How Fast Do You Fall When Skydiving Tandem?

How Fast Do You Fall When Skydiving Tandem?

Everyone knows that when you skydive, you are jumping out of a plane and falling through the sky toward the ground. But exactly how fast do you fall when skydiving? When you make a tandem skydive, you fall at about 120 mph on average, but the skydiving speed depends on a few things. Check it –

Terminal Velocity

Since you are plummeting towards Earth for about a minute, there is plenty of time for your body to reach terminal velocity in freefall. In this case, terminal velocity means the fastest speed that you can fall through the sky. Up until the point at which you reach terminal velocity, the speed you are falling is increasing, but once you hit terminal velocity you are no longer accelerating.

So, how fast do you go when skydiving? Different factors affect what your terminal velocity is, like your mass, surface area, and drag. On average, the terminal velocity for a tandem skydiver or a solo belly-to-earth experienced skydiver is 120 mph, and it takes about 12 seconds to reach that speed.

Terminal Velocity

Going Drogue

You might have seen videos or photos of other people making tandem skydives, and noticed a tiny white parachute behind them while they were in freefall. This small parachute-looking thing is called a drogue and is only on tandem gear (experienced jumper gear has a small parachute known as a pilot chute, which serves a somewhat different purpose than a drogue).

The tandem instructor releases the drogue with a handle immediately after leaving the plane. A drogue has three primary jobs:

  • Increase stability in freefall
  • Slow the rate of freefall to normal speeds
  • Deploy the main parachute (similar to the pilot chute on non-tandem gear)

Since we’re talking about freefall speeds, let’s focus on how the drogue slows down the skydive. When an experienced person falls belly-to-earth on a skydive, they typically have a mass and surface area which lets them fall at around 120 mph.

When a tandem instructor is strapped to a tandem student, the surface area is about the same as the experienced jumper, but the mass is almost twice as much! How fast is skydiving in this case? About 200 mph in freefall – ouch, that parachute deployment would hurt! With the drogue providing a little bit of drag, the tandem instructor and tandem student are able to freefall at the normal freefall speed of an experienced solo jumper. (Science is so awesome.)

Experienced Skydivers Fall Differently

How fast do skydivers fall when they’re not strapped to a tandem instructor?

The speed at which a tandem skydiver falls is pretty much determined by the size of the instructor and passenger since they are falling in a single position. Experienced skydivers, though, can move their bodies in a variety of ways and also wear different outfits that manipulate the speed at which they fall.

We’ve mentioned that an experienced belly-to-earth skydiver falls at about the same rate as a tandem skydiver, but a jumper who flies in a vertical position – like head-up or head-down instead of belly-to-earth – would have less surface area. This means they’d fall faster, at around a range of 150 mph to 180 mph (in the sport, this is called freeflying).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, experienced wingsuit skydivers (who you might know as people who fly “squirrel suits”) have a lot more drag and can fall vertically as slow as 40 mph!

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How Fast Does Freefall Feel?

You are going FAST when you’re in freefall, but somehow it doesn’t really feel like it! There is a good chance it won’t even feel like you’re falling. That’s hard to believe, but there is typically no perspective in the sky. Sometimes you will see a few clouds whooshing by and you’ll notice the speed that you are falling, but without some sort of reference freefall actually feels like you are floating! Dreamy .

As you get lower in altitude, you might notice the ground very slowly getting larger, and there is no ground rush effect (at least none by the time you’d pull your parachute).

Skydiving Parachute

The Speed of the Parachute

While the entire skydive goes by fairly quickly, things slow down quite a bit once you deploy your parachute.

With the parachute open, you’re not in freefall anymore, so your rate of vertical descent slows down to about 15mph. This gives you time to take a breath and really enjoy the sights without 120 mph of wind in your face. Plus, you’ll be falling slowly enough that you and your instructor will be able to talk with each other. Ready to fulfill your need for speed? Come jump with us! Blue skies.

Skydiving Freefall: What To Expect

Most people have dreamed about flying, but how many of us can say we actually know what it feels like to fly in real life?

Well, actually, thousands of people know that feeling! Because every year, thousands of people try skydiving for the very first time – and there’s really no experience closer to flying than freefall! Here’s our guide to skydiving freefall and what you can expect when you try skydiving yourself.

Photo credit (above): Cristobal Correa

What Is Skydiving Freefall?

The term ‘freefall’ refers to the part of a skydive where you’re not using your parachute, you’re simply falling through the sky, with nothing to hold you back. It’s called ‘freefall’ because you literally are free; there are no constraints, no bungee cords, nothing but the open air and the wind in your face. It’s completely exhilarating!


How Long Does Skydiving Freefall Last?

Freefall starts as soon as you leave the airplane, and continues until your instructor releases your parachute. The way we work out how long you’ll be in freefall for is based on two things; your exit altitude (how high you are when you jump) and your freefall speed (the rate at which you’re falling). A typical skydiving jump height is anywhere between ten and fifteen thousand feet – here at Skydive Carolina, it’s usually around 14,000 feet.

Based on a typical skydiving freefall descent rate (which we’ll tell you about in a moment), it takes around 10 seconds to fall the first thousand feet then five seconds thereafter. So from 14,000 feet, opening your parachute around 5,000 feet, you’ll fall for about fifty seconds. During that time, you’re totally able to breathe, relax, take in your surroundings and, if you have paid for a videographer to film your jump, you’ll be able to give your camera flyer a nice wave and a smile, too.


How Fast Do You Fall During Freefall?

Your skydiving freefall speed is related to your weight, the weight of your instructor and the weight of the equipment, all put together. It can also be affected by your body position – which is how experienced skydivers manage to fall together during freefall.

Typically, a tandem skydiver will fall at around 120mph.

Yes, that’s right – 120mph! That’s faster than you’ve ever driven your car, likely faster than most of us have travelled aside from taking an airplane flight or any particularly quick roller coasters!

It’s normal for first-time skydivers to assume that such high speeds of descent would feel, well… quick. But the reality is, it doesn’t.

The only time you really feel like you’re falling is just after you exit the aircraft. For the first few seconds, you’re accelerating to what’s called your ‘terminal velocity’, which is the fastest speed you’ll reach. Once you get to that terminal velocity, you stop accelerating and that sensation of descent is replaced with one of being ‘cushioned’ by the air. It doesn’t feel fast. It feels like floating. It’s as close as you’re going to get to real human flight. It’s addictive!

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What Does Skydiving Freefall Feel Like?

There are some common misconceptions about freefall that are worth addressing here. One is that you can’t breathe – totally not true! The only thing that would stop you being able to breathe in freefall is yourself. We encourage our first timers to scream as they leave the airplane as a reminder to let that breath go! You can absolutely breathe normally during freefall.

There’s another misconception that it’s really loud up there. Yes, there is noise – that’s the wind rushing by you. But it’s not a deafening noise. You can’t, for example, chat to your instructor during freefall. The closest comparison would be the noise you get when your window is open as you drive down the highway.

Something you might not know about skydiving freefall is that skydivers have the ability to control their bodies in the sky, and to move around. Using the basic rules of aerodynamics, they are able to move their arms and legs and torso to turn in place, to move across the sky and even to change their rate of descent. As a tandem skydiver, your instructor may use his/her legs to turn you around in place, which is a lot of fun!


How Can I Experience Skydiving Freefall For Myself?

The most common way to experience skydiving freefall for the first time is as a tandem skydiver. This is where you jump attached to a highly experienced instructor, who operates the equipment, leaving you free to enjoy your skydive and take it all in. Find out more about tandem skydiving with us, or book your skydive today.

How Fast Do You Fall When Skydiving?

It is very likely that your brain understands when you freefall from an airplane, you will go fast. But how fast? This is a good question as the answer involves a bit about how skydiving works. The scientific word for the maximum speed an object can achieve while falling is ‘terminal velocity’, but this speed is not the same for different objects (like people). So, how do terminal velocity, acceleration, wind speed, jump angles, and all of the other fascinating physical factors work while skydiving? Let’s have a look.

Man picking up speed after exiting the plane at Wisconsin Skydiving Center near Milwaukee

The (brief) Science of Objects in Freefall

Gravity is a constant force generated by our planet, and if our falling objects were all exactly the same size, they would indeed fall at the same speed. The overall mass of an object—how big and how heavy it is—is what causes it to speed up. At the same time, the shape of an object and how big it is causes drag as it travels through the air, thus causing it to slow down again. The combined effect of these forces is what determines the terminal velocity of an object.

The Freefall Skills of a Skydiver Can Change Terminal Velocity

It is possible for a skydiver to control their terminal velocity. While you cannot change your weight in freefall, you can change your shape and therefore how much drag you create. Managing drag allows skydivers to control their speed, meaning they can match their fall rates. Very basically, if you make yourself smaller, you go faster because of less drag. And vice versa.

In skydiving, you can also use drag to control how you move around in the sky. As you fall through the air the wind resistance amounts to a physical force that can be manipulated to move you in different directions. The best way to feel this on the ground is by sticking your hand out of a car window as the car is moving and paying attention to what happens when the air hits you at various angles. Again, very basically, if you want to go forward, you angle your body to push air away behind you.

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Jumping out of a plane upside down and doing flips above the clouds at Wisconsin Skydiving Center near Milwaukee

Different Methods Of Skydiving Produce Different Speeds

The most common number associated with skydiving speed is 120mph (200kph). This is both accurate and not really very accurate. Although freefall speed is a little bit different for everybody, having a number in your brain with which to make comparisons is important and 120mph is an approximate medium speed for the belly-down orientation used for skydiving either solo or tandem (the method for a first-time skydiver).

But there are other, more advanced ways to fall through the air that involve greater speed.

Freeflying’ is when you use your body and the wind to hold your body in head-up and head-down orientations, and has a medium speed of around 160mph (+/- 260kph). ‘Tracking’ involves moving some distance across the sky in formation (or solo) and, depending on the angle, the flight can have very different vertical speeds. Most impressive of all is speed skydiving, where the goal is to point your head at the ground and go as fast as possible. The world record for speed skydiving is currently 373mph (601kph)!

Speed in Freefall is Like Nothing Else

The most important thing to understand about how fast you fall is that it feels like nothing else. There are ways to go faster than 120mph without leaving the ground, but there is no way by which to compare the sensation of the speed generated by using only your body and gravity.

Exiting the plane at 14,000ft altitude is the best bit, as you are already traveling forward at about 100mph (160kph). As you jump, your forward speed gradually turns into vertical speed over the course of the first 1,000ft (300m)—about 10 seconds into your skydive (100 feet per second!)—as you travel ‘down the hill’ in a great big graceful arc. It’s a beautiful thing.

Tandem skydiver gaining speed just after coming out of the plane at Wisconsin Skydiving Center near Milwaukee

Slowing Down With Your Parachute and Getting To Ground Safely

The duration of freefall in a skydive from 14,000ft lasts about one euphoric minute, after which (at about 4000ft) you deploy your parachute to descend the rest of the way, safely and gently touching down in the landing area a few minutes later. A parachute operates under the same forces as a human when falling (weight, drag, shape, etc.), but functions more like an airplane wing. An average parachute has a vertical descent rate of around 17mph (although much faster and sportier ones are available) with a glide ratio of 1:1. This means they fly at approximately a 45-degree angle.

Slowing down and landing with a deployed parachute at Wisconsin Skydiving Center near Milwaukee

While 120mph is thrown around a lot for marketing purposes, the true answer is much more involved in skydiving speed. This is the great thing about skydiving. It seems very simple and is in a lot of ways (go up > jump out > land) but there is so much to understand if you want to dig deeper. You can spend a whole life involved in the sport of skydiving and learn new things every day.

If you’re ready to get started on your journey, join us! Book a skydive today, contact us, or check out our first-time skydiving tips if you have any other questions!




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