase the weather, taking there own instructors with them or hiring instructors from the host drop zone (DZ).

It would appear that the British Parachute Association (BPA) are rightly becoming increasingly concerned by the way in which some students are not being completely equipped with all the knowledge they need for their return to UK.

You should come home fully trained to the guidelines discussed at the start of this article, if not you may not get the enthusiastic reception you were expecting on your first day on your home DROP ZONE (DZ), no one likes to "take on" someone else's unfinished business !

The most popular destinations outside the UK are Florida, California and Spain although there are many alternatives. Just beware, you will need to jump under BPA guidance in UK, make sure you learn that way too!


You have choices to make, your own personal circumstances will have a lot to do in dictating one method over an other, but do take time to weigh up the pro's & con's of what is on offer before committing yourself, you should be able to get good advise from experienced people on your drop zone (DZ) that will steer you in the right direction, you always have access to the British Parachute Association (BPA) and ask them for advise, they are there to help you just as much as the jumper with thousands of jumps and many years in the sport.

It sounds quite a rocky path ahead, taking a lot of determination, time and money. In truth it is, but look around you next time you are on the drop zone (DZ).

Look at the kinds of people there from all walks of life, see the smiles on their faces as they walk back from the landing area and feel the excitement in the air when the aircraft is waiting for them to enplane. This should be encouragement enough if it was needed to keep you going.

We need new people to join us in this most exciting and enjoyable of sports, without you the sport shrinks, with you the sport grows, you are a valuable resource to be looked after, please remember that.

Contributed by Martin Williams, advanced AFF Instructor & Sky University coach running PhD skydiving instructional school
Contact details :
Tel 01980 621363
email: Martin Williams
website: PhD

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